Ah, Johannesburg….

How have I missed thee?  Have I missed thee at all?  

And as I write this, my lovely daughter’s admonishment as she dropped us at the airport in Auckland rings in my head: “let there be no upper-middle-class judgements of how other people choose to live, and choose to run their countries”.  Thanks Pip – no judgements here, just reflections.

Landing in the city of my growing up, my university education, my marriage and the arrival of my firstborn, after an absence of nearly a decade, was an interesting experience.

In August, Johannesburg is at risk of looking dead.  Vast expanses of harsh brown dustiness, viewed from the plane above, signalling that we are indeed here in the midst of the long dry (but not that chilly) winter.  “Perfect time for game viewing”, I muttered to Peter.

Once on the ground the vibrant aliveness of the people takes over.  It may not be pc to say so, but my first thought was “oh how I have missed the genuine blackness of these shiny black faces”.  For in Africa, the black people are truly black, not light brown or slightly tanned, but truly, proudly black.

Now coupled with a sense of freedom, and compared to our previous visits, what appears to be a great culture of customer service, the aliveness shines through.  Oliver Tambo airport was a surprising pleasure…  Gone are the surly customs officers, gone is the bleakness of the airport of my youth.  An arrival experience and an airport to rival Auckland.

The thing I always SAY that I miss about Africa is the view…  The amazing sunrise and sunset, made so, I know, by that scientists would call the “large amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere”…  Pollution, to you and me.  Surely the greatest visible sign of every dark cloud having, in this case, a rosy lining.  There will no doubt be many rosy-hued pictures in the next few days.

But I digress.  This trip is the start of our third great adventure in what we have dubbed “our year of travel”, a year that Peter keeps reminding me, will not be repeated!  Japan, UK/France and now SA/Namibia.  The “excuse” for this trip – a grand gathering, the Bash in the Bush, aptly subtitled by Lindsay, “the great corroboree of whanau en vriende” gathering in the African bush to celebrate twin 60th birthdays.  We come from literally around the world – New Zealand, Australia and the UK – the be together again in the place of our youth.  A true luxury to be able to do this.

And while we celebrate, we also observe and marvel at the contradiction that is South Africa.  Here first world truly battles with culture and tradition.  No more so than in this morning’s newspaper headline “Religious abuse probe”.  Walking a very fine line between maintaining religious freedoms and protecting gullible people from what they term “charlatan practices” such as those in a Pretoria church where congregants are apparently “made to eat grass and snakes and drink petrol”, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities truly has its work cut out for it. 

That insoluble dilemma… How to progress while maintaining history, tradition and culture, and protecting individual rights to freedom to do what they please.  A challenge for the wisdom of Solomon!

Meanwhile, I’ll just settle into that fine tradition of morning coffee and beskuit.


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