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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Any time you start to feel sorry for yourself, think about Thomas

Since this is a blog, supposed to be all about deeply fascinating and revealing things that happen to wonderful, senile me, let me tell you that the weather in Johannesburg has been cold, miserable and wet, but is looking better today.

Yesterday we went with Brian Mdluli to visit the place where he was born: Soweto, in Johannesburg. Naturally he took us to see the only street in the world that has had two Nobel Prize winners living on it: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. There is an African restaurant there, so we had lunch, too.

Brian is an exceptionally funny, dynamic and boundlessly hospitable man who runs the South African Direct Marketing Association. He is one of four brothers, all of whom seem to have done pretty well. We met his equally entertaining father, who joined us for lunch.

In retirement he divides his time between playing golf and running various building projects - one of which is next to the restaurant. The building, he told me. interferes with the former.

The worrying thing is, I am sure I was taken to see Soweto last time I was here, but for the life of me I can't remember a damn thing about it. Maybe we just drove through. As a matter of fact I can't even recall exactly when I was here last. I think it was nineteen or twenty years ago. Nelson Mandela was free, and I was taken on a helicopter trip by a pilot who had flown the great man around South Africa.

Today we went to see the Apartheid Museum, which brought back many memories, as I was very obsessed with its miseries when younger.

The museum is extraordinary - the best I have ever seen of that kind. Besides making one deeply ashamed of the disgusting way the whites behaved, the thing that impresses most is what a remarkable man Mandela is. It is astonishing that the country didn't collapse into bloody mayhem in the way Zimbabwe has. His moral authority is the reason.

I was worried last time I came about how the country would do, and I still am.

The gap between rich and poor is no less, and perhaps greater. Every house here of any size or status has electrified fencing round it and lots of signs about security, armed response and so on.

Last night we went to have meal in a restaurant. We were driven there by a taxi driver called Thomas. We asked him which restaurants were good.

"I do not know. I have never been in a restaurant," was his reply.

Way to go here.

On the other hand, from what I have seen it's even worse in many Latin American countries.

It's a rather terrifying indictment of the free world that when I was in Cuba three years ago, despite all the crumbling buildings and the state control things seemed far better for poor people than in, say, Peru or Brazil.

We hope to visit Belo Horizonte in Brazil during the next few months, so I'll give you my impressions then

By the way, if the Demon of blogs has (once again) changed the typeface on this, don't blame me.

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