A British journalist who covered South Africa during the apartheid era revisits the country as a tourist and suggests that, while crime and corruption are hurting the new nation, its “exuberant assortment of races and tribes” will somehow survive.
As a reporter, Bell wrote only about politics, but in the late 1990s he wanted to see the sights and to learn more about the mix of people Archbishop Desmond Tutu christened the “Rainbow Nation.” So he spent six months touring the country, beginning and ending his travels (a mix of conventional sightseeing and journalistic fact-finding) in Cape Town. Bell climbed Table Mountain and visited such historically significant places as St. George’s Cathedral, site of many anti-apartheid protests, and Ruben Island, Nelson Mandela’s prison for 26 years. But he also attended a session of parliament, from which former foes now emerge arm-in-arm. He met “coloreds,” people of mixed race who feel the new African government is ignoring them, and whites like Humpies, an Afrikaans wine farmer who has adjusted to the change but is worried about crime. Bell then traveled west by car to Aplington in the desert, stopping along the way in Orange, a whites-only settlement, and at a farm with a pet cheetah that liked to watch television. He visited Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as tourist spots like the Kruger Game Preserve and the casinos at Sun City. He concludes that South Africans’ two great concerns are crime and government corruption. Blacks and whites all cite their fear of the gangs that hijack cars, rape, and kill indiscriminately, turning formerly vibrant city centers into dangerous killing fields.
With an eye to the significant as well as the picturesque, this breezy and informative account captures the best and worst of the new South Africa.