Out of the apartheid shadow

Updated: Apr 27 2008, 06:22am hrs
Archbishop Desmond Tutu called South Africa a Rainbow Nation for its cultural diversity, and the name has stuck. But there is more to the diversity. About 10% of all the known species of plants on earth are said to flourish here, and South Africa boasts of a coastline where two oceans meet the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Its a country that has mineral wealth that is unsurpassed and a terrain that can make your jaw drop. This is a nation that made a peaceful transition from oppression to freedom in 1994. And, it is the land of Nelson Mandela... South Africa would be on every tourists wish list for all the above reasons. But the countrys High Commissioner in India, Francis Moloi, unravels some other facets of his land in a conversation with Priya Kanungo. Some excerpts:

The character

When you talk to people about South Africa, theyll tell you about the Zulu dance, the safaris and the history about Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, etc. But what we would like people to know is the diversity in our food, culture, language and dress. We have 11 official languages. We have no typical South African dish. You will find influences from Malaysia, Java, India, Europe and from Africa. All our dishes are influenced by the various people who have lived in South Africa over decades. So, in the western parts of the country, you will find food there has a lot of European, Dutch, Malay influences. On the eastern side, there are Indian and African influences. When I say African, it would mean food that is influenced by what the indigenous tribes eat. Maize is the staple diet here. Then there is sorghum it is used for daily meals as well as for special occasions festivals, weddings, funerals or ancestor worship.

South African people do things in families. For instance, if you talk about a traditional wedding, for us it isnt so much a marriage between two people as it is between two families. If a goat, cow or sheep has to be slaughtered on the occasion, it is the family that decides. This is quite like what you have here in India.

Land holding

Before 1994, 87% of the land in South Africa was held by 13% of the population. But since 1994, as part of that transition from apartheid to freedom, one of the critical issues that we had to deal with was land acquisition. And therefore, we established the Lands Claims Court, which allowed for people to get back their property which they were dispossessed of since 1910, up to 1993. That process is still going on. This is our attempt to give back to the rightful owners the land that was taken away from them forcibly at that time. Our attempt is to do this without upsetting the stability.

Mineral wealth

South Africa has abundant mineral wealth, but there is a lot of poverty. The reason for this is that foreign companies saw our country only as a source of raw material. Even our own companies participated in that process, where only raw material was being mined and exported. So gold would be dug out, made into bars, and then sent out. We did not develop the skills where we could teach our people to benefit from these minerals. For instance, we did not teach our people to cut and polish diamonds or make jewellery with gold. The indigenous people of South Africa, hundreds of years ago did mine gold and did make objects out of it, but trade today is very different. So now we enter into partnerships with only those companies that help our people enhance their skills.