SA Blook, Chapter 1: The new South Africa – is it real?

June 2, 2008

I plough through the same route on my daily journey to the office, often passing the same motorists traveling in the opposite direction. One of the cars I use to gauge my progress is a black Mercedes Benz S-Class belonging to one of the executive directors of Eskom. Without fail, the driver of the vehicle always bares a mischievous grin that leaves me pondering whether he is chuckling over the antics of the Kaya FM breakfast show team booming through the Harmon Kardon sound system or is he laughing at my expense as I approach another traffic light ahead that has been affected by load shedding.

My thoughts drift to the large number of young men sitting on the side of Bowling Street waiting for contractors scouting for casual labour. I’ve noticed that the group has shrunk in size over the last few weeks. This could be attributed to the harsh cold weather reminding us that the Highveld winter is upon us or it’s a symptom of the terrible xenophobic attacks that have gripped the nearby Alexander township. The rest of the trip is filled with anxiety as I approach the stretch of road marked by potholes and traffic lights that have flickering red for the last three weeks with no sign of a maintenance crew.

The signs of despair are all too evident on the faces of motorists flanking my car. Over and above the thoughts of lost productivity as we compete for the narrow piece of tarmac, there are is the thought of rising inflation rates, interest rates and transport costs mugging the consumer off their hard earned income.

There are further distractions as I approach my place of refuge, the office. Firstly, the number of newspaper billboards on lamp posts that remind us of corruption at government departments, instruct us on why we should fear the rule of one Jacob Gedleyahlekisa Zuma or the prelude to another story of a Black Economic Empowerment (“BEE”) deal that his been placed on the back burner while the vendor looks for guidance on new BEE cliques to emerge post Polokwane. Then there is rant by a broadcaster with a fading Irish accent. He is sharing one of his daily opinions which will no doubt end up featuring prominently at dinner table discussions in Gauteng and later become conventional wisdom.

In the short space of 30 minutes, I see many images that contradict Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s notion of the “rainbow nation”. News bulletins no longer refer to Mandela’s children, the centre stage is hogged by brave men who have perfected the art of toppling cash in transit vehicles or making withdrawals at Automated Teller Machines with mining explosives. The only time I get to hear President Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African speech” is on youth radio where the president has been cleverly sampled into a kwaito/mid-tempo house song.

Is the new South Africa real?

Ignoring the stern directives from our Reserve Bank governor, I often visit the township of Klipspruit Extension 5 in Soweto to do my shopping at the new Maponya Mall. Mr. Richard Maponya, the brainchild behind the grand development, proclaimed that Maponya Mall is the largest shopping centre in South Africa. This statement would have irritated the owners of Gateway Shopping Centre overlooking the sugarcane plantations of Mount Edgecombe, however, I can’t fault the man for his enthusiasm.

The mall is more than a shopping Mecca for Soweto residents, the development is a beacon of hope for so many entrepreneurs who have never been encouraged to seize the day. Soweto dwellers couldn’t have imagined that a development of this magnitude containing a tenant mix of luxury fashion retailers and young entrepreneurs selling sishweshwe dresses could be found right at their door step.

As you leave the mall you notice the number of families crossing Old Potchefstroom Road carrying plastic bags stuffed with groceries from the two large supermarkets at the mall. This small observation strikes me because I know that prior to Nelson Mandela officially opening the mall on that cold and miserable afternoon in September 2007, Soweto residents had to catch connecting taxis to the Johannesburg CBD to purchase the bare essentials. They now have optometrists, Laundromats and a smorgasbord of banking facilities within walking distance or at a cost of a local taxi fare.

Service delivery has been a huge challenge for the government of national unity, however, we have acted very miserly when giving airtime for some of the achievements. My small township of KwaDlangezwa in Northern KwaZulu Natal no longer relies on infrequent patrols by the South African Defense Force military to keep the criminals at bay. We now have our own police station and a patrol vehicle for rapid response. I also get the feeling that other township dwellers across the country are more at ease with report any transgressions to police within the community.

I envy the young kids growing up in KwaDlangezwa, they have a park with facilities that were foreign when I was growing up. Furthermore, the entire township road infrastructure has been tarred and lampposts are now functioning. The extent of the load shedding experienced around the country during January 2008 was paltry compared to the blackouts that came close to ruining so many weddings preparations and made sure that candles were a common feature in our home.

The stories of the real South Africa are often not told in the main stream media, however, to many South Africans we have come a long way. There is much work to be done and I think this country has the men and women to achieve the goals of the nation.


Copyright Siyabonga Nhlumayo 2008. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No-derivatives 2.5 ZA license

This post is a chapter of the SA Blook: A Piece of Significance, an online book written by a diverse group of writers with strong views of our country and the reality we find ourselves living in. The other chapters in the Blook are here:

1. The new South Africa – is it real?
2. Is SA rich or poor?
3. What the world thinks of South Africa and what our global opportunities are
4. The importance of each individual’s contribution collectively
5. SA Inc and the business of doing business in SA
6. The beauty and grandeur that surrounds us
7. The importance of technology in SA’s global emergence
8. Building brand South Africa
9. Making the most of SA’s creative talents and abilities
10. Innovate for a better South Africa
11. The role of the younger generation in SA, and what we need to do to support them
12. Connecting South Africa – Communities that transcend technology
13. We are African – the role of collaboration in South Africa’s growth