By Busiinge Chris
In June this year, I and my colleague Julius Mwanga had the opportunity to visit the land of Madiba, South Africa. The purpose of our visit was to attend a global conference on Sustainable Food Systems and study the South African Food System.
I was personally very glad to be visiting the land of the man most admired by the world, Madiba Rolishasha Mandela. The man who spent 27 years of his 95 years in Jail at Robin Island, reason-his main crime: rejecting the Apartheid in South Africa. He became so revered that, for many Africans, the name Mandela is a household name. In fact, our youngest son is named Madiba because of the works of this man.
I always desired to meet the man while he was still alive, and at least shake his hands but the chance never came forth. It was always meant to be a dream- but I consoled myself in the fact that I would at least visit his homeland –and his get to see his birthplace.
Here I was on South African soil. My heart jumped as soon as we arrived in the South African air space. My eyes hovered around, as if, they would find the image of the worlds most revered freedom fighter, Madiba Rolishasha Mandela.
As soon as we landed at O.R Tambo airport in Johannesburg, images of the South African apartheid revolution rushed through my mind. My head could not avoid the images of Black South Africans on the streets fighting with the Apartheid regime police and the brutality of the police. Of course this was just in my head and it was no more-Apartheid ended years ago!
Our visit to the South West Town (SOWETO), to Hector Pieterson Square and on Vilakazi Street, the only street in the World hosting town noble peace prize winners re-incarnated these images of the Apartheid struggle. We were humbled to enter the Mandela house, to see with our very own eyes where the life of the revolutionary Mandela and his family started from but also the fact that Mandela preserved the African culture, of keeping the umbilical cords. We saw a tree growing in the backyard of Mandela house, and there the umbilical cords for Mandela’s children were buried. The visit to Mandela house was breathtaking; one could not talk but only ponder about the life of this great man but also how bad the apartheid regime had treated the Black South Africans.
We were also glad that there was recognition of the bad deeds of the apartheid regime and that South Africa was on the different course to respecting human rights and that all the people despite their skin color were now being treated as equals
Driving out of O.R. Tambo airport, presented a new South Africa, with a very magnificent road network. I have been to some developed countries, but I found the road network of South Africa quite far ahead. Driving from Johannesburg to Pretoria (TSwane) is amazing. You can drive on a 4-5 lanes one way to Pretoria and the same from Pretoria to Johannesburg. No traffic jams, unless for situations where there is an accident on the road which is also rare. Unlike our Kampala traffic lights, those in South Africa and in every corner are working all the time. Traffic officers, are also rare sight on the road.
Since the days of Mandela, South Africa has been experiencing a change of leadership through electoral democracy. The current president is Jacob Zuma , but we were amazed with the open criticism that his leadership was receiving despite his contribution to the economy. This is very remarkable. We saw posters on the streets in Johannesburg, saying “Zuma must go”. You may not successfully do it In Uganda, without earning yourself some beating or tear gas from the regime. We learnt that, the South African government understands where South Africans are coming from, and demonstration is a right to gain freedom. We were told that South Africans can demonstrate freely, if they wanted to.
We generally got a good feel that South African economy was progressing well, although 1.9% growth of GDP performance was considered very low by many South Africans. In fact, comparatively, Uganda’s economic performance at 3.7 % by July 2017, suggests that Uganda’s economy was performing better than that of South Africa. Of course, this should also be put into perspective, the South African economy is highly industrialized, including in the agricultural sector. South Africa makes most of the cars that South Africans are driving, and the presence of McDonalds, KFC restaurants and many shopping malls, including in Soweto, is an indication of an economy performing well.
South African is also investing in people who are still at the lowest level of the economic development ladder. In Soweto, the government has provided fast class roads, and investing in schools. The government is providing water and solar power to the poor.
The investment in the education sector glares in your face with the magnificent UNISA complex in Pretoria (Tswane). Here students come from across South African to study, and they are also well known for their online university programmes.
While government is trying to address the poverty challenges among the poor, one could see that the struggle for many poor Black people still continues. In Soweto, there are still new makeshift shelters coming up, and in Pretoria (Tswane), there are people still eating from trash bins. The sight of people (both black and White) eating from Trash bins and beggars on the street again reminded me of the song, “give me some money”, by Chico, a South African, who sang it during the Apartheid days.
Indeed, it appears the struggle continues, and we also heard that many South Africans feel that the struggle has not paid off except for those in government. The economy is still in the hands of the white minority, and not yet reverted to the majority Black South Africans. Many people feel upbeat about this, to the extent that, some feel that elders led by Mandela sold their struggle, that has since come with minimal gains for the Black South Africans.
Lastly, South Africa and Uganda cannot compare both economically and politically. There is a lot that Uganda can learn from South African democracy, the economy and reforms for the poor.South Africans seem to mean what they do, and that could also be something that Uganda can as well learn from South Africa. Otherwise, the comparison of Uganda and South Africa can easily be depressing given how unserious we look on the Ugandan side.