Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winter in South Africa

It's winter in South Africa. In Johannesburg, the BBC reports the current temperature at 45 degrees with a probable low of 37 degrees.

On a high plain at 5,500 feet elevation, Jo'burg gets a biting, freezing wind in June and July -- flu season. People bundle up in sweaters. Most houses don't have any heat.

People who work in offices sit at a cold desk all day because the office building has no heat.

Watch the coaches on the sidelines of the World Cup soccer matches-- they're wearing winter jackets.

And snow. It snows in the South Africa in the higher mountains.

Capetown. I was in Capetown in 1997. It was the opening of parliament, so all the politicians were in town. I interviewed a member of parliament in his office. His name was Jannie Momberg, an Afrikaaner who had supported the apartheid regime but switched to Mandela's party, the African National Congress.

Momberg said, describing his change of mind and heart, that he had been wrong all his life, and the power of Mandela's actions and words convinced him of that.

I suggested his change to the African National Congress may have been opportunistic -- after all Momberg had just joined the winning side.

This charge of opportunism made him angry. "I will make no attempt to convince you of my sincerity," he told me with an icy glare. "But many of my Afrikaaner friends no longer speak to me. They revile me as a turncoat, as someone who went against his own people. But the future is clear and I am with Mandela and a vote for every man and woman in the new South Africa."

Those were hopeful days, in 1997, when Mandela served as the head of his country, and the racial barriers came tumbling down.

I took a seat at the curb of the main street to wait for Mandela's motorcade -- to see the great man himself as he drove by on his way to Parliament.

I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged white man in a chauffeur's uniform. He said proudly, that he served the mayor of Capetown, and drove her to her appointments -- the new mayor was a colored woman, as she would be described in their culture, meaning a person of mixed African and European descent.

The chauffeur was effusive in her praises. "She is such a lady."

And we waited. Mandela was late. The street was lined with thousands of people who came to see the great man. Europeans come on time -- it's their invention. Africans are never on time -- they don't get it, or choose not to get it.

Mandela came by in a limousine with mirrored windows. He could see out, but we could not see in. He could see me -- maybe, if he was looking my way. So I didn't see Mandela, but he saw me.

Afterward, I took the train back to Kalk Bay, on the Indian Ocean side of Capetown. I was staying at an old hotel. Kalk Bay was a fishing village, boats in the harbor, seafood restaurants, shops and galleries with antiques.

Kalk Bay was a fishing village, a fish town -- Fishtown, get it? All you kids asking me about what it was like in Fishtown here in the Skagit.

Well Kalk Bay was Fishtown in Africa. We drank beer at a pub by the train station, watching the surf crash against the rocks just past our window. I listened to obnoxious Afrikaaners argue about rugby matches.

Everybody in Africa drinks too much. This year you can see it. Remember the opening ceremony for the World Cup? There was a news story about Nelson Mandela who could not come to the ceremony because his great-granddaughter had died in a traffic accident.

This was no surprise. South Africa has a rate of traffic accident fatalities that is close to five time higher than what we have in the United States. In South Africa, drinking and driving is a way of life. Truck drivers pull off the road -- not for coffee -- but for beer. Then they get back on the road and drive drunk, and crash into school buses loaded with children, and the school bus driver is often drunk as well.

So the children die by the dozen. The roads of South Africa are very dangerous.

At what point does one criticize the customs of another country? With traffic fatalities surely. South Africans drive like idiots, they should learn from us.

Then we should get rid of the vuvuzelas at the World Cup soccer matches -- those cheap plastic horns are driving every one crazy. You can even hear them on TV. All the beautiful music in the world comes from Africa -- so get rid of the vuvuzelas, please. They sound awful.

I spoke with my ex-wife two weeks ago. She is from Zimbabwe. She lives in Pennsylvania now. She told me about her many relatives living in Johannesburg -- people I knew when we lived in Zimbabwe in 1997. Her relatives fled the poverty and political violence in Zimbabwe, and went to the big city -- Jo'burg -- to find work.

Her relatives have found work , but several of them have died in non-political criminal violence. Jo'burg has an incredibly high crime rate. It is a dangerous city.

In Botswana. Botswana has the only decent, democratic government in all of Africa. The result is peace and relative prosperity. It's just like in the books about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

The books have been made into an HBO special -- well worth watching, I checked the DVD out of the LaConner Library and watched Lady Detective Precious Ramotswe work her magic, which is really only common sense. Many real people in Botswana are very much like the fictional Precious Ramotswe. And yes, the ladies can be quite big, and beautiful too.

Our friend in Zimbabwe was Jerry Thebe. He was from Botswana, meaning he spoke Tswana -- their language. And went home to his village near Francistown.

The last we heard from him was by email from Gabarone, the capital of Botswana, where Jerry was learning about computers.

He was such a happy fellow -- I wonder where he is now.

Happy Birthday, Friday, June 25. This Friday, June 25, I will be 64. The coming year will have prosperity and good fortune. Join me in celebrating this important day.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

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