"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.25.2007

where the streets have no name

Here's an interesting piece about political and economic change in South Africa, as the country prepares to transition to new leadership in the next couple of years.

I have been reading Dervla Murphy's South from the Limpopo for the last couple of weeks. She traveled (by bicycle!) through South Africa in 1993-94, just as the transition was happening. One of the things she noted over and over again was the expectations of poor South Africans that things would change quickly. All we need is democracy, her subjects would say, and things will be better.

Better happened. There's no question that most South Africans are far better off living in a country that recognizes the basic dignity and equality of all human beings, regardless of their skin tone. And despite the faults for which many criticize the government, it has, as the above article points out, made progress in improving life on a very basic level for millions of citizens.

By the time I visited South Africa, in 2003, it was clear to most people I met that things would continue to change slowly, if at all. Even with knowing how bad things really were for black South Africans under the apartheid regime, it's hard to be sympathetic to these current problems, because I've seen that people elsewhere in Africa live with so much less. Most slums don't have running water like the ones in South Africa do. Countries like Congo have little hope of rolling out universal free public education anytime in the forseeable future. South Africa is in the middle of launching such a plan. South Africa has a modern infrastructure and a functioning economy. Things are far from perfect, but they could be so much worse.

Does it matter, though, when it comes down to it? Poverty is poverty, and it isn't good for children to die of preventable diseases, or for families to have to drink dirty water, or for mothers to have to worry about raising their children in gang-ridden neighborhoods. I think the more basic question here is whether anyone deserves to live in poverty while most of us waste money on things we don't need. There's enough to share.

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