Sunday, 16 February 2014

In a different minority

It's interesting to be in a tiny cultural minority for a change. Ladybrand is about 80% Sotho speaking, 8% Afrikaans and 5% English. That's by first language. In the town everyone appears to speak English as well. The Afrikaans speakers all appear to speak English too: the converse is definitely not true. 

The 2011 census for Ladybrand shows 88% black African, 3% coloured and 8% white. Overwhelmingly the blacks live in the expanding township on the edge of town on the other side of a main road. Homes there are typically of concrete blocks with galvanised iron roofs, a door in the middle of one side with a window on either side of it. The garden is used in various ways just as at home: for some families it's a fertile food source, for others it's a rubbish tip. 

But then again, rubbish may not be what it appears! Waste is not segregated by households, but is apparently 'sorted' by people who rummage through the tip and pick out what they can sell on. It's hard to think of a more wretched use of the term recycling. Ladybrand boasts on large notices as you approach that it is an Ecotown. 

One of the first things to catch my eye when walking around is the virtually complete absence of solar energy generation. Here we are sweltering under the powerful African sun and 80% of the country's electricity is generated by coal. The government has announced a new nuke but no houses heat their water with the sun and I've seen just one photovoltaic unit and that on a derelict building in the country. 

For the record between 25% and 35% of people are unemployed, and 25% of people live on less than $1.25 a day. You can get a gardener or a cleaner for well under £5 for about 6-7 hours. Food in the shops is a little cheaper than at home because of the exchange rate which favours the tourist at present. Living in a town with no tourist business the reality of daily life is not hidden from you. We are told that 'security' issues are increasingly visible with most houses and public buildings surrounding by metal palisades and various security devices. There is an abundance of firms that watch your property. Dogs do the job too and walking down the street is a less appealing experience than it might be as a succession of fierce dogs test the efficacy of the fence that keeps them from you. 

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Yesterday included a trip to some San rock paintings. I'll put some photos here or on Facebook when I can. The San originally populated the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and how they were removed from their land by invasion (by other black tribes from the north, and by white 'settlers' from the south) is a bitter read. Talking to an educated member of one of those black invading tribes who populate part of the area today, I found no interest or curiosity at all in the San history or the previous inhabitants of the land. I hope this is not typical. I'd like to see what black school kids are taught today about their history. They certainly wear very smart uniforms to school. I wonder where a parent on a dollar a day finds the money for that. 

We shall go to Lesotho tomorrow. It's an independent democratic mountain kingdom landlocked by South Africa. There is a growing American presence there in an effort to stem Chinese influence. The Chinese presence was described to us as 'a rash all over Africa' and the fact that they will work 12 hours a day 7 days a week makes them uneven competition for most people here including the Americans. They have seemingless limitless money and use prison labour from home to work on Chinese-funded projects here. Brilliant really. Commit a crime back in China and next thing you are building the new government offices in Lesotho. 

According to the UN Lesotho is also the world's rape capital (more rapes per capita than anywhere else) and 16% of men said in a survey that a man was entitled to use violence to make his wife have sex with him. It also has one of the world's highest incidences of HIV/AIDS. In urban areas half of women under 40 are infected. The population is 40% Roman Catholic. Relevant?

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