It’s been a long week at university and nearing the end of the semester. Along with most students, of all shapes and sizes, races, cultures and ages, Jamie agrees. The
adjective ‘long’ is given to the week thanks to tests and assignments due, robbing students of some of their precious eight hours of beauty sleep. This is a common agent causing stress among this community of students at the University of Cape Town in the city of… Cape Town, as the name may slightly hint. Although, when the test is written and the assignment is submitted, we go home to a bed for some much needed R&R. Having just been paid that monthly allowance, why not a night out to celebrate with friends. A lifestyle we take for granted!
The university is a boiling pot of cultures, boasting people from almost every nation. Jamie Rood, is a UCT student hailing from England, the land of opportunity. It is afforded this name for the multitudes of Africans who are Europe bound straight out of high school. So why would a British boy come to South Africa to study?
South Africa happens to be one of the major destinations for all foreigners wanting to experience the ‘motherland’ first hand. We boast all the characteristics of other African countries in terms of wildlife and village culture, even if it is staged in some aspects in order to appeal to the tourists. Dancers in traditional wear, performing for tourist landing straight out of Europe. The tourists think ‘this is Africa’ and walk by the performers who also live real lives and try to make a living. Tourists can have the ‘real’ African experience whilst still enjoying the modern infrastructure. Most are oblivious to the semi-staged reality and even if they were aware, their main concern is to go back home with a good conversation starter about ‘what the real Africa is like’ and ‘by some miracle not having contracted Ebola’, what a story. Tourists are labelled with this selfish badge quite often, seen as rich snobs coming to have a good time with their dollars or pounds. However, others are drawn back and decide to stay or study, which is the case with Jamie. He is in his second year of university but has been here for four years. He is one of many who pay their fees in pounds, dollars or euros which then circulate in the country’s economy. Thinking about this I become tempted to say the label becomes invalid, if not unjust.
Because tourism plays a much bigger role in society than the lives of university students. It impacts the whole of South Africa, crossing borders leading to the rest of Africa. This is because there is another side to people who come into South Africa. Apart from tourists who come into the country for leisure purposes, others come here not because they want to but because they need to and are in search of a better life. These are the immigrants from all over Africa, hoping to escape the poor conditions brought about by colonisation and poor leadership by some current leaders. Who wouldn’t follow suit if they were in such a position. After all, this is actually evident at a global scale with the current European refugee crisis being a prime example of this. In South Africa however, this immigration in search for work conflicts with the already work scarce country. Xenophobia is the manifestation of this and is a clear issue. Is there a need for this? Maybe, but on a wider scale, this immigration may only be temporary and resolve the bigger problem. People are connected to their home countries and don’t leave by choice but necessity. The idea being that once they have improved their lives they will go back home, providing jobs there and preventing others from having to leave their countries in this way. Then there is also the contested notion that competition is beneficial for society.
I had the privilege of encountering both sides of the spectrum. I gained a basic insight into the lives of both tourist’s type people in Jamie and also the lives of immigrants. I spoke to various immigrants, mainly at curio stalls around Cape Town, selling handmade arts and crafts to the tourists. Two of these immigrants shared a deeper story with me. Gabriel from Congo and Philip from Zimbabwe. Both of their stories were much the same in that their countries were economically unstable. In Congo, a war and in Zimbabwe, the hyperinflation with which the whole world is familiar. Yet with a true African, never say die attitude, in an effort to provide for their families, they made the trek to the closest tourist hot spot which would be South Africa, specifically Cape Town. What was striking was that Gabriel and Philip didn’t know each other yet both told me how vital tourism is to their lives and thus their families. Gabriel even has a degree in economics with which he graduated in Congo, although not even this qualification allowed him to get work at home. What is one to do?
Just as the sun rises every morning over the Atlantic ocean’s endless horizon, so does everyone with the need to progress in life, however endless that horizon may be. Whether as a student, tourist, immigrant or humble citizen in South Africa. Everyone benefits from everyone in one way or another. As Jamie the tourist buys a curio from Phillip, he uses this to buy food from a local resident in Gugulethu, who then pays for her child to go to school and the circle goes around. Thus it’s not impossible to say that this relationship creates a powerful force driving the people towards their horizon. Therefore the tourist can figuratively transform from a snob into a saint.