Saturday, September 8, 2012

South Africa in 100 Words or Less

Our meeting at the South African embassy was more fun than formal meetings deserve to be.

For starters, we got semi-lost on the way there.  The embassy had wandered from its real location near the British embassy, far past Embassy Row and into an industrial building that provided a unique courtyard but none of the traditional embassy vibe.  The “real” embassy is under repair so the South African employees are housed in shabbier digs for a year until the renovation is complete.

The ambassador himself was not in the office (he was on a flight back from the Democratic conference) so we got to meet with three of his staff.  As much as I love meeting ambassadors, it was wonderful to relax and just talk to the three amazing men who met with us.  We got an official presentation from Johnny Moloto, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (awesome job title), and in half an hour he threw out a dizzying amount of great information:
·       South Africa must deal with what can be summarized as two separate nations: the developed, cosmopolitan areas and the rural areas where citizens live in third world conditions.  As Johnny summarized, “We are a country of contradictions.  Our economic infrastructure is well developed, but our social infrastructure has a long way to go.”
·      There’s a lot still being figured out in South African governance as they continue to evolve beyond the changes that occurred under the “South African miracle” (the transition from apartheid to democratic government without widespread civil war).
·      Investments in South Africa are sometimes deterred by the perception of crime.  There is crime in South Africa, especially in Johannesburg, but it is rarely white collar crime.  This is bad for the average person but it doesn’t create an unstable economic environment.  (I’m not sure I agree with that but I’ll withhold comments until I get to experience Johannesburg for myself.)
·       “Africa is the next frontier.”  There are numerous high-level political and economic coalitions forming that are transforming the world’s view of the southern Africa region.  (More on many of them as I track down more details.)  The world is beginning to see South Africa as a possible investment rather than a location for development aid and funding.
·       South African courts are incredibly well respected and active.
·       The South African government has invested in a multi-tiered marketing strategy to keep momentum and world focus following the success of the World Cup.
Once that firehose of great information stopped, we just got to have an enjoyable conversation with our new South African friends.  One gentleman, whose name I never caught, broke the suit-and-tie professionalism and strolled into the meeting a few minutes late wearing a guyabara.  He was delightful, prone to honesty and very jealous that we got to go to South Africa and he did not yet get to go home.
I could have spent a full day hearing their perspectives on their country, but the bus awaited.  Our day of meetings wrapped up and we boarded planes, trains and automobiles for the foreseeable future.
Now it’s Sunday morning in Cape Town.  I felt like I’d been hit by a bus when my alarm jolted me out of my featherbed-enshrined sleep (seriously, this bed is amazing) but now I’m ready to start another amazing day.  There are birds singing in the hotel courtyard outside my window, a South African breakfast (thought likely the tourist variety) is waiting somewhere across the sidewalk, and I’m anxious to get started on my Cape Town explorations.

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