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.

Making sense of ‘Le Hand of Henry’

A lot said, a lot written but in the end nothing done. No replay, no hope, the Irish nation, and those of us who have moved away, mourn one of the greatest injustices in the history of football.

And how galling to have perhaps the best player to ever play for the country telling us to get over ourselves. Easy for you to say Roy Keane as you earn a comfortable wage for guiding Ipswich to relegation while the millions back home struggle to cope in the worst economic crisis in the history of the republic.

Qualification on Wednesday would have been a boost for a whole football mad nation. Who knows what the knock on effects of reaching the World Cup might have been for the people, for the economy for the future of our struggling nation.

Instead we were robbed at the hands of Thierry Henry’s will to cheat, the incompetence of a referee and linesman and the corruptness of FIFA.

How surprised are we to see no mention of the dubious handball on FIFA’s website and the utter silence of the most powerful man in football, Sepp Blatter who decreed that the World Cup play offs would be seeded just weeks before the draw, an illegal move if ever I saw one.

Now I must admit to being a little embarrassed to see FAI chief executive John Delaney plead for a replay on the basis of some precedent set in some obscure Asian qualifier a few years ago.

A replay was never going to happen but then we are all a bit desperate for something to cling to and the emotion of it all is raw.

But Delaney did make one good point in that this wasn’t a league or group game whereby the situation could have been redressed. This was a one off situation, a winner takes all scenario.

Ireland will not get chance to redress what happened on Wednesday. Instead they’ll spend next summer watching the greatest show on earth on TV.

And I doubt any Irish people, I know I won’t, will take pleasure in watching the World Cup next year, knowing it should have been us and not the French that are competing in South Africa.

Even the French themselves are embarrassed by it all. It is the great shame of a great footballing nation, world champions just over a decade ago, that they have cheated their way to the finals with the help of one of their greatest ever players.

And what gall for him to come out and call for a replay not long after FIFA and his own football association absolutely ruled out the possibility. A cynical PR move from a player once respected throughout the world but who will now be remembered as much for as his talent as for his will to win at all costs, even if it means cheating, handling the ball not once, but twice.

Surely this is a landmark moment in football. The calls for video evidence, extra officials, or something to cut this out are deafening and must be acceded too.

A system whereby a referee can stop the game a limited number of times to look at a 20-30 second play back on a controversial incident might work.

Failure to implement something that will prevent or at least lessen the chances of incidents like Wednesday’s happening again will only tarnish the game further and make a lot of people, me included, lose  faith in a sport that is increasingly allowing cheats to prevail.

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!