The Rainbow Nation is not yet in Existence by Dzagbe Cudjoe Dance to Health

Reproduced with the Express Permission of the the Author, Dzagbe Cudjoe

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My first few weeks in south Africa to publicize my children’s book were spent in a state of extreme culture shock. Nothing was as I had been led to believe – not even the weather. It was winter in Andalucia, Spain when I left for what was supposed to be mid-summer in South Africa. The first few days were so cold I ended up wearing the same winter clothes I had arrived in. And it rained and rained and rained.

Though I had lived and worked in West Africa I knew that South Africa was very different. One of my misconceptions was that I would be able to take public transport and travel around on my own. It was soon made clear to me that this did not come into question. It was far too dangerous.

At this point I must emphasize that anything I write is based on my experiences in a suburb of Pietermaritzberg. What I describe may or may not be representative of of South Africa in general.

Security is everybody’s overriding concern. I had expected security to be an issue but not to the extent that it is. Every house seems to have strong fencing topped by razor wire and most have electric gates. Prominently displayed signs reading “Twenty Four hour surveillance. Armed response” are standard.Armed response means just what it says. In addition most people in the area have terrifyingly large guard dogs. My hostesses neighbour has two ferocious mastiffs. Apparently before buying or renting a property the first consideration is the security arrangements.

I know that I am going to really upset many people by using the terms “White”, “Black”, “Indian” etc but the fact of the matter is that it is not yet possible to describe the situation in South Africa without employing these terms. There are no value or moral judgments attached to my use of these terms.

All the shopping malls have tight security. Armed guards are positioned outside banks and ATM’s. Security personnel in the malls are well trained and have found themselves involved in shoot outs. A shop in a mall with bullet damage which was pointed at to me. An outlet in a mall was selling guns and had the most vicious-looking , large knives on display. I noticed one guard was wearing navy combat gear who was standing with his arms held clear of his torso like a cowboy in a film at the start of a shoot out. He reminded me of a perfect, efficient android. The steely watchfullness in all the guards eyes made my hair stand on end. South African security personnel are much sought after in the Middle East.

The police are also much in evidence. They are very well paid and enjoy benefits such as good health insurance, generous housing mortgages and the use of a police vehicle.

The local paper seemed to regularly feature details of robberies (mostly with violence). While I was there a shoot out occurred in Pietermaritzberg which caused two fatalities. The incident was suspected to be connected to “taxi wars”.

One afternoon we were all sitting at home when there was a sharp report from further up the road. When I enquired what it was Donnette replied completely unperturbed that it was a gunshot.

People seem to take the violence calmly and fatalistically . They avoid certain areas of town, take all security precautions knowing full well that really determined burglars will get in anyway. Such times bring out the best and worst in people.

I arrived in South Africa under the impression that everything functioned with the efficiency associated with an industrialized society. This was a misconception on my part.

When I arrived, Donnette, whose work depends entirely on the internet had not had e-mail access for two weeks as Telcomsa was having problems. The telephone landlines are totally erratic. Getting anything fixed involved many long and expensive calls on a cell phone reporting the problem. Getting to someone who actually knew what they were talking about was a long, frustrating process.

People in the service sector, in the main were,pleasant enough and there were some who positively bowled me over with their charm. But businesses do not seem, to me at least, to be interested in creating long term customers The emphasis is on the here and now. Donnette and I went to print flyers. We were charged separately for 10 minutes of computer time, downloading the pdf file and printing the files – Fair enough. Donnette then asked the assistent if he would guillotine the pages. Yes, he could at fifty cents per page. Donnette and the assistants started laughing at the shocked expression on my face. We only had a few pages so Donnette did the job. The things that can be charged for as extras are amazing showing great ingenuity.

Public services which fail to offer a regular, efficient service are particularly fierce when it comes to settling bills. If customers are even one day late in settling telephone, water or electricity bills the service is disconected and a 50% late charge added.

Another misconception of mine was as to how the countryside and people would look. Perhaps I have watched too many wildlife programmes filed in the dry season when all looks, brown and dessicated. My visit co-incided with an exceptionally wet summer which had led to rivers bursting their banks. KwaZulu Natal is incredibly beautiful and was a radiant green while I was there. It soon became apparent to me how many common English garden plants are actually indigenous to Southern Africa. The trees were of indigenous species unknown (or so it seemed to me) in West Africa. The Drakensberg Mountains rose in the background and the landscape in a strange way reminded me of parts of England – no wonder English settlers were attracted here. I never stopped exclaming how beautiful the views were.

The West African urban street scene is vibrant, bustling and colourful. The areas if Pietermarizberg that it was safe to visit were dull and lifeless as if time had stood still. It had not always been like that I was assured. Many people remembered a time when it was safe to sit in a park or attend some event or other. It was only later that I realized central Pietermaritzberg (the capital of KwaZulu Natal) must have been very much a “White” area in the days of apartheid.

To experience a more lively atmosphere it is necessary to venture into what were formerly the areas exclusive to the “Indians” and “Blacks”. In West Africa people are out and about wearing bright prints fashioned into traditional garments. At least in the areas of KwaZulu Natal which I visited people were dressed in a very drab and uninteresting manner. I realize that there are still beautiful traditional costumes which are worn on special occassions. My remark is specific to everyday wear.

Women from the less affluent groups seemed to all wear long skirts or dresses with what to my eyes was an odd assortment of accompanying garments. I remember one “Zulu” lady wrapped in a heavy winter coat proceeding with great dignity along the road. She looked like a Guy Fawkes figure but was quite beautiful in her dignity and strength.

I have never in my life encountered so many seriously overweight people of both sexes. I was told that this is due to poor diet on the part of both the “Afrikaans” and “Zulu” populations. The “Afrikaaners” and “White” population in general love meat – biltong (dried meat) boereworse (sausage), droe worse (dry salami) and incredibly calorific pastries such as koeksister (a fried plaited sweet soaked in syrup). There are advertisements for slimming salons and slimming pills and potions everywhere. I did not gain the impression that exercise was on such peoples agenda. Having made that comment there were many young people to be seen out cycling and jogging.

The Zulu diet is very heavy on carbohydrates and people seem to gain weight even though they work hard physically. What really upset me was seeing children who are already reaching morbidly obese proportions. The link between obesity and ill health does not seem to be made.

Everyone is affected by the Global Economic Recession. Young people of all races are trying to emigrate and find jobs overseas. The New Constitution of South Africa is not, very unfortunately, a level playing field for all its citizens. I was informed that “Whites” are not eligible for state child maintenance or for free schooling or free health care.. If this is so (while personally understanding the psychology behind the ruling) still cannot condone any laws which do not give all citizens equal rights. While it may be that “White” South Africans still belong to the more affluent strata of society there are many who are struggling to pay school fees and pay medical bills. Not everyone can afford medical insurance. I know of people who can no longer afford to buy their long-term prescribed medication.

As everywhere there are always people who are not prepared to do anything to help themsleves. There is a well known “White” woman who stands in the middle of the road at a crossroads holding a cardboard sign. She is a beggar and has operated on this spot for years. Morning and evening she is transported to and from her pitch by car. She owns a house. Many years ago the owner of a local restaurant offered to train her as a waitress. He was prepared to pay her a basic wage (not normally offered) and said she would also get commission. The offer was refused because the woman maintained she could make more money by begging. I was not able to find out who actually gave her money. One suggestion was that the “Indian” Muslim community might be generous to her.

KwaZulu Natal has the largest population of “Indian” origin in South Africa. Some people have been in South Africa for so long that where they came from on the Indian subcontinent is unknown to them and they have never been out of South Africa. There are two distinct groups some being Muslims and others Hindu. Many people of “Indian”descent feel that their contribution in the struggle against apartheid has not been sufficiently recognized and that they are still discriminated against.

The Malls are filled with frail, ancient and often disabled “White” South Africans. Somewhat to my surprise I felt deeply sorry for them. It is not easy in the later years of life to adjust to massive social and economic changes.

In the same way I felt incredibly sad at the thought that so many “Black” South Africans are still without basic amenities, schools and often without hope. Things are improving but the question is will they improve fast enough for the masses who were promised so much.

All the people who I met on my trip were open and friendly – truly delightful. But it will always be a searing pain and deep sadness to me that I as a fellow African was never able to meet any “Black” South Africans on a social basis. My friends one “White” one “Indian” do not see and have never seen people in terms of colour. They behave in the same friendly and courteous manner to everyone. One friend got herself into trouble with the authorities for helping “Black” South Africans . The father of my other friend was a political activist who had to flee the country and spent twenty years in exile in England.

Once this friend and I were on our way to the Ladies rest Room with women of all colours when I remarked that not so long ago we would all have had to use different facilities. My friend started to tell me about that period. Suddenly I felt that the subject would be too painful for both of us and I backed off.

Apartheid created for South Africans a life where everything from birth to death was regulated by skin colour. Real social contact between groups became virtually impossible. Now South Africa finds itself in a position where people do want to get to know each other but do not necessarily know how to build bridges. It appeared to me that the different groups do not seem to know a great deal about one another. Out of this diversity a common South African culture needs to be built. A culture which everyone can identify with. The “Rainbow Nation” still lies in the future.

This will clearly not happen overnight. Schools are integrated and all pupils must learn Afrikaans and an African language. This is a big step forward but real integration will take time. I went to South Africa to promote my children’s book “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” but I would dearly love to return to do work connected with culture and education or lecturing teachers on the benefits of Dance and Movement Therapy for children with Special Needs.

Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me for Information Click Here

Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance and Movement Therapist, Intuitive Counselor, Healer and Ethnologist with a keen interest in promoting Dance as a means of achieving Mind-Body-and-Spirit integration… She is the author of the manual “Dance to Health -Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance”. Dance to Health

One Response to “The Rainbow Nation is not yet in Existence by Dzagbe Cudjoe Dance to Health”

  1. […] The Rainbow Nation is not yet in Existence by Dzagbe Cudjoe Dance to Health […]

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