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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » July 30, 2012
TRAVEL: Around the World in a Land Rover or how to go traveling while running a firm effectively (8)
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Two Worlds
July 30, 2012   
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Travel guides to South Africa frequently paint a scary picture of the country, mostly because of the dangers that await unwary visitors. For a time we hesitated if we should go there at all. But eventually we decided to trust what local people had to say. They know better than anyone else what kind of advice a visitor needs, including tips on which places a foreigner would do best to avoid.

We met many white families in South Africa and most of them were charming people with their hearts on their sleeves. But it was sometimes unbearable to listen to what they had to say about the black inhabitants of their country. The most startling thing was that most of them considered themselves to be good Christians even though they regarded their black neighbors as “subhuman.” Many also told us they missed the apartheid days when crime was not a problem. We later found out that the people we had talked to in Pretoria were part of the most conservative segment of the population and not all white South Africans were that radical.

Black people in South Africa are difficult to try and talk to. Apartheid is still an open wound to them. They passed us by at gas stations, supermarket parking lots and that was it. The two communities—white and black—are distrustful of each other. Whenever we were able to chat with black people, these would usually be French-speaking immigrants, many of them well-educated, who came to South Africa to do odd jobs. Interestingly enough, rather than feel discriminated against by white people, they complained about racist attitudes in black South Africans who accused them of taking their jobs.

Side by side, but never together
The media in the West is somewhat oblivious to the difficult situation in which the two communities live side by side yet not together. Clearly, the fact that hardly anyone feels safe does not help. Even if some black people get some political prominence, back in their townships most of them live in poverty. What is worse, they are not ready to assume such power, which is why so many of them fail. The economy is controlled by white people, who barricade themselves in their bunker-houses and buy weapons. Or leave the country when pushed to the extreme. But there are exceptions, too. One of them is Garden Road in the town of Knysna where security around white people’s homes is not too tight and security guards are almost inconspicuous.

South African ex-president Nelson Mandela started the effort to reconcile the two communities. He taught the black people to understand that the country also belonged to their white neighbors. He avoided blind revenge and abandoning apartheid in a totally haphazard fashion. He knew how to appeal to a person’s intellect. He showed his people which way to go and we can only hope they will take this road and resist the urge to hate others. But it is a long and winding road and the temptation to blame others for our own problems is strong.

ith or without the EU?
Europe today seems to be facing the same problem. Let down by politicians and prompted by the economic crisis and growing unemployment, people are starting to look to their own interests only. The party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands has launched a website to encourage the Dutch to identify workers from Central and Eastern Europe as the reason behind the country’s problems. But what is the real motivation behind this? At the same time, French companies which hire Polish workers are being accused of using foreign labor. The French are also being made to believe that Poles are stealing jobs from them. That is completely not true.

A good idea would be for Europeans to revisit the history of Europe and analyze the mistakes politicians made in the past. We should recall where such hostile attitudes led our grandparents. Back in my French school, I was taught that the European Union was founded after World War II to prevent a third world war. Today it turns out that some European nations regard themselves as superior to the EU. National interests continue to prevail over the common interest. I hope this extreme love for one’s own kind will never transform into a hatred of other people.

Story and photos by Igor Jeliński

Edited by Barbara Deręgowska

Igor Jeliński, 41, businessman and traveler. After 15 years of working in senior posts for large multinational corporations, he swapped his career for a journey around the world with his family. Before departing, he set up two firms with two partners, Akcja Job and NelsonLamartine, which proved highly successful during the two years he was away traveling. While pursuing his dream and visiting the most distant and most beautiful corners of the world, he was able to manage his business effectively.

You can find out how he did it from his monthly accounts of his journey in the Voice.
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