The writing on the (African) wall

You can learn a lot about a place by reading the local signage. Yesterday a restaurant advised that ‘Firearms and or dangerous weapons are not encouraged to be brought onto the premises’. In a public toilet the door notice requests one ‘Please not to chuck tee-shirts into the toilet pan’.

As yet I’ve not been tempted to break either rule. But in a new country it's good to know what's allowed and what isn’t; what matters, and to whom.

Pretoria is a place of stark contrasts: leafy suburbs locked behind 2m walls and razor wire, while the highways beyond are fringed in shanty towns ranging from brick boxes down to rusted iron lean-to’s. Part of the population is too nervous to walk outside their own gates while others are obliged to trudge 15km or more to reach the nearest shop.

The black plastic rubbish bag is ubiquitous: for garbage, or for the sum of one’s worldly possessions. (I suspect I’d struggle to balance mine on my head, even reduced to ‘travelling light’ proportions.)

South Africa’s divide of rich and poor is exacerbated by an influx of illegal immigrants. For most I suspect the Promised Land proves no more attainable this side of the fence, and the accommodation options are a step down from the corrugated iron lean-to. The promise may be larger, but the reality must seem rather thin.

Yet, that the promise is still here after so much national pain and upheaval must be a positive sign. Perhaps another sign sums it up: at a conference centre a billboard describes the surrounding gardens, offering a map to show the layout and photos of all the blooms to be found. Only the small print mentions that ‘What the master plan shows is not only what is but what we envision will become’. Hopefully that also proves true of South Africa itself.

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iBooks Best  of 2014
Donnel's Promise
by Anna Mackenzie