A few years ago my "Wingman" and I were wanting to go to South Africa. I call him my wingman because we are good friends who travel well together, having been to both Europe and the South Pacific with no trouble at all. Our elaborate plan for South Africa included trading in miles for First Class all the way on Emirates out of JFK on the new A380 and connect in Dubai for the flight to Capetown. Less than six months after the service began, however, Emirates pulled the A380 from New York which had been running twice a day and averaging maybe 150 people. That plus the falling economy scotched our plans for the trip but it wasn't the first time I had made plans for South Africa and cancelled them.
South Africa is simply not a place to "hit it and quit it" in some long weekend tour of highlights. It's too far for one thing, too big, too diverse in landscape and arguably the most complex western society on the planet. Kruger National Park, world famous for the "big five" rhino, hippo, lion, cape buffalo and elephant populations, is in the extreme northeast of the country, nearly 1000 miles away from the historic and volatile playground of Cape Town, home of Table Mountain, world class beaches, Robben Island and shark tours in False Bay. Durban and the KwaZulu Natal region lay nearly two hours by air along the coast to the east again, offering a heady mixture of Miami Beach climate and tribal war battlefields.
Then there is the rich music scene of which I've been a fan since Paul Simon came out with "Graceland." A pungent mixture of reggae, hip hop and tribal rhythms, South African music is on the world stage like never before thanks to acts such as Freshlyground, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Soweto Gospel Choir, Bongo Maffin, Thandiswa Mazwai, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Danny K (listen to this one) and the many iterations of Johnny Clegg with his Zulu based band Savuka. Previous generations will remember the late Miriam Makeba for "The Click Song" and "Pata Pata."
That is a lot of land and sound to cover and the reasons most people schedule close to a full month in the country to make it all worthwhile. Like most Americans, however, I don't have four weeks to dedicate to one vacation. Like most people in general I have concerns for my health in a land where one in five is HIV Positive to go along with "lesser" illnesses such as diphtheria, malaria and hepatitis A and B! Like most people in general again I have concerns for my physical safety where news reports constantly stream stories of desperate poverty and endemic crime- tour books even blame baboons by the side of the road who have learned that foolish foreigners that stop for photos with their windows rolled down are easy pickings for a good carjacking.
Where the United States is a rough half-century ahead of South Africa in true freedom and democracy for all citizens, and where some will argue there is still some ways to go, South Africa remains in the grip of significant social teething.
Over twenty years after Mandela was released the recent murder of an extremist has the world press up in arms to report how the entire country is all but on the verge of social collapse. White Afrikaners are concerned with mounting evidence of corruption and largesse within the single-party government under the African National Congress - poor blacks remain disenfranchised and poor while, in a theme stretching the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, those in power live in luxury behind gated communities. That is, if I am to believe everything I read coming out of a country some 9,000 miles away.
It has been, again, 15 years since the 1995 Rugby World Cup that outsiders are led to believe did so much in beginning the healing and coming together of a truly dynamic society.
I have traveled to every "civilized" corner and continent of this planet and never been concerned with or thought to ask how my race will affect my experience overseas. That is the gift and benefit of 50 years of social progress in my own country, the confidence to travel abroad in both physical and social security. Three times I have tried and failed to get to this incredible country; I don't have 50 years left to play with.
When, South Africa, when can I come and visit you?