A few thoughts after a virtually stress-free month in Australia and South Africa:
Australia is wonderful for many reasons: the natural beauty of Sydney (where we spent our time,) the down-to-earth friendliness of the Australians and so on. But what struck me most is that it’s a country seemingly without an agenda; no-one – neither the government nor any dominant group in society – tries to shove an ideology down your throat.
Religion is left to the individual; if there’s an Australian equivalent of the Tea Party it’s out on the fringes and gets no play in the media. I felt no racial or ethnic tensions, though I’m sure they exist. (Like the US, Australia virtually decimated its native inhabitants at a time when such things passed under the radar.)
Australians don’t regard themselves as or legoyim (a light unto the nations,) nor do they think it’s their right and duty to bring western democracy to the darker corners of the earth. They aren’t obsessed with revenging, proselytizing, proving a point or always being right. They simply want to live their lives (working as much as they have to but certainly not more) and, by and large, their government seems to serve that purpose. Those Australians who criticize their current prime minister (as many of those I met did) should try sharing their lives with Bibi Netanyahu, Julius Malema or the Tea Party maniacs; that would sober them up quickly.
For an Israeli who grew up in South Africa, a country without an agenda is the closest thing to paradise.
We flew Qantas from Johannesburg to Sydney. About 15 minutes into the flight, there was a bang and the captain informed us over the PA system that the plane had blown an engine. So we returned to Johannesburg, circling for two hours before we landed in order to dump fuel.
Back in Johannesburg (it was late at night by then,) we had to go back through passport control (with only one immigration officer on duty to process us,) collect our luggage, wait while Qantas frantically arranged us hotel accommodation, stand in line for mini-buses to our hotels, stand in line again as understaffed hotels processed us and so on. We only took off again 28 hours later, in a plane sent specially from Australia.
The point of the story is that, while the experience was not particularly pleasant, it was not too bad either – and it was totally calm. Our fellow travelers, Australians and South Africans mainly, took it in their stride; they laughed, they joked, they spoke with each other – there was a strong sense of camaraderie. No-one pushed their way to the head of the line (except us, I’m ashamed to say;) no-one that I saw made much of a fuss. Naturally relaxed people dealt with a pretty stressful situation in a relaxed way.
It made me think about how the identical situation would have gone down in Israel. I have no doubt that there would have been pushing and shoving, screaming, emotional outbursts, probably a fistfight or two and massive abuse directed at the unfortunate ground staff. I feel safe in saying that because it played out exactly as described here when a Delta flight I was on was unable to take off from Ben Gurion airport about two years ago.
In that incident, what was an unfortunate situation to start with turned into an intensely harrowing one due solely to the behavior of the people (or, to be precise, the Israelis) on board. Aggressive, edgy and borderline neurotic people behaved to type. What is it about this place or this society that does it to us?
South Africans are becoming pretty edgy themselves, though they still have a long way to go before they achieve the Israeli level of excellence. What is doing it to them is a character named Julius Malema, head of the youth league of the ruling African National Party (ANC.) Malema is a bit of a buffoon (but no more than Hitler – and look how he turned out,) a product of apartheid and post-apartheid education (meaning he had very little of it) and an expert at playing the black bogeyman that whites so love to hate. His current shtick, apart from taking massive cuts from government tenders that he “facilitates,” is nationalization, particularly nationalization of the gold mines that have long been the foundation of the South African economy.
South Africa’s whites have reason to be concerned about Malema. Clown that he may be, he has strong support amongst the country’s black youth and his calls for redistribution of assets and wealth are music to the ears of the millions of people who are still desperately poor, 17 years after the end of apartheid. Malema and those who think like him could well succeed in undoing the Mandela-inspired social compact, pointing South Africa in the direction of Zimbabwe.
I agree with the people who despair for the future of the country. I, too, find the prospect of a South Africa cast in the image of Julius Malema distasteful and frightening. But what I don’t understand is how the whites, particularly those old enough to remember apartheid well, don’t see the joke. What Malema is saying and doing is identical to what was said and done by generations of white (primarily Afrikaner) politicians under the previous regime. Big Julie is the mirror image of the South African politician of old.
Nationalization? The Afrikaners were masters at using state assets for the purposes of building the volk. Nepotism? The Akrikaners virtually invented it; there was a time when you couldn’t get a government job without belonging to the right church. Corruption? The Treasury that was handed over to the ANC in 1994 had been stripped almost bare. Racism? It doesn’t even bear repeating.
For decades, South Africa’s blacks were subjected to the same nonsense, not from one Malema, but from an army of them – all dressed in their ancient double-breasted suits with grey shoes and small mustaches bobbing under their noses as they spouted their racist rubbish. Not many whites found it alarming then; you probably had to be black to get the joke.
Now it’s whites on the receiving end – and they’re still not laughing.