Change, as we all know, is inevitable, and nowhere is change more evident than in an emerging South African democracy.
In some places the evidence of change can be as simple as a degrading road, in others it can be the number of luxury vehicles now occupying the road. Both can be seen as outward manifestations of shifts in power, priorities and changing economic status. Living in the Eastern Cape, which I believe is one of the poorest provinces of South Africa, the changes we see are more related to the deteriorating condition of the road. However, on my recent trip to Limpopo, the biggest change that I saw was very definitely related to the latter. The opulence of the mansions that are mushrooming over the hills is alarming to say the least, more especially from my point of view, because they’re predominantly Tuscan and Spanish in style, with no reference at all to their African heritage. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Tuscan home in Tuscany, or even in cosmopolitan Johannesburg for that matter, but somehow the sight of a faux Tuscan manor house, plonked on the side of a road in rural Venda just seems out of place and at odds with my aesthetic sensibility.
Am I a romantic to prefer the lovingly painted mud homes that have adorned these hills for centuries? Probably. And it’s also very probable that the real reason why I am in Limpopo is because I am searching for the soul that is lacking in modern Western society. So to see the Western influence marching across this territory unabated, I am agitated for the loss I see coming in my own life as well as in lives of the people who live here. In simple terms, I feel the impending loss of soul, for which this area has long been associated and I wonder whether the inhabitants of the area are aware of the real price they are paying for sacrificing their traditions in the belief that they are getting something better. By losing the spirit of the place, will they not be losing the very thing that makes the place so unique, as well as much needed income from the tourists and visitors who come here to see the beauty of their rich cultural heritage?
Anyway, I am thinking on these things as I awake to the sound of birds and distant tinkling cow bells. I stretch and lie staring into the mosquito net that shimmers in the early morning light. The fine cotton linen is silky smooth and I snuggle a little deeper into the pillows. The comfort is good, and I get it. Everyone is entitled to comfort and I realize that I’ve reached a cul de sac in my argument. This country and the challenges it faces are complex. There are no clear answers and progress, for what it is, will continue whether I like it’s style or not.