Everything I Learned About South Africa I Learned From Trevor Noah.

Posted on January 4, 2013


Trevor_NoahBefore leaving, I told people that Cass and I were going to South Africa. Reactions didn’t vary too much; many ooh’s and whoa’s. I could see their mind racing through an onslaught of media-forced images, typically resulting in a mental image of a starving black child with flies on his face. Cape Town townshipWhen I said we were heading to Cape Town, many of those ooh’s said in amazement turned to disappointment as all those idyllic images of the bush were instantly replaced by beaches and vuvuzelas.

But I cannot blame them for their shift. Last night, ReaLea (our two friends have now simply become one word-a Brangelina type thing), Cass and I watched one of SA’s most famous standup comedians, Trevor Noah. A brilliant storyteller and wonderfully animated speaker, Trevor’s material takes a satirically observational reflection of SA society,Cape Town township people, and life. Comedians, the good ones at least, seem to have an open creative license to acknowledge–and poke fun of–almost any issue they see fit. As this country is in the infant stages of democracy after the Apartheid years, it has been a great vehicle to laugh and learn about this place we’re temporarily calling home.

Cape Town is a unique city; wherein, it is a first-world, first-class city by any standards, but wrestles with many third-world issues. One example is housing. Once outside of the city core, you notice many areas that are considered ‘informal settlements’ or ‘squatter camps.’ These are temporary villages that sprout up in empty lots or fields; often gathering a large population. Homes are made out of scrap metal and wood, electricity is bootlegged from nearby traffic signals (which I happily learned are called ‘robots’ here), and communal restrooms are created. You’ll see clothes hanging on lines, groups of children playing soccer in the adjacent Cape Town townshipfield, and dust-covered people going about their routines.

It was explained to me that during Apartheid, this was a forced living situation for black people–the norm. The mixed-race population that identify as ‘Colored’ lived in similar situations, though were provided with more permanent structures and less threat of forced exodus at the whim of the landowners. Whites, in those years, had the opportunities, the resources, and the wealth–a dictatorial governance by the minority ending only 18 years ago.Africa landscape

A tremendous feat to overcome and an incredible journey in a blink of an eye.However, there is–and will always be–much more to overcome.Trevor Noah spent some time in the U.S. touring and discussed the ridiculousness of this one-dimensional the view of Africa he experienced. In a related way, I experienced this as I disappointed people with my “not-really-African” destination.

African country road