Two stories that highlight South Africa’s continuing divide

South Africa was a country that fascinated me when I visited it last summer and continues to fascinate me now that I am back in the UK, totally removed from what was an amazing and eye-opening experience.

Obviously, earlier this month and last the world focused on SA as it hosted what was generally acknowledged as a successful World Cup. In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, one Cape Town friend told me that I should have visited this summer, not last, in order to savour the magic and buzz he had felt throughout the tournament. And he hadn’t even been to any games, priced out of it like many other South Africans, but that’s another story….

However, from the South African World Cup there emerged all too frequent stories about the stark inequalities that still exist in the country less than two decades after the end of apartheid.

For South Africa to properly escape from the era of social and cultural apartheid may take a generation, maybe longer. You don’t reverse decades of a mentality that permeates a society as a result of a total divide of different races in a few years.

One story out of Bloemfontein highlights that rather starkly. The humiliation of Free State University black employees by former white students who forced them to carry out typical student initiation acts for a video that became a world-wide sensation for all the wrong reasons is shocking but not so surprising for many familiar with the problems of racial integration in SA.

The students claim this was a satirical take on racial integration within the country. But humiliating black workers in this way is in no way satirical, it’s not even a little bit funny.

It’s just another example of a subconscious feeling amongst certain white people in South Africa that they remain superior to the black majority. The story of the “Reitz Four”, as the offending students became known, is a dark reminder of why South Africa cannot fully escape its past.

However, the story of same-sex marriages becoming increasingly popular in the country is one that offers hope that bit by bit South Africa is emerging as a true rainbow nation. Cape Town, with what The New York Times describes as its it’s “gay-friendly culture”, is in many ways a shining example of what South Africa can become in the years ahead.

But even the Times article, largely positive about the country’s progress with same-sex marriages highlights the near total domination of gay marriage by white Afrikaners.

For those in the socially conservative and economically deprived areas of the townships and settlements, many located in the suburbs of Cape Town, they have yet to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage or engage in it.

This is probably because they are more concerned about reducing the crime rate, and ensuring they have basic facilities like running water and electricity. Afrikaners may be increasingly embracing same-sex marriage because they don’t have to fight for basic human rights like those in the townships and settlements.

The growth of same-sex marriages is a positive example of how South Africa is progressing in the post apartheid era.

But the almost total incomprehension of the idea by the black majority and the awful case of the “Reitz Four” in Bloemfontein is a stark reminder of however much progress may have been made in the last few years, there is much more that needs to happen in order for South Africa to properly break free from the shackles of its horrible past.

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A happy return to the ‘real’ world

My return from an incredible and at times surreal month in Cape Town has been met with its fair share of problems in my personal life but there’s plenty of great stuff going on in my professional-ish life.

I say professional-ish because as much as I would like journalism to be my profession it’s not exactly paying the bills at the moment. But as young man, still in education, I am willing to accept my lot and get on with it.

I take every opportunity thrown my way, knowing the experience is what’s important. However mundane the story or however little I know about the person I am interviewing I will, under no circumstances, turn it down. That’s the mantra and so far it’s working.

I am now regularly contributing to Click Liverpool after the success of my South African blog (I’m heralding it as one even if they’re not!) and I am also working with a new website, Purple Revolver as it attempts to establish itself as one stop shop for all your movie and music news needs.

Central to this effort will be our coverage of the Creamfields festival next weekend from which we will hopefully be reporting live throughout Saturday and Sunday with interviews, reviews and gossip.

I’m hoping my experience working at Liverpool Sound City earlier in the year will be helpful. Although something tells me that there is a big difference between hundreds of gigs held in 30 venues across one city and a big piss up in a field in the middle of nowhere.

And finally, going into my last  year at LJMU I’m hoping to play my part in making LJMU Journalism the biggest, baddest, and best student journalism website you have ever seen or something along those lines.

And along the way hopefully I won’t neglect my blogging duties and get back to writing less about me and more about this odd world we live in.

A visit to Robben Island

Mandela's cell

In my final Cape Town days I made it to Robben Island, a long held ambition to visit a place of great historical significance.

The island – where Nelson Mandela and many of those who fought for civil rights for blacks and coloureds were imprisoned – serves not only as a popular tourist haven but as a constant reminder of South Africa’s troubled past.

The prison is untouched from when it was closed in 1990. Above the entrance a sign reads “We serve with pride”, an irony not lost on anyone.

After a 45 minute boat ride from Cape Town harbour we were first taken on a bus tour around the island. We visited the lime quarry where Mandela and many others toiled for days on end for no other purpose other than to be worked to the bone.

After the bus tour a former prisoner took us on a tour of the cell block culminating in a visit to the prison cell where Mandela was held for nearly 30 years in the most basic of conditions.

The prisoner’s name escapes me but he had spent seven years in Robben in the 1980s for colluding with the armed wing of the African National Congress. He was lively in conversation but physically frail and the effects of his time in the prison will have had long-term effects.

Afterwards the boat takes you back to the main land via a trip to the inevitable gift shop. Robben Island may be located somewhat away from mainland South Africa but that does not affect the popularity of these often sold out tours. It underlines the enduring legacy of Mandela and the ANC’s struggle for equal rights in South Africa.

Having visited the island, going back to work my finals days in the Vrygrond settlement was sad in many ways, and not just because I was leaving. For all the pain and suffering endured by so many to achieve an end to apartheid in many ways it still exists in this country.

Many people are stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty and have little chance to escape from it when they come from a township like Vrygrond which affords so few opportunities to its people.

The kind of projects set up here by the group I volunteered with have undoubtedly helped. But what does it say about South Africa when the poorest of the poor rely not on their own country but on the goodwill of foreign students and foreign organisations?

I leave South Africa believing that whilst it may have broken free from political apartheid, cultural and social apartheid will carry on for generations to come.

In this respect it has been an eye opening experience, one I will cherish and never forget. With some luck I hope to return one day.

“I eat pussy to survive”

You know you’ve reached the pinnacle of journalism when the front-page headline on your newspaper reads “I eat pussy to survive”.

The story is a lot more harrowing then you would imagine, a family in the notorious Cape flats kill, cook and eat cats and dogs in order to survive.

The story came about after the paper learned of a protest due to take place here in Cape Town against the eating of cats and dogs as a delicacy in other countries.

The Voice’s editor wanted to get the other side of the story, the people who must eat them just to live. Later when he learned that just six people showed up to the protest he was literally bouncing up and down the newsroom with delight.

But this is what the Daily Voice is about, hard hitting news that both enthrals and appals the reader. The “pussy” headline and story did just that.

Down in the sports department there’s a bit less controversy and I’ve been working on some good stories this week.

I did a phone interview with South African cricketer Charl Langeveldt who is back in the international test squad following his controversial withdrawal last year.

The story of the spin bowler’s departure is a long one but – like most sporting controversies in South Africa – is race related. A day doesn’t go by at the sports desk without a conversation about the undercurrent of racism in rugby and cricket in this country.

Langeveldt did his best to deflect my questions about conflicts with Proteas (the South African cricket team’s nickname) coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graham Smith but the interview was a decent one and made the next day’s edition.

I also took in local rugby side Western Province’s training session ahead of their Currie Cup clash with the Blue Bulls, the best side in the southern hemisphere.

Afterwards we went to a press conference with coach Allister Coetzee and captain Luke Watson who himself was the subject of a race related controversy with the national side not so long ago.

My second week at the Voice has surpassed the first in terms of enjoyment but I won’t be there for much longer. In a bid to escape the office I’ve switched to something completely different for my last full week in Cape Town.

Next week I’m going to be working at a nursery in a local township, one of the poorest areas in the city. I’ll be looking after local children during the day in a building that the volunteer group I’m with helped to build.

As much as the journalism experience has benefitted me this is an opportunity to do something I may never get a chance to do again and give a little bit back to a country that has given so much to me this past fortnight.

This blog can also be read at Click Liverpool along with other stories from my South African adventure.

Live from Cape Town!

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa. Apologies for the lack of updates but access to internet here has been more restricted than I would have liked.

I am maintaining a regular blog at Click Liverpool which has stories from all my adventures so far and there have been a few!

I urge you to check it out as well as enjoy this picture of an African legend and a seagull with good taste.

Mandela and the Seagull

Cape Town awaits

Nervous times. In just over two hours time I will be embarking on an epic journey that I hope will finish with me being in Cape Town, South Africa by Thursday evening. As you may know I am spending a month there, soaking up the culture and working for a local newspaper as part of a very unique work experience opportunity.

My journey begins at Liverpool Lime Street, from there to London Euston train station, two underground lines to London Heathrow, a 7 hour flight to Dubai and then another 9 hour connection to Cape Town. It’s a bit hard to fathom the fact that I won’t be getting a proper night’s sleep until some time Thursday night but I’m not complaining!

I will be blogging on my adventures at the wonderful Click Liverpool and I will be posting some stuff on this blog as well so keep reading!

South Africa and going back to Ireland

At the beginning of next month I embark on what I hope will be the journey of a lifetime. I’m spending a month in Cape Town, South Africa working at a local and popular newspaper called the Daily Voice, adding another string to my journalism bow and visiting a part of the world I have always been deeply interested in.

Traveling is something I did a lot as a kid with my parents but I haven’t yet done the backpacking/inter-railing jaunt. While this is not student traveling of a conventional sort it is an incredible opportunity to see a truly beautiful and very different part of the world and hopefully gain unconventional but ultimately rewarding journalistic experience.

Most of my sporadic blogs have focused on mainstream, public interest issues (sadly, there’s probably more public interest in Susan Boyle than in the BNP) but whilst in South Africa I hope to regularly update you on my exploits both professionally and personally, giving you an insight into a naive student journalists adventures in the big bad world.

Beforehand I’m going home to Ireland for a week. My country has been affected worse than most by the recession. The good times were good in Ireland but now the bad times are very bad indeed.

We have government whose incompetency is on a different level to the UK (hard though that may be to believe) and whose response to the recession was not to increase consumer confidence by cutting prices as they did here in the UK with the VAT rate cut but actually raise them in order to raise the money they wasted so frivelously when times were better.

Like Labour, the leading party, Fianna Fail have been in power for twelve years, and like Gordon Brown, Taoiseach Brian Cowen took over from a far more popular predecessor.

However, unlike Labour, Fianna Fail have consumed a previously progressive and lively Green Party, who entered into a promising coalition with them in 2007 but have since seen their standing in Irish politics almost totally obliterated, a great shame but an example of the poisonous nature of Fianna Fail whose standing in Irish politics has never been as low as it is now.

But aside from politics, whenever I go home now the country I left two years ago is almost totally different, a collective gloom has descended on the nation. It’s as noticeable on the busy streets of Dublin as it is in the town of Athy where I am from. Businesses shutting down everyday, a rising unemployment rate and a lot of young people who have only ever known economic growth and general good times.

Now they and the rest of the population face a real test of their resolve to see whether the country can re-emerge and prosper once more. I really hope it can because it’s not much fun going home any more aside from getting to see me mammy!