Welcome to South Africa

There are many inspiring stories to be told, despite the all too frequent talk of crime, racism, poverty, Aids and corr

    A shake, a twist, a light clasp and subtle thumb click away, eyes on eyes throughout after half a dozen townships and about fifty clumsy hellos I conquered it - the South African handshake.

    I had only tasted a tiny part of this country before I was sent here for a month as our woman on the ground.

    A fortnight in Johannesburg casualty unit after a car accident in Botswana ten years ago and dinner at a beautiful bend in the River Vaal during an overnight flight transfer hardly count as an introduction. 

    But for years I have been reading and listening to my friends’ stories about the magical and sometimes brutal place that is their home. 

    I heard the warnings to be careful, but basking in the glory of the post-World Cup South African swagger I didn't really heed them. The country had gone to the ball and walked away with Prince Charming.

    Then bang - a smash and grab.

    "Welcome to South Africa" was my friend’s response when I told her I had my bag stolen while standing 10 metres away from our car.

    Easy target

    Austin, my brave Zimbabwean cameraman had run after the robbers into a part of Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town called Harare.

    When he was joined by a bunch of angry local residents the thieves dropped their booty and went on to find another easy target.

    Sadly it is all too easy to find stories about crime, poverty, Aids, xenophobia, corruption and just plain old-fashioned racism in South Africa. I have reported on them all over the last two weeks.

    The people who came to help us were fed up they told me. They want things to change.

    Some sweep glass out of the car. Two get on the phone to the police and another carries out a forensic investigation of my door and the robber's rock-of-choice to see if they had left any trace of themselves behind.


    I was amazed by how kind they all were. The police came, they could do nothing. They wanted to but couldn't. Frustration all round.

    These are the stories-less-talked about. The inspiring people here, rising above it all despite their world's best efforts to keep them down.

    Khayelitsha is home to 700,000 people. Its the second largest township in South Africa. At least 50 per cent of residents are unemployed and competition for work can be deadly.

    It is also where most of the Somalis, Zimbabweans, Malawians and many other African nationals live – travelling from here into jobs in the city.

    After the games were over, at least 1,000 foreign nationals fled to shelters formal and informal fearing a repeat of the 2008 nationwide targeted violence when 67 people were killed.

    Brutally beaten

    Rhoda Maina’s husband was brutally beaten during those attacks. After the World cup He fled to Zimbabwe with Rhoda’s children. She stayed to hold onto a regular cleaning job she has in town. 

    She told me she was scared but life goes on. And so far it more or less has.

    There have been attacks, but nowhere near the ferocity of 2008. Hundreds of people had their homes looted after the tournament and more than a dozen were injured in xenophobia related incidents.

    This time the police are paying attention. I met with communities joining together to oppose xenophobia. South Africans standing up for their longtime neighbours. Many talked of their common tribal roots – especially with Zimbabweans.

    Also in Khayelitsha we found people volunteering for a community programme being run by Medecins Sans Frontieres to help HIV/AIDS infected people from contracting their biggest killer TB.

    It should be completely cureable but when people drop in and out of treatment the normal TB bug grow drug-resistant. And that version of the infection has a 30 per cent mortality rate.

    Neliswa has had TB twice, and found out she was HIV positive when she was 23, a decade ago. Now she is an expert patient. She spends all day everyday visiting people in her community to make sure they are on the right path with their medecine. It seems to be making a difference – death rates are down - and it is all down to her dogged walking of the sometimes dangerous streets.

    'Police criminality'

    We have also been looking into police corruption. Something that is getting worse rather than better by most accounts

    In 2003 the internal investigations unit was dissolved and nothing has been put in place to replace it. The then-commissioner, Jackie Selebi, is due to be sentenced on corruption charges on August 2nd. This is the former head of Interpol.

    Liza Grobler, a criminologist who carried out a study into what she insists should be called "police criminality" says she estimates around 10 per cent of the force is involved.

    "They start in their first week. Just rookies ripe for controlling. Then they carry on their parallel careers – one inside the force and one as a criminal until they get caught," she said.

    But they rarely get caught. The government doesn't seem to be doing anything about it, but individuals are.

    They're sticking their peaked caps above the parapet. Whistleblowers, like the traffic police officer I am working with at the moment, willing to go public in order to expose what he says is a fraud running into hundreds of thousands of dollars and the cover-up that followed.

    He has been victimised for speaking out. His salary has been blocked for four months. His traffic police car taken away. He is scared. A friend of his was fired last week, he says it was because he gave the whistleblower a lift to work. And both of them say their fellow officers want to speak out too but don't know how.

    Building pride

    On my second day here I met a 25-year-old single mother of one called Nani.

    She was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and had been up since dawn volunteering to help build houses for her township, Ivory Park.

    The Youthbuild group had built 64 houses over the last year, moving her neighbours out of their corrugated iron shacks and into homes with four brick walls with a flushing toilet.

    Nani still lives in a shack herself, she says she is going to build her girl a house once she qualifies as a builder. With a stunning smile, her hand on heart she talked about following in Nelson Mandela's footsteps.

    I have a met a lot of people who are proudly going about making their corner of South Africa a little bit better. And it is working.


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