I just arrived back in Cape Town, just as winter was shooting a warning shot across the bow of the U.S. Northeast. Being in the other hemisphere, means being in the other season, so shorts and flip flops have been dug out from their brief hibernation.
I left this country a few months, where it and I were enjoying a post World Cup high. My return however, has been under a cloud of consternation over a South Africa that has reverted to its old reputed ways. I have asked my self how can this be, since I am not even there to know. The very simple answer I think is that stories in the news or reflections of people who are there or have been there, have all painted a negative picture.
Here is the list:
- my Aunt and Uncle were burgled twice in 1 week, not only do they live in one of the more secure neighborhoods I have seen, but at least one of intrusions was in the early morning daylight while everyone was still in the house... the audacity is disturbing
-I met someone 2 weeks ago who is hesitant to come to South Africa because their South African friend says its very dangerous.
- I met someone else who recently returned from vacation in Cape Town and Zimbabwe. She said that she didn't really enjoy Cape Town, because they were advised not to leave their hotel after dark - which is understandably constricting - especially on vacation! She loved Vic Falls.
- I just finished reading Peter Godwin's new book which details some horrific stories of government brutality in Zimbabwe over the last couple of years. Yes that's not South Africa and thats a different story - but thats next door and has prompted a mass attempted exodus to South Africa...but thats not the end of the story. Stories a few month ago told of anti-immigrant violence by South Africans - specifically against Zimbabweans (because they are taking jobs).
And list sort of goes on.
As I sit in the safety of a coffee shop in a ritzy Cape Town neighborhood, sipping a macchiato, I have decided that for the next 2 months I'm going to search for that Ubuntu that was the source of that world cup high from a few months ago. I know its here somewhere, its has to be...right?
It was gone so quickly after the Cup it sent a shiver up my spine. The change in vibe on the streets was tangible 48 hours after the Cup ended. That nation and where it stands today is a goldmine of incredible stories waiting to be documented.ReplyDelete
Since my natural tendency is to think like a journalist, spending so many weeks there alone, walking around, observing, forcing myself to confront and participate in a totally foreign culture led to thinking quite often of - not necessarily singular stories - but how a journalist could somehow tell those vast, specific stories using one idea as a centerpiece; one question or situation that would allow a writer / reporter to take a reader in many directions following the many tentacles as they filter throughout communities and neighborhoods touching people's lives, affecting their thinking, raising hopes, fears & hell. That central question or idea could be used to begin every essay or story and lead to specific tales.
My fascination with history and a natural gravitation towards men and women who's bravery or iron will shaped the world made it easy for me to focus on using Mandela and his mortality as the center of a series of tales - the hook - the starting point for each story that eventually delves into any separate, meaningful aspect of society Mandela and his mortality affects; all the off-shoots of his influence and what people anticipate happening when he checks out.
Economics, race-relations, payback, crime - the growing pains of a still developing idea of a nation & the difficulty so many have had getting used to it.
All those fears the business owners we met expressed. All the stuff your family talks about. As well as the people in the slums. The frustration, fear and desperation felt by so many. It's bad now. What happens when the buffer (Madiba) takes leave? And is he really a buffer? Has he become irrelevant in the 21st century?
All-engulfing, soul-destroying poverty, unfortunately, is the most fertile soil as far as stories go. And you know the motto - it's all about the story. I'm not sure if it's conscious or unconscious but this is a direction you've subtlety been moving toward for a while now. The readers of your blog agree - you can spin a tale and you've been doing it, very well. You have a talent.
You have a feel for that soil. The stories that move you are worthy of the attention of a wider audience. Ever read the hacks these days who call themselves 'journalists'? Most of them should really call themselves 'useless', dig a hole, and let Mabry cover them in 6 feet of dirt.
You have the talent and perspective to do it right. Your affection for the place gives you heart. You're fearlessness of telling the truth gives you credibility. That combination leads to meaningful, rewarding work that teaches people about a world they never consider. At the same time as someone with such vast institutional knowledge, you may still be stunned to discover things that'll shock you. I can't wait to read those stories.
So borrow your pop's reporter's hat and get to work documenting this world. Your readers demand it.