The moment your plane lands in Johannesburg, you will say “This can’t be Africa”. After those words fall from your lips, you will feel a pang of guilt for stating an uncomfortable truth.The truth is, the state-of-the-art facilities at O.R.Tambo International Airport is like none other in Africa. In fact, the airport is more modern than Charles de Gaulle, more organized than Heathrow and way friendlier than Schipol.
The name however, bears reference to South Africa’s ominous past. Oliver Reginald Tambo was a key figure in the anti-apartheid struggle who even in exile, galvanized international support to end racial segregation and other oppressive apartheid laws. It is fitting that such a magnanimous person be honored at the stately port that welcomes the world to South Africa.
I was quite a spectacle, trying to control my heels from skidding on the polished airport floor whilst I dragged my suitcases like timber logs to the Guatrain platform. Sabie, my host, had given me detailed directions to take the train to Sandton where a driver in a black Nissan Versa would drive me to her apartment. The driver criss-crossed over highways, zooming past lush green parks to meet the skyline of downtown Johannesburg. Sabie trotted down the stairs to hug me. She looked like a caramel coated treat, and she was just as sweet. She helped me into her plush suite and ordered me to feel at home before she run to work.
I called home. “This place is so nice I can’t believe it is Africa.” I gushed. “Well this is what could have happened to Ghana if Nkrumah and his cronies had not sacked the white man. All the development you see is owed to the white man” My mother glibbed. “Ma, you can’t say that! Yes the white man introduced things to Africa but, make no mistake, South Africa was built by South Africans. It was their hard work and their resources that was used to develop the country. How can you forget about the horror of apartheid which killed people and robbed generations of their potential.” Unknowingly, I was pacing up and down the room, flaring my hands, enraged by the ignorance of a statement often repeated by many. What they don’t acknowledge is the fact that the oppressive colonial systems pilfered African resources to fund the industrialization of the western world. Perhaps if colonisation had not happened, Africa would not be so divided. Perhaps we could have retained control of our own resources and hired migrant workers from say Britain, Portugal and France, to work on our roads, build sky scrapers, perhaps…I stopped pacing and looked outside with a new realization.
This is Africa! It was built on the backs of people like O.R Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Charlotte Maxeke who sweat and bled, knowing that although they may never see the results of their toil, they were sacrificing for a better South Africa. A South Africa where Blacks, Afrikaans, Whites and Indians could sit in the same room, pee in the same bathroom and even own planes that docked in one of the world’s finest airports.
By the time Sabie returned home, my anger had dissipated to curiosity. She uncorked a bottle of Fat Bastard and she shared with me why she is so proud of South Africa.
image of Johannesburg:bicyclefish.wordpress.com