Cry, the beloved country

In 1948, before the South African government’s 200px-CryBelovedCountryimplementation of the unjust apartheid system (racist law separating blacks from whites) a writer named Alan Paton wrote these famous words:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

I picked up a copy of this book from a table at Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. A friend recommended I read it. Being a literary junky, I thought why not take a pause from reading the monumental Martin Meredith book: The State of Africa and give this novel a quick read.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending the next few days absorbing this classic South African novel. Its protagonist is a simple village elder drawn into the cesspool that is 1940s Johannesburg to search for his lost sister and son. While I don’t want to ruin the novel, I must admit that I grew attached to the character, seeing much of the good in this country represented in his actions.

Johannesburg (known colloquially as JoBurg or Jozi) is a city which keeps you on your toes. I’d heard so much about the violent crime that when I arrived I was on edge, constantly looking over my shoulder as I walked around Park Station. Once I oriented myself, I headed straight to Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnship). I preferred to stay in the black township rather than take my chances in the big city, knowing I’d most likely be robbed because of my love for walking anywhere at any hour.

I ended up in JoBurg every day anyway. It’s a fascinating city with so much to offer. Of course if you fall into a lull, or false sense of security, you may be reawakened by a knife at your throat with someone demanding your money and valuables. A bit graphic? Yes. But reality. The more I explored JoBurg, the more I fell in love with it. I actually stumbled upon a slam poetry event at The Bus Factory (a hip NGO building crammed with art and hipsters) in Newtown.My feet at Cape Agulhas

Next stop on the South African circuit was Cape Town. After a few nights out on Long Street, the ‘hip strip’ packed with bars and restaurants, I needed to relax, so I headed out for a week on The Garden Route with a few new friends (two Brazilians and two Canadians). We spent some quality time together and became good friends, referring to ourselves as ‘The Herd’ due to the quick stampede toward our final destination: Addo Elephant Park outside of Port Elizabeth.

Back in the cape, I spent a weekend dancing at the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival. On my last day there, I saw a large gathering outside of the Western Cape legislature building, so the journalist in me started asking questions. It was an anti-rape demonstration lead by the women of the ANC (African National Congress). I found some youth to speak to about the increasing amount of violence against women in the region and put together a story for Children’s Radio Foundation, a great NGO based in Cape Town, where I’m told it will be used to teach kids at their next radio workshop.

*For another great book on South African history and race relations, read My Traitor’s Heart by journalist Rian Malan.*

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About

Adam Bemma is a journalist and media development advisor working in East Africa and Southeast Asia.

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