By David Himbara
I am a global citizen. Born in Rwanda, I became a child refugee in Uganda. I migrated to Canada as a young man. I grew up, worked, and acquired my education in The True North Strong and Free as we fondly call Canada. I then moved to the United States — and from there, migrated to South Africa in 1994. That same year The Rainbow Nation embraced democratic governance led by the African National Congress (ANC) with Nelson Mandela as head of state. I lived in South Africa until December 2013 — except for 2000–2002 and 2006–January 2010, when I stayed in The land of a Thousand Hills, my original homeland, Rwanda.
To say that I fell in love with South Africa is an understatement. From the Cape Point, the extreme southern tip of Africa, to the Limpopo River in the north that separates South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Rainbow Nation is a jewel. In all the years I spent in South Africa, I could not determine what was most intoxicating among its beauty and wonders. Was it my friends in Soweto? Was it the sound of Abdullah Ibrahim’s music, the great South African pianist and composer? Could it be the majestic Cathedral Peak, a 3,004 metre mountain in the Drakensbergs on which I learnt mountain-climbing? Or may be it was the vast animal kingdom of Kruger National Park which covers an area of 19,485 sq km, located in scenic Lompopo and Mpumalanga provinces in northeastern South Africa? Perhaps it was the stunning Greater St Lucia Wetlands in KwaZulu-Natal. I will never know the answer…
Far away from the Rainbow Nation, I follow its ups and downs with deep sorrow. Some days I cannot believe what I read in newspapers. Like when South Africa changed three finance ministers in one week. Or when I heard that an influential family from India is in control of the South African government to the extent that the family appoints cabinet ministers.
Frustrated with these bad news, I decided to look at selected statistics that might inform me about current South African situation. Take a look at a few revealing statistics.
- Gross domestic product (GDP) dropped from USD 416 billion in 2011 to USD 397 billion in 2012; USD 366 billion in 2013; and USD 360 billion in 2014.
- GDP per capita has dropped from USD 8,080 in 2011 to USD 7,592 in 2012; USD 6,889 in 2013, and USD 6,482 in 2014.
- The South African currency the rand has dropped to an all time low — when I was in South Africa in 2013, one USD fetched 7 rands. USD now fetches 15.20 rands.
- Unemployment stands at 25 percent — this has been constant for the past decade.
- Poverty levels are high — 16.6 percent of South Africans live on less than USD1.90 a day while 34.7 percent live on less than USD 3.10 a day.
- Life expectancy at birth is 61 years. It stood at 61 years in 1994, but sharply declined to 52 years in 2005. The rise of life expectancy back to 61 years where it was twenty two years ago is associated with the increased roll-out of anti-retroviral therapy.
South Africa — a 55 million population strong rainbow nation cannot fail. The land of Madiba must rise up to reclaim its promise. With great institutions especially civil society, organised labor, globally-renown knowledge centers and assets, strong and independent judiciary, upright cadres within the ANC, opposition parties, and a vibrant media, South Africa has what it takes to rise again.
Come on South Africa — up you rise.
To all my South African brothers and sisters, I share with you these inspring words of the unforgettable Maya Angelou:
Still I Rise
….Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
…Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.