It has been half a year since I was last in South Africa and I've been itching to get back ever since. Both trips turn out to be rugby-related: the first began with a 5-week rugby coaching placement in the township schools of Port Elizabeth and the second, kicking off today, follows the British & Irish Lions in PE and Durban (rounded off with some rest and relaxation in Zambia and Botswana).
South Africa is undoubtedly a place of extremes. It is fabulous yet horrifying. Scenic here yet drab there. Bustling there yet empty here. It enjoys the highest living standards in the continent of Africa yet is home also to some of its poorest people, stricken by AIDs and underdevelopment. Is there a part of the world more gripped by such a gap between rich and poor?
I don't know what it is that will continue to draw me back to this country. Is it Africa seen through rose-tinted glasses? Is there an element of 'poverty safari'? An extension of my previous point about the gap between rich and poor is that the well-meaning and principled tourist can 'experience' the townships, urban and rural, see the squalor (perhaps even be involved in charitable work), and at the end of the day retreat back to white 'Europe' - safely hidden away behind high walls and armed response units.
There is unlikely to be a solution in South Africa while everyone distrusts everyone else. Yet the white population is not going to knock down their perimeter fences when they fear becoming the next victim in the nation's incessant crime wave. Similarly black resentment will not fade until those same fences are removed and society is not perceived to be unfairly weighed against them. The legalities of apartheid may have disappeared but stark realities remain.
That's the politics. Now to the sport. Though sadly, in this wonderful nation, it always comes back to the politics. Even with sport. But that is for another post entirely...