Tuesday, 27 November 2007

A South African Christmas - An American Perspective

With less than one month to go before we celebrate Christmas with family and friends, I thought it may be interesting to see our celebrations through 'foreign' eyes. This letter was posted on the Global Ministries website by two American missionaries living in the Eastern Cape. No matter what your religious leanings, this makes for interesting reading! As a South African I find great encouragement from this fresh perspective :

We are not dreaming of a white Christmas, but rather a day at the beach with family and a big barbeque grill! Christmas here in South Africa is in the height of summer time and is celebrated somewhat different than in the United States. Since it is summer time all the children are on a month long break from school and many people take this time off from work as well.

Some businesses shut down for the month of December. Even the home office of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, our partner church here, is closed for the month. People take this holiday very seriously and are intent on truly relaxing. And you will find that most people celebrate Christmas Day outside in their backyards, down at the beach or anywhere that they can be together with family and friends. Christmas in South Africa is about being with family and friends, sharing a meal together and about relaxing. It is not about a Christmas tree, gifts or Santa Claus. Quite a contrast to our culture of Christmas in the USA!

We often say that there is much for us, as Americans, to learn from our brothers and sisters here in Africa. And this is one of those things! The first Christmas we spent here in South Africa was just the two of us. We put up our fake Christmas tree, while sweating, and listened to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" on CD. We were forcing what we know as Christmas into our lives here. We exchanged gifts on Christmas day with each other and then went to eat lunch with our friends. We found them with their entire family out on their front porch eating, chatting, laughing and relaxing together. Then we all headed down to the beach for a walk and a dip. We quickly learned our lesson about what Christmas here means! It was not about "what did you get for Christmas or from Santa Claus?" on Christmas morning. It was about sharing relationships with the ones that you love.

The other lesson that we have learned and that we can all learn from is that giving here in South Africa is done year round...not just at Christmas. So often, we in the US, tend to gear up for our giving at Christmas...we give to the needy, the poor, the orphaned. We make special efforts to make sure people "have" something at Christmas time. But what about the rest of the year? What about sharing ourselves with others and spending time with people? South Africans give of themselves right straight through the year, day in and day out. We have seen so many instances: a granny who gives endlessly to 25 orphaned children, a lady who shares her food with a neighbor who does not have any, a boy who shares his 2 Rand with a friend to buy a bag of chips, people giving others that they do not know a ride into town, a woman giving of her time, skills and talents to an organization without any monetary compensation and knowing there is no income for her family, and the list could go on. Here in South Africa, you can show up at someone's house, totally unexpected, and get the warmest welcome with tea and biscuits, and a readily listening ear available to hear your news or problems. People do not worry about their own agenda; rather it is people and the relationships that are important. People here give when there is nothing to give but themselves.

We have much to learn from our African brothers and sisters. Why do we not change our theology of giving and even our traditions of the holidays? Let us focus this year on our relationships, on giving of ourselves to others and on relaxing. Whether we are buried in snow or sand...may your holidays be blessed!

Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes

Source - Global Ministries

Friday, 23 November 2007

Airports - Get There Early!

Solomon Makgale, communications manager for ACSA (Airports Company South Africa), has urged passengers to get to airports early during the coming holiday season as they expect passenger volume to increase by 10% to 9.5 million passengers over the next three months. Read the report here.

It is well and good asking people to arrive early but I do hope that the various airlines and ACSA have also employed more people to handle the extra pressure. Having competent people at check-in desks and helping passengers find their way around will go a long way in preventing frustrations.

I was recently at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg at a particularly busy time of the morning and waited in the very long queue to get through the security check. Only two gates were open. From what I can remember there are at least another 4 that could have been opened had staff been available. It is this kind of forethought that will help ACSA regain some lost confidence from the flying public.

A good experience at the airport relies on many factors but I do hope that in light of Mr Makgale's word, ACSA will play their part as well!

PS - Anyone flying into, out of or around South Africa on Christmas Day? I would love to post your experience on this blog. Leave me a comment and I will contact you!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

South Africa Is Doing Okay In Closing Gender Gap - WEF report

Every year the World Economic Forum releases a list that ranks countries on the basis of gender equality.

The report measures the discrepancies between the sexes in four categories :

1) Educational attainment

2) Economic participation

3) Political empowerment

4) Health and survival

This years report shows that the United States has slipped from 22nd place in 2006 to 31st place. It is pleasing to see that South Africa sits at position 20 - ahead of countries like Switzerland (40), France (51) and Singapore (77).

According to the analysis published by the World Economic Forum the reasons for South Africa's good performance are :

1) Political empowerment (more than 40% of government ministers are women and more than 33% of parliamentary positions are held by women)

2) Economic indicators such as labour force participation and wage equality are slightly improved

As our country continues to face the challenges of a developing economy and social reconstruction it is good see how we lead the way for Africa in many other areas of development - a good news story!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Winnie Mandela For President?

Mother of the nation Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is ready to join the leadership race of the African National Congress (ANC), the Sowetan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Madikizela-Mandela's publicist Malcolm X said "if the ANC nominates her, she will not say no, she is the loyal servant of her people."

The Sowetan said it had learned that several senior ANC members had been streaming to her Orlando house since last year to request her to accept nomination or to support them. Despite reports that branches have nominated President Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the ANC is still to officially announce the names of leaders nominated for the top six positions.

In fact, Madikizela-Mandela could be nominated from the floor, as happened during the 1997 conference for the deputy president's position. Then she declined the nomination, allowing Zuma to become the deputy president.

- Source - IOL

Friday, 16 November 2007

Does Oprah Promote Materialism?

It is that time of the year when many around the world begin buying presents for loved ones. The Christmas season has already begun - the decorations in stores bear testimony to that.

Another way to know that Christmas is near is to tune into talk-shows. Oprah and Ellen are two that are shown here in South Africa and both have a loyal following. Both of these ladies host shows that are entertaining and there is nothing inherently wrong with either. However I do become upset during their shows at this time of the year when they have massive give-aways to their respective studio audiences. Let me explain why...

Upon hearing that they are to receive free gifts the studio audiences react like small children being told they have free access in a candy store. It is sad for me to see the screaming and shouting of grown men and women who cannot wait to get their hands on their gifts. From their dress one can safely assume that they are from a demographic that will not go without creature comforts during the holiday season and yet they carry on as if they are deprived of all that is worthwhile. It is sad.

I know that Oprah's philanthropic efforts particularly in the field of education are worthy but I still cannot help feeling that her hosting of this type of show flies in the face of her professed love for the downtrodden and less fortunate.

Is the reaction of the studio audience typical of the average American? I would like to believe not as I have several close friends in the US who are nothing like as materialistic as these audience members seem to be. Let us be clear that giving of gifts is part of the joy of the Christmas season and reminds us of the greatest gift given to us but let us also remember that even if we were to receive nothing but the companionship and warmth of friends and family we would have received something far greater than anything Oprah or Ellen could give their studio audiences.

PS - Readers in the US : Watch Oprah on Nov 20 to see her "Favourite Things of 2007" show - once you have , please leave a comment with your impressions of the show.