Studying abroad, at home: South Africa is a melting pot of people, culture

A group of locals dine at a cafe in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Boyd Hayes

By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes

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South Africa is a really special place, and its diversity is its strength. With so many different languages, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes and microcosmic cultures constantly mingling with each other, this country has a hard time sitting still for too long.

It’s a heterogeneous mixture, seemingly always at boil, constantly changing balance. The mixture still needs a long time boiling before it’s finished cooking, with the balance still off in many areas. But the key is that the boil is healthy, and hence change is always occurring, mostly for the better.

Something about this mixture makes it different, as compared to other mixtures (let’s say the United States, for instance). Perhaps it’s the ingredients. With 11 official languages across nine provinces, and ethnicities and people groups with long, distinct histories that deeply intertwine with each other, this must surely be one of the more diverse areas on the planet.

Though I’ve only been here several days, and only in the Cape Town area (which, I realize, makes me nearer a tourist than an expert), I have read in books and newspapers, heard on radio, watched on television, and talked with friends about change: strikes, protests, reforms, scandals, corruption, patriotism, racism, bitterness, graciousness, the old guard, the new generation, memories, expectations and hopes. Locals seem to recognize that there is a long way to go, but they also feel good about the capacity of the country to get to a better state.

I’ve also witnessed beautifully functioning journalism. Special journalism: community journalism. Each little community has its own daily newspaper, its own radio stations, and each outlet thrives. They report on issues that are truly newsworthy to locals, and they keep an ear tuned to what the local people have to say. Even on a national level, I’ve seen widely-read newspapers reporting factual news, as well as publishing commentaries written by level-headed reporters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. For the most part, this is a constructive media machine that operates for the good of the people.

And there are the people. There are those downtrodden, helpless against the waves of circumstance that keep them powerless. There are also those who have more security and comfort, and they bask in that comfort. But there are also many who do not accept that the way the world is today must be the way it is tomorrow. There are those in gang-riddled communities who bravely stand up against violence and drugs. There are those who use their good fortunes to help others by starting NPOs and youth outreach programs to help change the negative spiral of violence that is always present where there is poverty. There are special people like these, and there are many in South Africa.

Though I recognize the issues that face South Africa (rampant crime, poverty, inequality and some corruption, amongst many others), there is much, from the diversity to the media to the individual people, that encourages me to see a positive future for South Africa, brought about by South Africans.

In short, South Africa gives me hope.