Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The Lesotho leg of my adventures in southern Africa is done. Tonight we are staying in very posh surroundings in Jo'burg's trendy, vibrant Melville neighborhood before puttering off to Swazi tomorrow. The plan had been to get to Swaziland and Mbabane tonight, but those plans shifted as we decided to bring Marcus' friend back here before heading east.

I have not been back to Melville since 1999, when I came for several days to work at Wits and see my good friend, David Pottie, a Canadian academic who at the time was working at the Electoral Institute of South Africa (EISA) and who is now based at the Carter Center working on their African election monitoring. The neighborhood is chock-a-block with bars and cafes, restaurants and galleries, bookstores and antique shops. Not far removed from the city center, Melville is nonetheless worlds removed from the Central Business District from which it so clearly wants to distance itself metaphorically. The police cruise along, keeping enough of a presence to allow the privileged denizens and visitors here a respite from their fears of Johannesburg crime and hassles. Melville is in some ways cosmopolitan and multicultural. But by southern African standards it is also shockingly white. Apartheid is over, but the correlation between skin color and privilege is still a close one, as one walk down the streets of this affluent neighborhood attests. Whites are demographically dominant, at least on the side of the counters that I experience. The labor force is decidedly mixed, however, thopugh it ios difficult to glean how many people from previosuly disadvantaged groups have climbed into the ranks of management and ownership.

The ride from Lesotho was relatively uneventful, though the border crossing at the Maseru Bridge was packed. The queue extended for more than a hundred meters, and I was only able to slip through relatively easily because of three factors -- Marcus' friend had a South African passport, we played dumb and I went with him (Sio) to the shorter of the lines, and then my American passport probably saved me from too many hassles. It was a well-played combination of feigned ignorance and subtle leveraging of influence, a pairing that will actually carry someone a long way throughout much of this continent.

We covered the Free State in pretty good time, with a long stop at an Engen ultrashop in Kroonstad where we stretched our legs, had some lunch (I had a tomato, ham and cheese toastie and the peppersteak pie), and watched a collection of humanity that appeared at times to be teetering on natural selection's doorstep, unsure of which way they would fall. Let's just say that we saw exhibits A through Zed for why small ethnic communities really ought not to limit their breeding habits to within. Of course when one of that same community's hallmarks is racial purity, a conflict emerges. I bet there are lots of atavistic freaks, hare-lipped albinos and the like, in parts of the Free State.

In any case, I am about to go walking in Melville on this comfortable summer evening, stopping for a drink here or there, later retiring to the luxury of my B&B to rest before our big border crossing into Swaziland tomorrow.


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