Madikwe was our last Safari stop. From there we went to Johannesburg where we spent two days before going home. We were originally scheduled to do some tours there, but we realized that we were physically and emotionally wiped out so we cancelled them. I also still didn't have a working computer, so I ended up buying a new one in Johannesburg. Fortunately for me, the day before we arrived, the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, caused a major scandal by, without any warning, firing the finance minister and replacing him with a political crony. As a result, the Rand plummeted overnight, and I was able to get a really good deal. (BTW, if anyone wants to buy a brand new MacBook Pro, still under factory warranty, it's for sale :-)
Johannesburg is a really beautiful city, very reminiscent of Los Angeles: sprawling, modern. But it's still an African city, and that means there is still a lot of abject poverty. You can see the shanty towns from the air as you're flying in. And even in the best parts of town, where extreme wealth is on prominent display, it has to hide behind some pretty gnarly security. This was the entrance to our hotel:
That door is fully a foot thick. It's meant to stop vehicles and bullets.
This is a little bit of what it looks like behind the gates:
If you have money, you can just hide in there and forget about the world outside. But the moment you leave, you can't help but be reminded that you are in constant danger from your own countrymen. There was not a single property that was not surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire and electric fencing.
This, as far as I can tell, is as good as it gets in Africa. We visited an acquaintance of ours who happens to live in this same neighborhood. Her house is spectacular: a mansion of probably 10,000 square feet with sprawling immaculately manicured gardens. She lives there by herself. No family, just staff (all black, of course), including security guards who are there 24 by 7, three shifts a day, day in and day out. It was beautiful. And it was creepy.
That is why, despite all the wonderful wildlife and natural beauty that we saw, despite the fact that I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to make this trip at all, the memory of it will for me forever be tinged with melancholy, because there was not a day that I was not reminded that the vast majority of the people around me are not as fortunate as I am, and it is not because they are lazy or risk averse, but rather because they had the poor judgement to be born in Africa instead of Europe or the United States, or to be born to black parents instead of white, or to live under a corrupt government.
I lived for six years in a gated community in the Los Angeles area, and I hated it. Oh, it was very nice inside, but it was almost literally like living in Africa. Nearly everyone inside the gates was white, nearly everyone outside was black, as were most of the security guards whose job it was to keep the black folks out. Why did we move in to such a place? Because we bought our house while the place was still under construction. It didn't start out as an apartheid enclave, it gradually turned into one as the HOA board was taken over by people with a very different mindset from our own.
This is why I worry about income and wealth disparities, because I've seen the end-game for it both at home and abroad, and it ain't pretty. I do not want to have to live behind a wall because I fear my fellow man. The fact that the leading Republican candidates for president are selling this as a feature fills me with dread.
I'd better stop there before I get too maudlin.