"I blessthe rains down in Africa / Gonna take some time to do the things we never had..." Aside from Toto making almost zero grammatical sense in their famous 80's hit, I always thought they were singing that they missed the rains down in Africa. Makes me think of lush, verdant jungles or a soft rain on the Serengeti. I get that. What's with the beatitudes? Also, Hakuna Matata is a Swahili expression, and originates from somewhere around Kenya rather than way down in South Africa. They've got Zulus (warriors) down here, and I don't think those guys have too many delightful little quips that Disney is going to adopt any time soon.
So if you forgive my little aside there (these posts are probably going to get weirder the more sleep deprived I become), I brought those things up because they're both misconceptions about Africa. More to the point, I think the average [American] just doesn't know too much about Africa or South Africa in particular. At least I didn't. The other reason I wanted to start off with some levity is that we came to South Africa to examine the economic concept of income inequality here. That, in and of itself, can be a very difficult topic for many people to write about (myself included), and it's made even more difficult by just how incredibly stark the disparities in income are in South Africa.
The economics behind income inequality here in South Africa might not actually be that complex, but the socio/political history of course is. Take South African currency, the rand, for example. Who's the most famous South African you can think of? Former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, right? Well, all the paper money here has his face on one side, and only his face:
The other side of the bills features different native wildlife - safe, non-political animals.
Why the focus on Mandela? He certainly wasn't the only activist leader fighting apartheid; the Johannesburg airport is named after his partner in his law practice, O.R. Tambo. The largest hospital in Johannesburg (3rd largest in the world!) is named after assassinated SACP leader, Chris Hani. Mandela was undoubtedly a great man and did a great deal to end apartheid, but I think in some ways he's become a safe figurehead. South African history is bloody, complex, and many of its wounds are not too far in the past. I think it might be difficult to so prominently feature other leaders without aggravating some of these wounds.
We had another whirlwind day in Johannesburg, so coming up I'll try to focus on the three major parts of our day here; the apartheid museum, a look at Soweto Township, and LIONS.