Last month I had a once in a lifetime opportunity. I travelled thousands of miles to study some of the world’s most amazing animals in their natural habit in South Africa. The trip took lots of preparation and thousands of saved dollars. As a foreigner in South Africa, I was able to see and study over 70 different species that are native only to Africa.
My experience was amazing, but what was the experience of a native? The answer is simple, they didn’t have an experience. In fact, most South Africans never go on a safari. They never get to visit their national parks.
The harsh reality is that it is easier for an American to spend thousands of dollars and travel halfway around the world than it is for most South Africans to visit their own parks.
For starters, the parks are located far away from the city. As a tourist travelling with The Ohio State University, obtaining transportation was no problem at all. But for most South Africans, the cost and time involved here is too high. How can they afford transportation to visit a park when they are living in a shack and struggling to provide for dinner that night?
Upon arrival at the park, whether it be Kruger National Park or a private game reserve, a steep entrance fee must be paid. This is about 30 dollars or 300 South African Rand per person. This would be cost prohibitive for many American families, let alone most South Africans where the average annual income per household is a mere $6,800.
So who was in the park? I would say almost every single person I saw there was white. If you travelled to South Africa and only visited Kruger National Park, based on the people you saw you would think you were in Europe. This is astounding given the fact that over 90% of South Africans are NON-white, the majority being black or colored.
You could have told me that South Africa was still under Apartheid rule and I would have believed you. Every business we visited was owned by white people and operated by black people. The white people lived in fortified neighborhoods that resembled small fortresses, complete with electrified barbed wire fences. The black people lived in small half completed homes or shacks.
It is easy to be duped into thinking that South Africa is somehow equal now that Apartheid has ended. We all know who Nelson Mandela is and when we think of South Africa we think of a brilliant black leader in a country where blacks are thriving under newfound equality. The sad truth is that simply changing the law to declare equality, did not create equality.
You may be thinking, wow, I didn’t realize black South Africans were still suppressed by their country’s racist background! But, how different is this from the United States. How often do you see whites thriving and blacks struggling? South Africa denounced racism just 21 years ago. The United States has had 150 years since the end of slavery and 47 years since the end of the Civil Rights Movement.
Theoretically, we should be light years ahead of South Africa. We are not. It is pretty clear that it takes more than just a change in the code of law to create equality. This is why we need affirmative action. This is why we need equal funding of schools. This is why we need equal enforcement of the law.
Most whites today do not consider themselves racist. But we must understand that we were born into an inherently racist system with lingering effects from the past. We must actively seek to undue and correct for this racist inequality. Active racism isn’t the issue of today, complacent racism is. Are you part of the solution? If not, you are participating in racism and you have the power to change that.