30 October 2006

The grim side of paradise

Before I arrived in South Africa in 2004, and in the first year or so afterwards, I found myself quite often in the defensive mode: “South Africa is more than crime,” I responded when people asked me about the crime situation, or tried to convince me about the violence in this country. “South Africa is more than poverty,” was my reply on questions related to inequality. “South Africa is a beautiful country and you have no right to bash it”, I defended my new home, every time someone was negative about it. “South Africa is not more violent or criminal than other countries.” And so on.


I still firmly believe that this is the case: South Africa is a beautiful country and it is much more than crime and violence. But that does not by all means entail that crime and violence do not exist in the Rainbow Nation. In contrary. Two years have passed after I first set foot on South African soil, and it makes me incredible sad having to admit what I didn’t see or didn’t want to see: crime and violence play a large role in the daily lives of South Africans. Everybody who dares to deny this is as naïve as I used to be.

In my direct environment, I know plenty of people who have fallen victim to crime: burglary, robbery, muggings, shootings, hijacking, and so on. I can consider myself lucky: besides being threatened with a knife by a group of street teens in order to hand over my cell phone and wallet, nothing has happened. I am grateful for that, as other people are not that lucky. Take the Newspaper of October 30, 2006.

  • 13-year-old suspected of setting alight 19-yeaqr old girl (October 30 2006; Cape Town)
  • Man kills ex-girlfriend and himself (October 30; Kwa-Zulu Natal)
  • Six youths arrested for murder and rape of 15-year-old girl (October 30; George)
  • Nadine Gordimer robbed and assaulted (October 30; Johannesburg)
  • Official slain for shoes, phone and laptop (October 30; KwaZulu-Natal)

It breaks my heart over and over again when I hear about events similar to these. About children being murdered, raped, maimed or snatched from their mothers’ arms. More than once was the fight against my tears was futile after reading about gang rapes, violent break-ins, drive-by-shootings and other horrific events. The fact that these and other crimes happen on a very regular basis adds an extra chill factor to the situation.

Perpetrators of rape

Rape is the crime that I, as most women, fear most. The sad thing is that this beautiful nation is one of the countries with the highest number of rape cases. From March 2005 to March 2006, the authorities have counted over 54 000 rape cases. Women Rights’ organizations say these figures are the tip of the ice berg as they claimn that many rapes are not reported.

Last week, a new report was published on rape in South Africa. This time not the victims but the perpetrators where interviewed, and the conclusions were in one word horrific: A survey amongst 1 370 South African males of ages of 15 to 26 years brought to light that 16 percent (16.3%) had raped a non-partner or participated in some form of gang rape which is “lovingly” nicknamed “streamlining”.

You can't be too careful

My boyfriend, who happens to be South African, is very worried about the crime situation in his country and about the impact it will have on the long run. He is a proud South African, and loves his country like you won’t believe. I share his feelings and worries, although I have to admit that in the beginning of our relationship I found his cautiousness a bit over the top at times. Now I realize he was right: You can’t be too careful enough in South Africa.

Many say that one shouldn’t be so harsh on South Africa, and not so negative and pessimistic. “Because it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world”. Yes, South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but unfortunately breathtaking natural beauty, stunning scenery, and a lovely climate might be contributors to your quaoity oif life, safety is a prime factor. And that is why I understand why so many people take their chance to build a life in the continent I “fled” two years ago and give their children the opportunity to grow up without locking them up behind burglar bars and electric fences.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town

19 October 2006

My Hero: Rosamond Halsey Carr

I have been thinking about Salan (who commented on my previous blog) has said. About making a difference and giving everything you got to make that difference, at all times and at all costs. Thinking about that, one name pops in my mind: Rosamond Carr. Rosamond Carr, or Roz, moved to Central Africa in 1949 together with her husband. She lived in Congo, the former Zaire, before she ended up in Rwanda in the late 1950’s.

I remember this graceful lady very well, as when we lived in Rwanda from 1982 to 1989 my parents and I visited her regularly at her plantation Mugongo. She was always kind, warm, friendly and hospitable, and her doors were always open to the Rwandans living in the area.

When the genocide struck Rwanda in April 1994, Rosamond Carr refused to turn her back to Rwanda, as the western world did. After being evacuated briefly, she returned t her flower plantation on the foot of the volcanoes, to find it in ruins.

Imbabazi Orphanage

Being in her mid-eighties, Rosamond Carr opened her home to children who had lost their parents in the horrific violence that killed approximately 1 million Rwandans. Over the years, her orphanage Imbabazi (a mother’s love) took over 400 children of all ethnic backgrounds, and gave them a loving home and a prospect to a future.

I was incredibly saddened when I heard this remarkable lady died last month at the age of 95. Roz, or Madamme Car as I used to know her, was a true angel who stuck around when heaven – Rwanda was truly the most beautiful country in the world – turned into hell. And most of all: she managed to make it a better place to hundreds of children.

Too late

I always wanted to go back to Rwanda, to meet her again and see for myself what wonderful work she has done. I guess I am too late, as I will never see her again. To those who want to know more about this wonderful lady, please read her book Land of a Thousand Hills. To those who want to keep her spirit alive, please vote for her in the Volvo Life Awards. Winning this award will not only keep her memory alive, it will also contribute to her orphanage and the children. It is a small effort, but definitely worth it. Click here, followed by a click on New Jersey. You will see Rosamond’s Carr Profile. Please vote for her.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town

18 October 2006

Malawi is not a happy place

Malawi is not a happy place to be in, unless – of course – you have plenty of money to escape poverty, hunger and despair. For the majority of Malawians this is not the case. They have to deal with all of the problems mentioned above, as well as issues such as high prevalence of HIV/Aids. This has resulted in a high number of orphans; Almost a million children in Malawi have to grow up in the absence of their parents and in absence of a decent future.

No, Malawi is not a happy place to many.

That is why I find it admirable that Madonna decided to save one baby boy from hunger, poverty and a intensely difficult life without parental TLC. It pisses me off that the world and beyond is bashing her for doing something right, simply assuming without having any proof that she broke and ignored rules and is adopting little David to raise her image and strengthen her position as a star. Madonna is the last person on this planet who does not have to strengthen her starry image as she -despite the fact I don't like her music - will always shine.

And even if the process of ‘getting’ David was shorter then usual: she saved a child from a life that is more difficult we could ever imagine.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town