What do we know about South Africa?
From my experience, very little to absolutely nothing. I experienced this first hand while landing in Johannesburg when the lady on the plane next to me, from Canada, wondered out loud at the lack of elephants, lions, and/or giraffes visible by the airplane window. Apparently she expected the runway to be somewhere in the middle of the savannah.
South Africa, despite everything that it has to offer, does not take the world stage very often. We know it’s politically corrupt and unstable, but getting better, and was featured in a favorable light on the cover of last week’s Economist. We saw the movie Invictus and we’ve all had South African wine at some point. But still. To many Americans, South Africa just refers to the southern part of the continent.
To follow on this track for a moment, I heard some great ‘ignorant foreigner’ stories from a wild game reserve ranger. One story involves a woman who, after spying a large pile of firewood at the game reserve, inquired, “Aww, is that an elephant nest?”. At the risk of losing his tip the ranger replied, “No ma’am, the elephants lay their eggs in the trees where they are much safer from predators.”
Or. While driving in the range and pulling up to a giraffe standing off to the left and a wildebeest standing roughly 15 yards away, one guy asked, “Hey, is that giraffe going to eat that wildebeest?” Regardless of any size advantage, the giraffe’s predatory instincts, as you could probably imagine, leave much to be desired.
The corruption is laughable.
The Free State provincial government very recently shelled out R140million (~$15million) for their WordPress based website. When questioned, the organization countered by claiming the cost was instead only R40million (~$4million) as if that were more reasonable. By comparison, my website uses the exact identical service and cost me less than $100 to produce and maintain.
South Africa does not have your back.
Josh is a 24 year old white engineer who works on fly-in fly-out projects for a major contract construction company. Recently he was asked to go take a job in Nigeria. His employer handed him what was essentially a survival textbook for how to live/work in a country as unstable as Nigeria. He turned it down based on a very legitimate fear for his life. If anything were to go wrong for him in Nigeria he would have no hope for the South African government to save him.
Compare Josh’s situation to the Algerian hostage situation in January where it was immediately national news that U.S. citizens were involved. Another example is with the Somali pirates when they were successfully overtaking dozens of foreign tankers. The moment they touched a U.S. boat we sent in our top ten secret agent Jason Bourne snipers, in the mismatch of the century, to take out poor pseudo-soldiers with AK-47s. I don’t blame Josh for not accepting the job without that backup.
Cape Town is a hidden gem.
Despite the high crime rate in South Africa, the Cape Town quality of life is hard to match. Forget visiting the south of France or San Diego. Cape Town’s got all of the wine & brandy, ostrich steaks, surfing, beaches, a huge barbeque(Braai) culture, hiking & natural wonders, festivals, art & design, coffee shops, beautiful women, and what not to keep you occupied. There’s a sense here that Cape Town is just at the start of its boom. When the political issues get sorted out, which is no casual task and is bound to take a few generations, South Africa is going to take off. Pick up your real estate now.