Alongside school and service work at university in Pretoria, South Africa, I have been fortunate enough to travel around South Africa over the past three months. I have seen Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
I have also traveled to Kliptown, a former township in Soweto, and Thohoyandou, a busy town in the mostly rural northern province of Limpopo. The former comprises of thousands of poor South Africans who live in little more than tin shacks separated by muddy streets, and the latter encapsulates rural poverty in southern Africa: mostly subsistence farming complemented by struggles in the informal economy.
Several people whom I have met have made it a point to include places like these on their vacation itineraries, set for when we finish exams in June. One colleague said to a friend, “And then I have to take you to Kliptown, so you can see real Africa.”
While I am not surprised by comments like these at this point, this one struck me as particularly ignorant. Surely many African people live as those in Kliptown do: abject poverty, broken homes, poor sanitation. I question why this makes this portion of South Africa representative of “real Africa.”
I suppose that Kliptown is more real than the ports of Cape Town and Durban; more real than the streets of Casablanca; more real than the Masai people, dwellers of the savannah in eastern Africa; more real than cultural center of Cairo and the beaches of Mozambique.
The attitude evinced by the phrase “real Africa,” that poverty is authentically African (or that Africa is authentically poor), dehumanizes an entire continent. Poor villages become attractions that you simply must see before moving on to all those less markedly African sites.