Wednesday, October 26, 2005

third world, and first rate

after spending the whole weekend chit chatting, monday morning started off very interestingly. en route to work, i was chatting with someone about the sociopolitical scene in south africa. when we were getting out of the car i remarked to him how i thought it was garbage to rate south africa as a third world nation. for the next hour we sat in the parking lot as he gave me a very articulate and absolutely riveting commentary on the scene here. now since i got here, ive been having these chats with people on and off, and heard some interesting stuff. i thought id share a mish-mash of it with you folks.

first, here goes what little ive learnt of the ground factors here. the south african scene is similar to ours. you could call what is happening here, an alternative to the mess in india. starting with their recent history, this is a country that has two big blocs of people - the whites and the blacks. the whites are the richer population : you will see very few of them standing on the roads hawking stuff. most of them seem to have cars, and the cars they drive are all more up-market. they live in nice houses with all the facilities. the blacks are not all miserably poor, but the majority are definitely poorer than the whites, have lower grade jobs, and have a bigger population of unemployed folks. BUT, things are in motion for a change.

many of the blacks used to be illiterate but have now been supported to get an education. it is compulsory to hire a number of them in managerial capacity. that used to create problems because they were seldom qualified for the posts. now, however, there is a new generation of young blacks who are completing their education and are competent, qualified, and in demand.

the whites are an absolute hodge podge of backgrounds: you have spanish, french, germans, portugese, naturally dutch, british... you name it. in the last few years, trade has really picked up here, leading to many changes. south africa is now about the only african nation to really prosper. nearly everyone who works speaks english (or needs to!) and afrikaans is becoming less prevalent, there's a more "global" context to everything, people have seen more of other countries and their systems. in doing so, they have brought the best of all the systems they have seen to their own country.

these people were really late to step into cellular communications, but now they have top of the line technology. theyre currently upgrading their pipe line networks. they have terrific road systems. theyre also heading for a traffic congestion problem, so theyre working on introducing car pooling and other options that the countries which are already in a mess are trying out. theres a drive on to clean up corruption and keep tabs on government expenditure.

there are programs on tv that do really decent spade work, that have now been running for 10 years and have therefore been doing some long term tracking on government promises on schemes. and the best part: people actually watch em. I saw one of the programs last night – it was called carte blanche. they covered a staggering range of subjects. I hear the same folks had cleared up the charities mess for the country earlier – soon after apartheid was overthrown, there were simply hundreds of charities for children, orphans, black orphans and so on. people were giving money, but didn't know what was happening. this program did some footwork, tracked down the charities, got the funds theyd received, checked what they were doing, and finally presented the few reliable ones they found. after that particular episode, quite a few of the boguses disappeared quietly.

its not that the odds are all in this countrys favour: the population density is very less for the huge land area, making providing services like telecom very expensive. the telecom scene is nowhere as good as ours in terms of penetration or cost of service. public transport is abysmal and virtually non existent. (we may well pat ourselves on the back for the sheer coverage and volumes that our public transport systems handle!) the blacks and whites may not have problems living together as earlier, but society is still very fragmented: there are clearly demarcated black population strongholds in housing areas and vice versa. I havent seen that much social mingling of the races either. (if you look at our many layered society, as much as theres constant friction there is also a higher degree of interaction)

south africa has the human rights problems that any country with a large population of poor people would have, but laws have been framed to address their unique situation. if women were traditionally oppressed and deprived of rights, there is a very deliberate and well thought out initiative to set right the situation now. the country, notorious for earlier apartheid atrocities, seems to be genuinely trying to improve conditions for black people now.

the current trend is that of people migrating from self sufficient farms in rural areas to urban poverty - the government seems to have been quick to notice it and start planning for it. as much of the tourism revenue depends on the unique flora and fauna of the region, a law has been passed to guard the indigenous species of the land. introduced plants and animals are discouraged, and there are really well-maintained bioreserves and parks.

so any direction you look in, it hits you pretty hard: these people are really trying.

what was really impressive, was this sense of collective spirit i encountered when speaking to people. its easier to get together for dramatic issues. where its tough, but can make a big difference, is in unglamorous day to day things like garbage disposal and recycling or traffic discipline and car pooling.

this place leaves me feeling totally bewildered. why not us? why cant we do these small things to improve the lives of our people? it may sound trite and too simplistic a question, but right now, i really am totally puzzled. i don't care too much for the nation - boundary thing, but as countries go, i honestly think we've an awesome one. it has to be possible people – come on! lets get our act together!!

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9 Comments:

Blogger Sea and Sky said...

South Africa has done quite a few innovative things... which the rest of the world probably only talks about in intellectual circles. TRC (truth and reconciliation commission) is one of the most courageous and "outta the box" examples of restorative justice... something that'll keep amazing people and make them wonder - "if they can, why can't we"... guess that's what's called evolution!

6:36 am  
Blogger Bombay said...

nice writing,
- m
http://bombay11.blogspot.com

10:13 am  
Blogger morpheus said...

oy madcap....if u get this...u owe me a mail..especially after ive been to the NATIONAL ART GALLERY here !!!! he he.

12:20 am  
Blogger sensiblystoned said...

absurdity from an "intelligent" education board http://www.hindu.com/2005/11/05/stories/2005110508420100.htm

thought you would be interested in reading it.

8:44 am  
Blogger Jake said...

and we dont have any new posts coming our way ?

8:10 pm  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

Very nice. You are my window into a nation unknown...thanks!

6:35 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

bhedu, post nahin? snail chasing?

9:48 am  
Blogger S. said...

even for a bloated ego like urs, 2 requests for the next post should be enough.......but here's a third one just in case.........WHERE'S THE NEXT POST?

5:20 pm  
Blogger m. said...

hullo all, and thanks a lot for dropping by - except misha ie (lady, im counting days for you to return so i can clobber you!!lol)

erm. new post. coming... coming... unfortunately vulgar considerations like work are cramping my style! :D

8:03 pm  

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