Saturday, January 20, 2007

Johannesburg : Ugly side of HIV and Gun culture

I never thought that the subjects of higher learning would be taught so early in the life. I remember my 7th standard science class – when students eagerly awaited the last chapter of the book that had ‘reproductive organs’. Lady teacher, despite doing this exercise year after year gingerly escaped her predicament by leaving that chapter almost till the end, only to go through it cursory manner. For me, that chapter was the most well read chapter in that year and yet I always wondered why Kidney’s – bean shaped organs - are located at the back when mine are between the legs. I mistook testicles for Kidney!!!

So with the advent of HIV in South Africa, imparting sex education at early age didn’t surprise me. But what jolted me was they do at pre –primary level. Are south Africans sexually active at the age of 4 – 5 yrs? When I realized that this was to protect innocent cherubs from sexual abuse, it made sense. With incidents of Nithari and others in India, uncovering sordid and ugly face of child abuse, it makes sense to do so at early age.

This and few other incidents gave me a deeper insight to South African’s way of life. Driving through Alexandra township- slum by J’burg standard but fairly organized from Mumbai standard. I could see the economic progress from tin supported, plastic sheet covered huts becoming brick mounted houses – only because young hands of the family contributing – by right or wrong means- to the exchequer of family support. I was amused to see shops owned by Indians, Pakistanis and Bangla-deshis selling all types of china made trinkets.

It’s not uncommon to have a woman who come for interview claiming that she is unmarried but have a child from relationship. Some do look like school going kids despite them being in their 30’s. My colleague mentioned that these women are most likely being suffering from AIDS. Sandton commercial district in J’burg and Rosebank in Pretoria is far cry from Alexandria Township. They are two different worlds juxtaposed to ecahother by birth of destiny. Mumbai too faces the similar economic differences but mercifully both sides of Mumbaikar are insulated from threat, insecurity to their life either by Gun or HIV. HIV is lurching at every corner of the South Africa lifestyle. This combined with the gun culture is the only threat South Africa faces in becoming America on African continent.

We haven’t set up our office, in fact – we haven’t even signed the lease agreement but office had break in attempt. 440 voltage barbed wire, 24 hour security at the gate didn’t prevent robbers to smash windows and enter the office. Seeing nothing much to gain, they climbed to the first floor and stole computer servers before alarm system beaconed armed guards. All such robbery attempts happen in flash of minutes, and in those minutes – if anyone happens to be at the scene – he is clinging to his life at the mercy of robber’s finger on the trigger. Most South African drivers when at robot (they call these for traffic lights) are alert with foot on accelerator peddle, not because of his eagerness to see signal turn green but for any pedestrian who could be seen as approaching or passing by his car. One shouldn’t keep mobile on dashboard or have purse at the back side of the car. It’s a sure invitation for changing windows of your car. I am sure car mfrs in South Africa must be working in making cheaper bullet proof car windows.

This one week stay in J’burg brought back lot of such memories despite visiting expensive private hospitals in Pretoria , sipping castle beer at finest restaurants in Sandton and Rosebank and interacting with highly educated , cultured and well mannered working men and woman .

I was happy of seeing Nelson Mandela’s house in Houghton. Security guard at the gate and cameras around his house didn’t go with the simplicity of this great man but after hearing that even this house wasn’t spared for break-in made me tacitly acknowledge the daring skills of South Africa robbers. It’s still a joke that South Africa police station is guarded by online armed support of private security agencies but it may not be far away from making this joke into a reality.
This is not a review on the city of Johannesberg which is one of the best city I have visited in terms of superb weather, expansive landscapes, excellent motorways, great people, fine dining places and sporty culture. This is just one aspect of this city that is ugly blot to this fine city. I must write about beautiful facets of this city to portray more balanced approach of this great city.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous jaydeep said...

one of my team is there on a project and they are living there like ones under house arrest scenario. they hv a co. vehicle with driver whot takes them from guest house to office and back but alone these ppl cant go to markets and outings... it is highly unsecured there.

all houses hv to hv dogs and electronic intruder alarms. life is not safe.
my frnds were joking that every night they keep some money on the table so that if somebody gets in, takes the money and goes away rather than harming them

police is not too strong there

-jaideep

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Lyla said...

Great review on J’oberg. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Lyla

3:01 PM  
Anonymous m said...

read your article the dim side of Johannesburg and will be looking forward to read the brighter side.
you must be having a swell time while at leisure considering what you wrote " superb weather, expansive landscapes, excellent motorways, great people, fine dining places and sporty culture"
the 'match up' on the page are so tough, i have rarely been able to get more than 3 correct.

10:31 PM  

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