Upon arrival, I was met by a representative from the U.S. Consulate General who took me via train to a hotel in Johannesburg. Much of the infrastructure in the city was improved for the last World Cup, and the train service is fast, efficient, and very modern. Early the next morning, the same representative transports me to the Consulate's office where I meet several staff members and attend a mandatory safety and security briefing. South Africa has the highest statistic for rape incidents in the world, and the second highest murder rate. Crime is very common throughout the country. So much so that as of today, July 15th, every person I've interviewed has been a victim of crime on at least one occassion. These crimes include muggings and home invasions. While I researched the crime statistics prior to signing on as a Fulbright recipient, living in the reality of what many consider to be a violent country is an entirely different existence.
It is winter here, so darkness arrives early. I have been repeatedly instructed to avoid walking across campus at night or go anywhere alone. Last evening, I was conversing with a visiting professor from the Western Cape, a place which many consider to be the most beautiful area in South Africa. I asked him if the crime is enough of a deterrent to warrant leaving the country. His replied that it is far too beautiful and well worth the risks to his personal safety. Although I have yet to visit the Western Cape, I am uncertain that I would trade the freedom I have in America to walk alone as a woman in my neighborhood at any time of the day or night. Confinement to my flat seems to attack the idea of personal freedom, which I clearly take for granted. Every conversation I've entered consistently states that it is essention to remain on alert at all times. Indeed, security bars front all windows and doors, and high safety gates surround properties. Curiosly, every South African I've spoken with loves their country, and frequently mentions the kindness and friendliness of it's people. I must add, too, that I've never encountered a more welcoming culture. South Africans seem to go to great lengths to give assistance when needed, and are quite generous and hospitable. It is apparent the South Africa is reflective of deep contrasts.
Happy 94th Birthday to Nelson Mandela! And, Wednesday, July 18th is Mandela Day. What is this special day? According to the Nelson Mandela Day web site:
Following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in June 2008, it was decided that there could be nothing more fitting than to celebrate Mr Mandela’s birthday each year with a day dedicated to his life’s work and that of his charitable organisations, and to ensure his legacy continues forever.
The Mandela Day campaign message is simple: Mr Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.
Mandela Day is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time, just as Mr Mandela did.
Please visit this web site to learn how to make your pledge of 67 minutes: http://www.mandeladay.com/static/what-is-mandela-day
And, if you would like to learn more about Mandela's extraordinary fight for freedom and equality, I highly recommend his personal autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom.