Many people think of the people in South Africa as either Black or White. The reality, however, is a rich melting pot of enormous diversity – in many ways like America. Today’s South Africa is, in fact, a product of peoples and cultures from the four corners of the globe. Only the San and Khoi bushpeople are really indigenous to the lands of southern Africa.
Tribes such as the Xhosa and Zulu later migrated from Central Africa regions. The following BBC Africa video gives a clear picture of today’s issues in South Africa (some are not black enough, some are not white enough…):
Europeans sailed to this “new land” in search of freedom from persecution, new opportunities, adventure and – of course – a part of South Africa’s vast wealth. Some came from Holland. Others were French Huguenots seeking refuge from Catholic persecution. The Portuguese and the Germans established outposts in neighboring lands.
Asians came to South Africa from India, Malaysia, and Indonesia as laborers. And the English came with the conquest of South Africa by the British Empire for her vast wealth in gold and diamonds (and they didn’t even know about the plutonium!) In fact, South Africa remains a part of the British Commonwealth.
In our own century, South Africa opened its gates to a large number of grateful European Jews fleeing the Nazis at a time when America and other countries were closing their doors to refugees. In much lesser numbers, South Africa has welcomed refugees from the Czech uprising of 1968 and more recently refugees from civil wars the Congo and Angola. Many guest workers from other parts of Africa now live in South Africa because of economic opportunities and bring their various cultures with them. Check also: Cape Town Tourist Attractions You Must Visit
As members of these various groups intermarried, the identity of their children was no longer clear-cut. Competing cultures influenced one another while struggling to maintain their own identities as part of a larger tapestry that is now South Africa. See also this post on the Zulu People, the key to South Africa’s Colorful History.
The patrimony of these diverse communities is a part of what makes South Africa such an intriguing place to visit.
- Remarkable prehistoric cave paintings of great beauty depict the daily lives of the Khoi and the San bushpeople.
- Exotic minarets punctuate skylines to mark the presence of mosques built by the Muslims who came from East Asia.
- Likewise, Hindu temples are part of the cultural fabric of Durban.
- Picturesque wine estates and lovely manor houses – now some of the finest lodging in South Africa, are the legacy of the Dutch Afrikaans settlers.
- Elegant and refined classical architecture attests to the influence of the British, who fought the Dutch hard for the vast wealth of this land.
- African tribes still live in brightly-painted village houses, often wear colorful traditional clothing and gather at night to listen to traditional as well as modern music borne of tribal rhythms. See also: African History and Heritage.
- Fascinating Jewish heritage sites mark the contributions of a prominent Jewish population who found in South Africa a welcome refuge and in turn played a significant role in the fight against apartheid.
The numerous African tribes and other groups have fought hard to retain aspects of their traditional culture in the face of modernity and assimilation – not unlike parallel struggles in our own country. And although the economic outlook for the entire African Continent is pretty good, many fear that quality education for all will remain an issue for some time to come.
In the last decades, South Africa has emerged as a modern-day miracle. Led by one of the giants of our times, Nelson Mandela who is a hero not just to his fellow-countrypeople, but to the whole world. With the end of his political career and his life, he left an overwhelming legacy.
From a reviled system of inequality, South Africa has emerged to embrace its people of all races and colors with a relatively pretty well-developed health system, something that’s often lacking in other locations across the continent. It has been transformed from an outcast nation to an example to other nations. It is quickly emerging as a regional power.
A sense of optimism and open-mindedness characterizes a new generation which has come of age in the last ten years. It is a generation fighting hard to overcome the stains of the past and anxious to embrace all citizens of all colors to work together in building a new future. In fact, South Africa went from Brain Drain to Brain Regain and let’s hope this will continue.
As a country in a sweeping and radical transition (socially, economically, politically), and a country on an avowed mission of change, it is hard to imagine a more exciting time to visit such a fascinating and intriguing land though, at the same time, we see that the game of exploiting African nations continues and that economic world powers (China in particular) play an increasingly dominant role across Africa.
Visiting South Africa
Yes, the flight is long. Figure about 14-16 hours. Daily direct flights operate from Atlanta to Capetown and from JFK to Johannesburg/Pretoria or to beautiful Cape Town. South African Airways has comfortable airplanes with large business-class and first-class sections and a reputation for excellent service. Most European carriers offer convenient flights through their hub cities and may allow you a stopover en route. Is it worth sitting on a plane for so long to see what South Africa has to offer? We certainly think so.
Yes, there are health issues. But South Africa’s health standards are much closer to that of America and Europe than to the rest of Africa. To the surprise of most foreigners, tap water is generally clean and safe. In better restaurants, food (including salads and fruits) are quite safe. They are also, in fact, quite fresh and delicious.
The major health concern when visiting South Africa is malaria in the north, where many game reserves are located. Anti-malarial medicine is widely available in South Africa as an over-the-counter item. Side effects for most people are generally not as strong as those of the medications prescribed years ago. In any case, you should always consult your doctor prior to your departure or avoid these areas.
Yes, unfortunately, like anywhere else, there is crime in South Africa but is there really that much crime? No, we don’t think so. And neither do the fashionable Europeans who are have begun to discover South Africa again as a new destination many years ago. A bit of common sense and good judgment will get you a long way: avoid carrying large sums of cash or jewelry. Avoid large groups of American tourists and places like McDonald’s. Follow the advice of your guide and our ground office about where to go and where not to go.
The overwhelming majority of tourists to South Africa have a wonderful time and sing the praises of South Africa and its people. The best way to ensure that your trip is safe and worry-free is through good planning with the guidance of a professional organization experienced in private travel.