On the Inequity of Wealth in South Africa

A sign of fear

I am no stranger to wealth inequality. I’ve lived it personally when I was growing up poor, and I see it daily in Washington DC. Often wealth inequality is about class as much as race, yet in South Africa I found race to be the defining characteristic.

Class divide in cars

In every country I’ve visited in Africa, black Africans are the most populous people driving cars. Now there are some white people behind the wheel – be they natives and expats, but by in large, the driving population ethnicity mimics the overall population.

But not in South Africa. I was shocked to see only whites driving in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Black Africans were in shared minibus taxis or walking. Now I did see one or two black Africans driving, but they were in the extreme minority.

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Flat Elise Snuck into South Africa’s Parliament!

Flat Elise is a sneaky one

“Quick, buy stamps!” That’s what Flat Elise told me as we were in line for a tour of South Africa’s Parliament building. As we turned left to grab stamps at the cute little post office in Parliament, the tour went right and disappeared down the hallway.

By the time we had our stamps, the tour was nowhere in sight. It was just Flat Elise and I, let loose in the legislative capital of the Republic. So we went exploring.

I’ve been to the US Capital Building before – it’s a surprisingly easy place to visit if you skip the annoying tour. In fact, you can walk right it – no need for a reason, as these are your elected representatives, right? You should be able to visit them at your leisure. Still, you have to go through a security check, as you do in South Africa.

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Car Parking Craziness in Cape Town

Beware the Parking Warden!

South Africa is an amazingly car-centric country, partly due to geography, with large distances between lightly populated areas, and partly as a legacy of apartheid, with physical distance as a means of enforcing segregation.

Car ownership is also highly concentrated, its mainly rich whites that drive, with Africans in share taxis or walking. Which is why the car parking craziness of South Africa took me by such surprise.

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Firearm Check-in at JNB Johannesburg Airport

Firearms Check-in Signage

Of all the signs I’ve seen in the many airports worldwide, the bright yellow “Firearms Check-In” was the most unexpected. And yet, there it was, shining bright at Johannesburg International Airport.

Now I understand why gun-toting citizenry should check their weapons. We don’t need arguments over seat assignments escalating into inter-cabin shootouts, but it surprises me that there’s a need for firearm check-in to begin with.

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