Sunday, June 12, 2016

But Is It Safe?

We've just spent six days in Kruger National Park, in the province of Mpumalanga in northeastern
South Africa.

Our experience in the park was completely over the top (above).  More about that in another post.

What I'm thinking about today is the people side of South Africa.

First, there was the pleasant surprise that the crowds at the campgrounds we stayed at in Kruger were almost entirely South African. I had expected an international crowd, but we only saw two or three other groups of obviously foreign campers during our stay.  The language spoken in the campgrounds was overwhelmingly Afrikaans, which made a nice contrast with the English dominance that we are used to from the Western Cape.

But it was also hard not to notice that the Kruger scene was very much a "white Africa", as Alisa put it.  The visitors were overwhelmingly white, and the workers overwhelmingly black.  I'm not keen to see our visit to South Africa in nothing but terms of race, but it's very hard to avoid.  Kruger was another one of the gated, all-white scenes through which we are experiencing the country.

As we've tried to figure out what is safe for our family here and what is over-reacting, we have carefully assessed the advice that we've gotten from South Africans, either solicited or unsolicited.  And we've noticed an interesting divide in that advice.

On one hand, people have been tremendously cautionary.  The mother of one of Elias and Eric's friends at the yacht club in Simon's Town warned Alisa about the risk of child abduction.  And adult abduction, for that matter. A number of South Africans warned Alisa, when she said that we would be driving across the country between Kruger and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, that we should be very very careful on the trip.  A woman whom we met in Kruger commented on how wonderful an experience our visit must have been for the boys.  And then she said it was good we were doing the trip now, "while you still can".  She summed it up by saying "South Africa" and shaking her head.

Driving the highways around Jo'berg, you see road signs warning  of "hijacking hotspots".

At times, this advice, and some of the horror stories we've heard, have really scared us.  Is this the kind of place we should be traveling with our boys?

So we ask more questions of the locals.  And there is a second line of response, beyond the more obvious cautionary advice.  A lot of the country really is safe, especially for a local who knows what's what.  When questioned, some South Africans tell us that we're at no more risk than we would be in Paris or New York. This sort of reassuring talk often seems to spill over into downplaying any sort of racial animus in South Africa, and I wonder how much of it is wishful thinking, or a desire on our interlocutors' part to be positive about their country.

The great shame about all of this from our perspective is that we have decided that our only reasonable course of action is to continue acting like the very wealthy people that we are by the standards of most South Africans, and to use our money to insulate ourselves from the problems of the country.  Outside of Kruger, we have been paying $15 or $20 US a night to camp in private lodges or game reserves.  There is an ocean of largely-black humanity between these little gated refugia that we come to rest in, and that ocean of humanity remains completely mysterious to us.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you are having a great time. Hope you are still there when we return! Can you send your email address as lost yours. Thanks