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Globalization and Development Essays (South Africa Field Journal)


Globalization and Development

3-3-12

South Africa

            South Africa seemed to be a nation coming into it's own.  With a dark recent history and a promising economic future, many aspects of South Africa are in transition.  This was most evident to me in the social atmosphere, the movement of people, and the flow of imports and exports.  All these areas highlight a troubled past but with hope and determination for the future. 

            The social climate in South Africa is very fascinating.  With Apartheid having ended in most of the population's lifetime, people are still trying to understand where they stand.  There is a divide in the black and colored community as to whether their country should embrace globalization and "western thinking" or if they should strive for a more isolationist approach that celebrates their traditions.  Already, so much of the culture, even in the townships, is permeated by western influence.  Schools are taught in English, Christianity is a major religion, and there is the connotation that the west means progress.  The white population of Cape Town is also struggling with handed down racism and integration of jobs, education, and cultures.  I was fascinated by this struggle and how open people were about it.  In the U.S. many social problems, especially ones where race is involved, are almost taboo subjects.  The fact that South Africans appear to have such an open dialogue about this mix of ideas and cultures makes me optimistic about their future. 

            South Africa's emergence onto the world stage, in a positive light with the World Cup a few years ago, has led to an export of some aspects of their culture.  Now, when I think of soccer, I think of South Africa.  The anthem for the World Cup, Waka Waka, is a top played song on my iPod and no professional soccer game is complete without a vuvuzela.  I am excited to learn new things from South African culture in the years to come.

            The movement of people contributes to this exchange and melding of culture.  When my tour guide talked of the thousands of immigrants who come to South Africa every week, it was with a mix of frustration and pride.  The pride was because South Africa is looked at as a safe haven, a beacon of hope for people in some of the less stable countries in Africa.  The frustration I noticed in my guide's tone was due to the struggle to provide for South Africans as well as immigrants.  Those who came to South Africa had very strongly cultivated work ethics as well as training in industries like tourism.  Often immigrants are hired over South African residents, which is a large source of tension.            People also come to South Africa to work with some of their most exciting natural resources, animals.  In the wildlife reserves and rehabilitation centers, most of the workers were from the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. 

            There was not much talk of people leaving South Africa.  This came as no surprise to me as it is a beautiful place with a strong and growing economy.  Even in areas of poverty, I saw hope and opportunity.  Much of the talk of emigration from South Africa was historical in nature.  In the 1970's and 80's middle class whites would leave to avoid the mandatory military involvement and mixed race couples would flee to the safety of Swaziland.

              Part of the reason for many of the positive things I witnessed in South Africa was the strong industry in exporting products and providing tourism services.  Africa in general has very rare and important resources in its flora and fauna.  Safaris, refuges, and national parks all brought a steady flow of tourism to the country.  Unfortunately, these resources were sometimes illegally exported in black markets.  I was shocked to find that the trade in birds of prey was second only to trade in drugs worldwide.  Trade in things like rhino horns and elephant tusks are also detrimental practices that occur and contribute little to the South African economy.

            Tourism is only a small part of South Africa's industry.  Professor Zimmer described South Africa as, "the China of Africa" meaning that most products are made here.  Sure enough, I checked the label on some cookies I bought in Ghana, and they were made in South Africa.  Wine is an emerging and important export as well.  Cape Town's Mediterranean climate is perfectly suited to produce wine grapes.  Since the deregulation of the industry, the wine has improved in quality and is enjoyed all over the world.  In fact, about half of all of the wine produced in South Africa is exported. 

            To me, South Africa seems like a nation that has come a long way in recent history but still has a long way to go in addressing it's social problems.   I was captivated by South Africa's natural resources and impressed at conservation and protection efforts.  I fell in love with the community of the township that promoted entrepreneurship in the face of unemployment, support in the face of poverty, and hope in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  I hope that as this country continues to share European and African backgrounds, the integrity of the culture in the townships remains and is not replaced by strictly western ideas and customs.  I hope that the poverty that I saw when I volunteered with Operation Hunger will be reduced by South African's growing economy and that economic opportunities are less dictated by race.  I can connect a lot of the social problems I saw to certain globalization practices, but at the same time, I see opportunities for more positive future in other aspects of globalization.  I cannot wait to come back to South Africa in a few years and see how things have changed.  

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