Archive by Author - Ray Lewis

South Africans Vote

by on April 23, 2009 at 9:04 am

South Africans voted for party and president yesterday, and though the ANC is going to maintain its 15-year hold on power in SA post-apartheid, it is unclear whether the party will gain a 2/3 majority necessary to change the constitution.  It will also take at least a few days to determine whether the results indicate shifts that may lead to significant change in the 2014 elections and beyond.

There was hope among the many unhappy with the ANC that a breakaway party, Congress of the People (COPE), would offer a strong alternative.  Infighting and poor leadership extinguished that, but there is reason to believe that demographic changes are substantive and point to the future.

More when results are in, but in the meantime there may be stories that report the continuation of one-party rule and highlight the compromised nature of Jacob Zuma, corruption and rape charges and tribalism.  There is truth to this, but the country is only 15 years removed from totalitarian rule, and alternatives are slow to emerge to the ANC, which is still rightfully seen as the deliverer from the wilderness.

Sowetan Prophecy & Poetry

by on December 12, 2008 at 3:35 pm

We hear from Prophet at the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, an outdoor museum tucked in a hillside park in the Jabavu section of Soweto.  The village is named after its creator, an artist, author and healer who began building the structures and sculptures in 1974.

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Below is his narration. Watch and listen to his energy and passion.

The sculpture garden, also called Khayalendaba, or "Place of Stories," was empty when we arrived, but suddenly Prophet appeared to lead us on an oral journey.  He provided mythical and religious meanings for the sculptures and symbols while weaving a tale of history and consequences, fables told and dreams interpreted, lessons learned, an amusing section on masculine and feminine energy, all delivered with passion and often with poetic energy, meter and heat. 

The space is surrounded by a park with a landscaped garden and, at the top of the hill, the Oppenheimer Tower, which gives a full view of Soweto and beyond. The tower is named after a mining magnate who donated money for the construction of houses to replace shacks in the township.

We are reminded by Prophet countless times that the space is a sacred one.

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Credo Mutwa is one of the many recent success stories of Soweto, rescued from disrepair in the last few years and restored with the help of some of the original builders.Soweto_joburg_87

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Photos by Renee Blodgett

Soweto’s Mall Offers High-End Designers

by on December 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

Another recent Sowetan triumph is the Maponya Mall. With more than 180 tenants and 1.5 million monthly visitors, it’s Soweto’s first major upmarket retail space.   It was built by Richard Maponya, an entrepreneur who bought the land in the 1980s and waited patiently for the political and economic landscape to change so that it could be built and that it could be supported by the locals.

It opened in 2007, a gorgeous space that looks along its middle like a sleek international airport terminal, with a selection of food purveyors, department stores and some upscale shops featuring goods that place design at a premium.

The parking lot was full of cars, as the video shows.  Shopping, it turns out, is the international language.

A Witness to the 1976 Soweto Uprising

by on December 10, 2008 at 2:11 am

Graeme Addison, a South African journalist who was on the scene at the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, tells us what he saw that day. Graeme speaks from the site of the Hector Pieterson memorial, commemorating one of the students who was killed by South African police that day.

The Soweto uprising is important in South African history because it marked a sharp turn in racial politics. It provided a spark for the black majority within South Africa to resist white rule and was the beginning of an 18-year struggle with the regime.  It also applied pressure on the apartheid government from the international community, which condemned the government’s actions and eventually led to crippling economic sanctions.

We also visited the adjoining museum, which depicts in text and video and many dramatic, large black-and-white photographs the events of that day as well as the history and consequences. The museum does not allow photographs or video to be taken, so below is a sample of images taken from that tragic day.

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Montana Meets Tuscany: South African Sky

by on December 8, 2008 at 1:05 am

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Change in South African Housing

by on December 5, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Here is a choppy and quick video that compares the current state of “shantytown” housing in Soweto with the homes that are being built to replace them. Eric, a local, narrates.

The shantytown section is particularly short, so go through the video a couple of times to see the difference. Also keep in mind that this settlement looked much better than most of the others that we’ve seen. Shacks are spaced farther apart and seem to be in better condition than the norm.

The improvements in infrastructure – water, sewage, electricity – will be even more important than what is considered the increase in dignity in moving out of the shacks. The government can’t build them fast enough, however, and there have been reports that many if not most of the new homes are sub-standard.

South African Sounds by Day and Night

by on December 5, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Soothing sounds of nature from the Plumari Lodge, only an hour from the metro area of Johannesburg which houses over eight million people.

America Gives South Africa Tourism Love

by on December 4, 2008 at 7:00 am

The United States has overtaken Germany as the second-biggest market for South African tourism, according to Wendy Tiou, Global Manager of Communications for South Africa Tourism.  (The U.K. is number one, of course).

We spoke over lunch at Moyo, an open-air Johannesburg restaurant set in a park near the zoo.  Moyo serves dishes from all parts of the country, including delicious curries, wild game and desserts that I’d never seen before and wish to meet again.

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Even more interesting than the food is the setting, with singers and dancers and drummers, and lamps that look like happy white jellyfish.

During the middle of the interview I had my face painted in a kind of sunshine warrior design.  How often does that happen to you during lunch?

South Africa is hosting the next World Cup, in 2010.  The World Cup, as most Americans don’t know, is the world’s biggest sporting event.  We hosted in 1994. Brazil won, remember?  Perhaps we can build on Obama’s victory and cement our improved relations with the rest of the world by finally appreciating “soccer.”

There are already signs counting down the days, even the seconds, until the first match.  As every host country has learned, preparations are overwhelming, but Ms. Tiou sounded confident that stadiums will be ready and there will be plenty of beds for the 450,000 visitors that are expected.  The country is eager to play host.

Tourism has grown substantially overall, not just from America.  And why not?  It’s a gorgeous country, the weather is great, the people are interesting, it has a fascinating human narrative, dynamic, cross-cultural, full of challenges and opportunities, and is defining itself anew.

If you want adventure travel, vineyard outings, ancient human history, city culture – it’s all here, and with the infrastructure, exchange rate and English language to make the journey an easy one for Americans and other first-world dwellers.  It’s a long haul, but if you have a couple of weeks it’s well worth the jet lag.

A Call From the Distant Past

by on December 2, 2008 at 1:21 am

Sometimes when I go to the ocean and stand at the edge of the water for awhile I can fell the pull of time.  It’s not like that eerie feeling on the northwest edge of Goat Island at Niagara Falls, the sense that there’s a slight hand at your back suggesting….

The feeling at the ocean is a reminder that we came from there.  Some serial entrepreneur fish decided one millennium to expand his target market by crawling onshore and here we are.   So you look out at the eternal sea, the waves that keep landing whether or not we’re there to see them, and the sense that we came from there just fits.

Wake up 30 minutes before first light and wait for sunrise in a South African field and it’s the same.  There is something about the air, the light and the stillness that is different from, say, the Rocky Mountains or Death Valley.  It reminds me of those long scenes in the first part of Kubrick’s 2001, scenes in which the camera lingered much longer than we are used to in film, hinting at the passage of eons.

This sense of beginning has some basis.  The San, or Bushmen, are by most accounts the oldest common ancestor of humans, and the tribes originated in what is now called Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.   Our group visited a San/Bushman cultural center and have a trip scheduled later for what is considered the cradle of humankind, so more on them later.

For now, it’s worth noting that an early morning in a South African landscape has some of the same effect as the ocean, an unconscious postcard (“Wish You Were Still Here”?) from a place all of us once called home.

South Africa Test

by on June 19, 2007 at 9:32 am

Test post

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