Society Finding its Feet in Southern Africa

by Angela DiLanzo (United States of America)

The last thing I expected South Africa


There were unsupervised toddlers sucking on sugar straws and running barefoot through the unpaved neighborhood, amongst seemingly wild chickens and steers. The tin-roofed houses were all rusting, and the concrete floor of the medicine woman’s home was far from comfortable. And in the community center, the leaking roof and its considerable damage attracted the attention of other Westerners as they discussed setting up a Go-Fund-Me for the repairs, but my eyes kept drifting to a 1987 Encyclopedia Britannica, as I wondered what outdated information could possibly be of use to our Zulu hosts. The tribal village situated in the appropriately named Valley of a Thousand Hills, just outside South Africa’s coastal city, Durban, appeared as much a work in progress as its residents, striving to bridge long-held traditions while embracing as much of the modern world as they could access. Days later, I traveled from Durban to Lesotho, a small country high in the Drakensburg Mountains. By happenstance, my guide, Ndu, was from the same Zulu village I had just visited. He passed candies into tiny, begging hands, while asking these children why they weren’t in school. Blanket-wrapped shepherds posed for a photo, only asking a few coins in exchange. The coastal sun was gone; the dense fog and persistent drizzle reflected the change in mood. A local woman led me into a standalone, circular room, the floor a continuation of the earth. “Is this the kitchen room?” I asked, referencing architectural observations I made in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. “This is my house,” she replied. “But the building next door…?” “…is my neighbor’s house,” then explained how families assisted each other in gathering rocks and mortaring them together. And, Ndu whispered, without the government assistance provided in South Africa. This woman gave me local bread to sample, while Ndu gave her groceries and the hand-me-down clothing his neighbors had donated. I was humbled. It was obvious: despite the old books and leaky roofs, the Zulu were not pitiful. They are thriving. They have homes and food and clothing and plenty to gift their brothers across the border. They have lived through the breakdown of racial barriers, the development of professional opportunities for their people, and the breakthrough of civil rights in post-Apartheid South Africa. There is a confidence that tomorrow will be better than today. And, this gives me hope for all disenfranchised people, everywhere, even at home.