Well I finally did it. I spent a week in South Africa. It was an dynamic week and I found every minute totally enthralling. I have been wanting to do this for a while now as many of you know, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
Your country is amazingly beautiful. I spent a good bit of the time with my South African friends looking at the medical infrastructure of Eastern Cape. That area is full of fantastic scenery, and I went from one “awee” panorama to another. And I was not ready for the people I met either. I found them open and agreeable and they made me feel welcome. From humble residents of the villages to the director of a hospital, to especially his head of nursing, they were simply wonderful. I learned so much from this visit and I am in the process of formulating ideas for the future. I do want to make a difference in the lives of those that do not have much now. I think also there are ways to do this and bring some of what Americans take for granted to a place that has almost nothing. Will I accomplish my mission? No mortal knows but it will not be from lack of motivation.
As you know I usually try to draw analogy between our two countries. Here I see alternate trends. I pray that what I say brings no offense; none is intended. So the easiest way is simply to say it The United States is becoming more corrupt while, pardon again my saying this, I pray South Africa is becoming less. The US has almost infinite health care assets and those are based primarily in the private sector. SA seems to be more limited and her citizens often must make do with lesser access and for many this is through public sector venues. It seems neither country recognizes basic health as a right and neither makes universal access to care a mandate.
I had an interesting conversation in DC while waiting to board the plane. I had the opportunity to visit with a SA diplomat stationed at your embassy in our nation’s capitol who was returning home for a visit. To further frame the issue he was white and of Dutch decent. He asked about my itinerary and then wanted to talk about problems he was worried I’d see when I visited rural areas of South Africa. He wanted to “explain”. I listened to his excuses about the lack of this and that and even the fact that the problems were perhaps even getting worse. I had no experience to draw from at that time so I just listened. The theme I drew was that of a preemptive attempt to influence my position before that position was even formed. Why he was worried about my opinions seemed a bit self absorbed, but I took in all in stride and nodded my agreement. There were obvious ulterior motives at work here. Go figure. Still he had little information as to any political power I might have: ( I have little) and he was just being careful. But looking back it proved some of my rationalization later to be founded.
His points centered on the government’s lack of infrastructure spending in rural areas. Once again here in the United States we are discussing the same. I hope eventually it happens for both countries. President Obama is wanting to put unemployed here to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges. It is needed and a good time to do it as well. The US has dropped from the best infrastructure in the world in the 1970’s to a rank now in the twenties. In the last year or two we have seen one major bridge collapse under rush hour traffic and another closed. This is in America.
The parts of Eastern Cape I saw needed vast amounts of public works as well on roads and electrical access but for the first time — not rebuilt. What I found were people basically needing vocational outlets and with that concept, comes financial reward. It is a shame that people with ability do not have a place close to where they live to make a living. My guide remarked that for each hut we saw along the road, one person was living in the city and sending money back for survival. That struck me strongly as if meant that that person was living a subsistence existence in order for his or her family at home to merely exist as well. It is not hard to imagine a small factory or work center of a more regional enterprise providing a reasonable standard of living right there close to home for those in these rural areas. All that is needed is infrastructure: roads and electric and a work center. Yes my embassy friend. I agree with what you told me. And yes it needed to happen last week.
Now another concept: what about those very people living close to the problem being put to work alleviating it. Just like our Democratic party here wants to do. The rural disenfranchised in SA could fix the problem and help themselves at the same time. The expenses would be minimal since they are there already.
Does corruption play a part in this vast dead zone of financial activity? I hope not and if so I pray once more that it is getting better. Another impression one of my guides gave me was about that. It seems she said that the bouldered, pot-holed road we traversed so carefully and with such trepidation was according to the government, paved. A tar road I believe was the term. So the implication was that money had been allotted and then lost along the way… Perhaps in one of those huge pot holes the ladies were trying to fill with the rocks they gleaned and crushed there in the ditch as we drove by.
Here in America I see the problems getting worse as the rich and corporation seek to buy the government and the elections with unprecedented amounts of money. But we as a people know what was before and we have ideal and principle to fall back on. I hope the people of South Africa can find an analogous collective recollection. You must. You must demand credibility and veracity in your government. Time is wasting as we say here in the Midwest. The world moves on. Commercial enterprise springs up in only so many places and supply lines form to and from those hubs. The areas that fail to be productive are condemned to poverty. I could easily close my eyes and see what might be for those in rural South Africa. I’ll do my part to bring health to the people of one rural hospital’s basin where I hope to volunteer. I hope to be doing this by next year two weeks at a time when I can steal the opportunity. It is amazingly slow going to get a license to practice there even though I am American trained with a 9 year university education that is the standard here. But that is another piece of the puzzle for future deliberation or even discussion.
Back to my thesis and unfortunately I write like I talk too often. Rural SA can prosper. But first commerce is needed. Financial reward for honest work right there. Health care needs to happen… Efficient care that mandates health, not just treats disease after it happens. Roads must be improved for trucks to carry input supplies and finished products. Perhaps rail freight service from hubs to ports to support export. China does this now; why can’t South Africa? I pray it happens. The term is investment: Investment in the citizens and the future. I know to many of you I come across as naive and poorly reasoned. Idealistic to a generous fault. Perhaps I am, but I can dream just the same.