While the Donegal GAA senior players were basking in the sun of Tenerife, I was in South Africa, namely Cape Town. It was a spur of the moment decision and I headed off to the southern hemisphere on February 14th. I made sure that we were home in time to vote in the general elections.
Like South Africa, Ireland had a long, hard and complicated fight for the right to democracy. The route from monarchy to oligarchy to democracy has not been straightforward anywhere and Ireland’s story is no different in that respect. But Ireland also had the added complication of colonisation and religious discrimination. Where we had religious differences, South Africa has tribal complications to deal with. The country has come a long way since April 1994 when 20 million people of all races queued for three days and voted for the first time ever.
The statistics in crime, rape and murder in modern South Africa cannot be ignored. Mainstream media and international media latch on to this negative aspect of South Africa. Though there are issues that pervade an unequal South African society, this is not the full story. I have been travelling to this country for 18 years now and I have come to understand and appreciate the complex problems which have arisen since democracy was won.
I did the tourist things a long time ago and no longer shelter myself in a bubble of ignorance. My friends are black, young men who are products of the University of Cape Town. They are articulate and bright but are by no means wealthy or affluent. Under their guidance and knowledge I have seen the poverty and the wealth, discrimination and equity but, most of all a totally different side of South Africa that is not experienced by the occasional tourist. Middle class Capetonians constantly express their dissatisfactions about issues rather than be proactive and challenge the things that they complain about.
During the apartheid era, black people were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into segregated ‘townships’. Of a population of approximately 53 million, 41 million are black. The majority of these live in townships. While the plusher suburbs have a more polished veneer and may serve up more in the way of consumer conveniences, it’s the townships in South Africa where one discovers the emotional connection, the conviviality and the sense of camaraderie that underpins South Africa’s working class. This is where young South Africans are creating innovative and uplifting projects who are not afflicted by a sense of entitlement. They are full of energy, hope, creativity, passion and ideas. They are trying to change their communities for the better with little support from the government, the private sector or the media.
Without undermining the work of those people who do real good work in South Africa it is time that the media do not fall back on the tired old narrative of a middle white class person doing something good for the poor and helpless black people. Pick up any newspaper in South Africa and the main stories allude to murder, crime and corruption. Little coverage is afforded to the emerging narratives. As a visitor to South Africa and its cities one has to be vigilant just as in any city. It is a young country which is trying to overcome a brutal past. For the most part the majority of South Africans are tolerant, friendly and helpful.
My friends often ask me why I go to Cape Town. Well, South Africa is different in nearly all aspects of life. It has energy and is vibrant where contrasting cultures and traditions mix to form an awesome diverse and captivating society. Thabo Mbeki (South Africa President 1999-2008) in a famous speech on 8th May 1996 explains what I love about the South African landscape - “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land…the crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightning, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope. The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld”.
The pleasant weather in Ballybofey for the Donegal versus Mayo last Sunday was much colder than in South Africa and than in Tenerife I’m sure. This was by far the best game of the league to date. It was played at championship pace where both teams were technically shrewd. Donegal are in a very good place right now and if our lads can stay clear of injury I cannot envisage any team in Ulster being able to beat us. Tir Conaill Abu!