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South Africa, May 9, 2010

On the Inequity of Wealth in South Africa

Warning: armed response
Locked out of shops
I am no stranger to wealth inequality. I've lived it personally when I was growing up poor, and I see it daily in Washington DC. Often wealth inequality is about class as much as race, yet in South Africa I found race to be the defining characteristic.

Class divide in cars

In every country I've visited in Africa, black Africans are the most populous people driving cars. Now there are some white people behind the wheel - be they natives and expats, but by in large, the driving population ethnicity mimics the overall population.

But not in South Africa. I was shocked to see only whites driving in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Black Africans were in shared minibus taxis or walking. Now I did see one or two black Africans driving, but they were in the extreme minority.

Poverty spotlights

Next, when I was flying into Cape Town, we passed over endless suburbs that looked just like American suburbs at night - street lights and house lights illuminating the dark.

Then we passed over dark sections of Cape Town, which I thought were parks till I realized they were townships pitch black in their poverty. Several were lit up, but with super bright stadium lights on giant poles that cast a communal glow over the township, illuminated like prisons of destitution.

No retail therapy

On the main shopping street of Cape Town, I found a physical manifestation of wealth inequity: metal gates at shop entrances. And I don't mean metal shutters at night, but actual metal grates across door entrances during normal business hours.

Shopkeepers are so afraid of those without means to purchase; they require those with means to buzz in to their shops. Off-putting to say the least. Almost as much as the private security signs next to doors declaring "armed response".

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South Africa, May 8, 2010

Flat Elise Snuck into South Africa's Parliament!

Flat Elise is a sneaky one
"Quick, buy stamps!" That's what Flat Elise told me as we were in line for a tour of South Africa's Parliament building. As we turned left to grab stamps at the cute little post office in Parliament, the tour went right and disappeared down the hallway.

By the time we had our stamps, the tour was nowhere in sight. It was just Flat Elise and I, let loose in the legislative capital of the Republic. So we went exploring.

I've been to the US Capital Building before - it's a surprisingly easy place to visit if you skip the annoying tour. In fact, you can walk right it - no need for a reason, as these are your elected representatives, right? You should be able to visit them at your leisure. Still, you have to go through a security check, as you do in South Africa.

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South Africa, May 7, 2010

Car Parking Craziness in Cape Town

Beware the Parking Warden!
South Africa is an amazingly car-centric country, partly due to geography, with large distances between lightly populated areas, and partly as a legacy of apartheid, with physical distance as a means of enforcing segregation.

Car ownership is also highly concentrated, its mainly rich whites that drive, with Africans in share taxis or walking. Which is why the car parking craziness of South Africa took me by such surprise.

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South Africa, May 6, 2010

Firearm Check-in at JNB Johannesburg Airport

Firearms Check-in Signage
Of all the signs I've seen in the many airports worldwide, the bright yellow "Firearms Check-In" was the most unexpected. And yet, there it was, shining bright at Johannesburg International Airport.

Now I understand why gun-toting citizenry should check their weapons. We don't need arguments over seat assignments escalating into inter-cabin shootouts, but it surprises me that there's a need for firearm check-in to begin with.

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