Every so often an eikaiwa student asks me, "Is South Africa dangerous?" Or, "Is South Africa very rich?" Or, "Why aren't you black?"
It's more difficult to answer these questions than you might think.
Is South Africa dangerous? That depends, but if you're a Japanese tourist travelling alone, yes, it is. I've reached the conclusion that the average Japanese person, living in a relatively safe* society, is too trusting for Africa.
[* I'm not saying Japan is 100% safe. I'm not saying South Africa is 100% dangerous. I'm saying that relatively speaking and in comparison to many if not most other countries, Japan is safe and South Africa is dangerous in terms of murder, assault and robbery.]
So I tell my students if they're experienced travellers who've gone solo to the world's remote spots, they'll be OK; but if they've only done package tours to Hakone, perhaps Africa is not a good idea. Especially for women. A traveller in Africa needs self-assertiveness, common sense and a healthy dollop of badassedness, and most OLs I teach at my eikaiwa do not have that.
South Africa is actually not that dangerous: not in daytime, not in typical tourist spots, not if you're a native who can "read the air". Although I should add that I don't know one single friend or family member who hasn't been a victim of theft, robbery or assault. I know so many people who've lost loved ones through mindless violence.
Me? Purse snatched, money stolen from my office, two robberies at two different houses, luggage stolen four times, car stolen at the airport while I was on a business trip. That was the worst. I'd just returned from Ghana after an 18-hour flight delay – yes, 18, this is Africa – and I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly and as malevolent as a black mamba*. I'm still surprised that I drove out of the airport in a rental car without leaving carnage behind me.
[* Is this a politically incorrect comparison? A black mamba is one of the ten most venomous snakes in the world. You also get a green mamba, but it's not as aggressive. I could say I was as malicious as a great white shark, but I object to "great". That word discriminates against space-efficient individuals like myself.]
Is South Africa very rich? Yes, the Oppenheimer family (De Beers, net worth $7 billion), the Rupert family (Richemont, net worth $4,8 billion) and Patrice Motsepe (Rainbow Minerals, net worth $3,3 billion) are rich. So are ANC politicians on their gravy train. The rest of us? South Africa has abundant natural resources (world's largest producer of gold, platinum and chromium) and the 18th biggest stock exchange in the world, but rich? You decide: 50% live below the poverty line, 25% are unemployed, the Gini index is 65 (one of the highest in the world).
Why aren't you black? Ask my mother. It's her fault.
Sigh. As far as I know, Japanese children learn about apartheid at school. So ... if there were no white people in South Africa ... what, exactly, was apartheid all about?
I'm not black, despite the fact that I was born in Africa, because my ancestors were European. They emigrated to South Africa between 1650 and 1850 to escape religious discrimination against Protestants, or to make money, or to see the world. I'm definitely not the first person with itchy feet in my family. Today there are 4,5 million whites in South Africa, about 9% of the total population.
Incidentally, I'm not white. I'm yellow. No, really. My skin has distinct yellow undertones. I find that wryly amusing.
Any other questions?
No, I don't have a gun. I'm not American. I mean I don't have a legal gun. I do have this illegal AK-47 in the kitchen cupboard behind the nabe pots. Hey! Come back! Where are you going? Don't you have any other questions?