The most challenging thing, for me, in South Africa has been to witness the inequality of people. It was 60 years ago, 1948, when the Whites-only National Party first won control of the South African government and passed the apartheid (meaning apart-hood) legislation. Apartheid laws established superiority of Whites, who comprised only 20 percent of the population, over Blacks, who made up other 80 percent. The apartheid system deprived the entire Black population of all political and civil rights: They could not vote, not hold political office, not unionise, and had no right to freedom of assembly. Blacks had to live in racially segregated areas, they were paid incredibly discriminatory wages, they could not intermarry with Whites nor supervise Whites, they had to attend separate, inferior schools, use separate bathrooms and entrances, eat in separate dining rooms. They were prohibited of socialising with Whites.
It has been only 20 years since the End of Apartheid. The inequality is still visible. Only in the next few years, the first generation of Blacks with a university degree is about to graduate and enter the educated employer market. Townships still reside millions of people in the country. These areas are not considered safe and thus White people should keep away. Public transportation is not safe either. It feels crazy for a Finn that simply your race makes such a big difference on how you are perceived as a person, what kind of treatment and assumptions are made. I need to be so much more cautious than ever in the countries I’ve previously lived, but at the same time I realise so much more powerfully than before, how privileged world citizen I am.
This makes me constantly question my right for such a prosperous life. As a Western European, many of us have the chance to live, study and travel around the world… Surely, I’ve worked my way to receive these opportunities back home. But I realise strongly how much easier “working your way for opportunities” is in Finland compared to such a huge part of the world. Further, I will surely contribute for the welfare of my home country by paying taxes, but again I question if it is being blinded or irresponsible of not contributing in a wider context. Could I work towards distributing such opportunities beyond my home country? How can I help people with not such privileges?
At times, it makes me feel helpless to know that I cannot help everyone here. On the other hand, I’m happy to witness the inequality, rather than being blinded and never traveling outside the wealthy Scandinavia, where no one is left on the street or to hunger. Although consuming in a way the locals could never consume, I often question if we deserve this. But then again, isn’t it better to consume in this country in particular and thus distribute income to the society? For me, it comes down to conscious consumption – I want to make sure to distribute resources to small, local entrepreneurs rather than international chains. This is something, besides endless other things, that I love about South Africa – there’s so many unique, local services, rather than international chains. I recall that in Philippines it was almost impossible to avoid international chains. As it is simply impossible to help everyone, it can be the small gestures that matter. I feel a tiny bit better being able to give a “generous” tip to locals providing services. Also giving occasionally a ride to our lovely maid to the train station (so far away the privileged ones could not ever do by feet) makes me happy, when she is happy. My mom asked if she can bring some ‘cool’ European clothes to her three kids – of course! And finally, at least now I know where to come later on in life, if I then have the chance to contribute financially more than now.
I have to say that despite the unsafety of the country, I cannot but admire the happiness and kindness of most locals, despite the race. I want to engage as much as I can with locals and learn their stores.