Growing up in the developed cities of South Africa, Cape Town and Johannesburg being prime examples, it is hard to imagine some of the things that people believe about SA. However, those not blessed with our insider knowledge have some interesting if far-fetched ideas about what actually goes on at the tip of the ‘dark continent’! It’s nothing that can’t be learned when they visit South Africa though! Here are some misconceptions that exist out there.
>South Africa is constituted solely by savannah and bush veld and wild animals roam freely through our streets. In some cases we have even domesticated them to serve our needs – enter executive on elephant back.
Truth: Parts of South Africa consist of Savanna type grasslands, but this is in addition to a multitude of other vegetation types. Within cities and towns people tend to get to work by motor vehicle and most of the wild animals are contained within large fenced-off reserves. However, having that classic wild life encounter is certainly possible in South Africa by visiting one of the private nature reserves (for a luxurious experience) or one of the well-established public parks like the Kruger National Park or Addo Elephant Park.
>South Africa is undeveloped, so much so that most of us live in mud huts.
Truth: While much of South Africa can very much be considered rural, large cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban boast all the mod-cons of the developed world including skyscrapers, flushing toilets, running water and electricity. In fact, wondering the streets of Cape Town after an evening meal in Cape Town makes it possible to forget that you’re in Africa at all, what with all the cutting edge creativity, tall buildings and modern taxi cabs all around you.
>Everyone in South Africa speaks some exotic language made up of clicks.
Truth: Most of South Africa’s population does indeed speak any number of traditional South African languages (known as Nguni languages) but again, in the cities, English is the lingua franca and in fact, for many city natives English is the mother tongue. Visiting South Africa as an English speaker will present no problems whatsoever, unless you venture a long way off the beaten tourist track that is.
>South Africa is so crime-ridden that you will be shot at as you step off the plane.
Truth: South Africa gets a bad rap in the international press, but ask anyone who’s spent any time here whether it’s safe for travellers and you’ll be met with a resounding yes! To really get a taste of South Africa you can even take a bicycle tour through one of the townships, or eat at township restaurant, both inexplicably rewarding experiences.
>All South Africans are poor.
Truth: This idea probably stems from the media campaigns for African Aid and images of starving children. However, the reality is that South Africa has its share of wealth, as evidenced by the flashy cars, nice houses and development within South Africa’s cities. As with anywhere in the world you will witness poverty but you can also visit Sandton in Johannesburg or Camps Bay in Cape Town and seriously wonder what all the fuss is about.
>All South Africans are black.
Truth: We’re not. One of South Africa’s greatest assets is the diversity of South Africans. There are black, white, Asian and a whole range in between, each coming with their own cultures and traditions, making life in South Africa colourful to say the least. Merely stepping into the airport terminal will dispel this myth.
>Africa is a country
Truth: This is hilarious to anyone actually from here. To us South Africans our country is very much its own entity and yet to many naïve outsiders, ‘Africa’ is the beginning and end of it. I have personally witnessed people becoming very confused upon learning that South Africa is an independent country on the continent of Africa! After getting to know the country a little better though, no-one can mistake characterful South Africa for being part of the big ‘country’ of Africa.
Whether you are a local marvelling at the absurdity of these misconceptions or a traveller planning to visit South Africa, take note of these strange ideas and do all you can to change them!
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