Fact versus fiction.
Data, statistics, research.
Narratives and stories.
Like everywhere else in the world, South Africa has many versions of its history. You can talk to Afrikaners or Africans or English-descendents or Indians or still others and each group will interpret the past differently. Unlike everywhere else in the world, however, South Africa’s conflicting narratives fueled extreme segregation policies that lasted into the 1990s. Apartheid may have ended in 1994, but its residual impacts are still being felt.
Like the past, current viewpoints are also continually evolving. Different interpretations of the past lead to different interpretations of the present. This has become increasingly apparent to me as I’ve told more and more people about the civil engineering internship I’m starting in Johannesburg. My placement was created through a partnership between the Canadian organization Rooftops Canada and the South African organization Madulammoho Housing Association (MHA). It is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). I’ll be working with MHA to maintain and upgrade low-income housing in Johannesburg to make it more sustainable.
The reactions of my friends and family have varied, to say the least. Concern, enthusiasm, pride, sadness, excitement – but the most common response has been fear. Interestingly, the most fearful responses have come from people who have never been to South Africa. They’ve heard horror stories from friends that have gotten more dramatic with each telling. Or they’ve focused on the negative news stories that highlight the worst aspects of Johannesburg. But this is a place where people live. These are communities in which people have made their homes.
Yes, I am nervous about going to a new country on my own. But I expect lots of exciting adventures, meeting a variety of new people, and learning all sorts of things ranging from sustainable building technologies to international development strategies.
Stay tuned for further stories and insights.