Tag Archives: Fulbright

Community spirit

South Africa was great. I’m sorry to be leaving. The people are friendly, the country is beautiful and the opportunities are plentiful.

Being both a first-world and a third-world country, it has huge opportunities, offers the right encouragement and generally has the infrastructure for entrepreneurs to do their thing.

Yet, it’s still a country where the spirit of community and togetherness is very strong. It’s a country where I think technology really can be used to support and strengthen the community spirit.

This is what the Knight News Challenge is all about. We’re looking forward to reading the applications from Africa.



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Pictures from Cape Town area, South Africa

The country is beautiful, and I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.

Southernmost point of South Africa

Southernmost point of South Africa

Click here for Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope

Click here for Table Mountain

Click here for wine country

Click here for Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg

Cape Point, South Africa

Cape Point, South Africa

Who knew there were penguins in South Africa?

Who knew there were penguins in South Africa?

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Comments from Tshwane students about blogging


Some of my students

Some of my students

Reading the comments below that various students e-mailed me, you’ll easily see why this teaching gig has been so much fun and so rewarding.


The comments are from students at the Pretoria West and Soshanguve campuses of Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa.

  • Blogging has allowed me to go where I never thought I’d go. That is because I am now able to share my ideas with other people outside of South Africa and know how they feel about my ideas. Thank you.
  • I found a tool which I can use to write my thoughts and communicate with the entire world.
  • We had a lot of fun, I have fallen in love with my Blog(www.scepticalmatshatr.blogspot.com) already. Siyabonga (Zulu), Re a leboga (Tswana), Ha Khensa (tsonga), Dankie (Afrikaans) –all meaning Thank you — at least now you know how to say thank you in four South African languages.
  • Teaching us how to create our own blogs was awesome and I will use it until the end of time.
  • Your contribution made a difference.

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Filed under Africa, South Africa, Teaching Journalism

Facebook in South Africa

My students’ Internet skills range from those who are not quite sure what’s happening when they create a link from their blogs to another web page, to those who are looking for audio and video to add to their blogs and who have their own Facebook pages.

Almost all of the students use a mobile social networking site called Mixit. I was at a party last week where a young man didn’t know anyone there, but heard about the party through Mixit and an SMS.

I was more than a little surprised two days ago when having lunch at Skukuza Camp in the middle of Kruger National (Wildlife) Park, to overhear a group of thirty-somethings next to me talking about how Facebook has made it easier to steal the identities of those people who fill out detailed profiles. They are giving a little too much information to those who want to use it for illegal purposes.

Then, when driving out of the park and listening to a South African rock station, the DJ announced that he was going to read from a Facebook page he likes. It was a list of “You know you’re South African if …”

(Even after just a few weeks here, I could understand some of the jokes, particularly those dealing with driving. Like, “You know you’re South African if you run a red robot (stoplight) and three cars follow you.” Or, “You know you’re South African if you’re driving 120 kph on the highway, and you’re the slowest one.”)


Filed under Africa, Journalism, South Africa, Teaching Journalism

The countryside


Wine country near Cape Town

Wine country near Cape Town

South Africa contains many of the landscapes familiar in the United States — and you don’t have to drive as far to see them.


Cape Town is as beautiful (and fun, I’m told) as San Francisco.

Johannesburg is South Africa’s New York City.

Pretoria’s suburbs remind me of new suburbs nearPhoenix, Ariz.

The desert areas here are like the U.S. Southwest.

The many rolling plains remind me of the Great Plains in the U.S.

The wine country is like California’s Napa Valley or New York’s Finger Lakes Region.

The mountains remind me of driving in Colorado.

And the beaches are like Florida — with a lot colder water.

Then there are wildlife parks with no U.S. equivalent. You feel as if you stepped into a world hundreds of thousands of years old, where all the wild beasts still roam.

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Teaching blogging

Students at the Pretoria campus work on their assignments.

Students at the Pretoria campus work on their assignments.

First day of classes at Pretoria campus.

First day of classes at Pretoria campus.

More photos of my students on the Pretoria campus

I’ve been having a fun teaching students here to create blogs using Blogger.com and create web pages using Adobe GoLive.

It’s such a pleasure to see their smiles when they realize that what they have just done is on the web. A week before I got here, they went to Cape Town to cover parliament. So their next assignment from me is to write their parliament coverage on their blog.

I’m particularly pleased because at the beginning of the class, many of them told me they don’t read blogs, they think blogs are junk and irresponsible, and they want to do serious journalism.

That’s when I told them the story of NOLA.com, the web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. They all had heard about how Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. I told them that the only way they knew about New Orleans after Katrina was because of blogs.

The Times-Picayune offices, presses and computers were flooded. Their reporters and editors were dispersed. The only way they could publish was via the blogs that their owners (Newhouse) had recently installed. The blogs were hosted elsewhere. Their servers weren’t flooded. Much of what we know about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Orleans is because of the tool called a blog.

I think I made it clear to the students that a blog is just another tool they should have in their toolbox.

Once they saw that they could be serious journalists and use blogs, they let loose and had a great time.

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Science journalism conference

Wednesday, the students at the Tshwane and the Soshanguve campuses of Tshwane University of Technology met on the downtown Arcadia campus for a daylong conference on science journalism. Pedro Diederichs, head of the journalism department, organized the conference as part of his expansion of the journalism department. His next hire will be a chair in science reporting.

There were excellent talks on AIDS reporting, the ethics of science reporting and great case studies in investigative science journalism.

The students (freshmen and sophomores) were very involved and asked questions that showed they were paying attention to the speakers. There was a lot of back and forth between the students and the speakers, but the comment that riled the students was from Elsabe Brits, a science reporter for Die Burger, in Cape Town. She was encouraging students to test claims about scientific advances against reason and logic. She said, for instance, there are about 1.7 million species of creatures on the Earth. How big do you think Noah’s Ark would have to be to carry two of each of those species? It would be a lot bigger than what is stated in the Bible. It’s impossible. It couldn’t have happened in that way, she said.

That’s when I learned how deeply religious many people are in South Africa. Quite a few students started arguing with that comment. The discussion extended to intelligent design, which the speakers trashed as pure rubbish and one student in particular adamantly defended.

At this conference, I was invited to lecture to grad students at the University of Pretoria next week.

My time here is passing too fast, and I’m having such fun.

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South African lingo explained to a foreigner

This was an e-mail sent to me by the head of the journalism department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria:

 South African lingo explained to a foreigner

Jawelnofine: This is another conversation fallback word. Derived from the four words “yes”, “well”, “no” (q.v.) and “fine”, it means roughly “how about that.” If your bank manager tells you your account is overdrawn, you can say with confidence: “Jawelnofine.”

Is it?: This is a great word in conversations. Derived from the two words “is” and “it”, it can be used when you have nothing to contribute If someone tells you at the braai: “The Russians will succeed in their bid for Capitalism once they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership.” It is appropriate to respond by saying: “Is it?”

Jislaaik: Pronounced “Yiss-like”, it is an expression of astonishment. For instance, if someone tells you there are a billion people in China, a suitable comment is: “Jislaaik, that’s a hang of a lot of people Hey!.”

Klap: Pronounced “klup” – an Afrikaans word meaning thump smack, whack or spank. If you spend too much time at the movies at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp klap from your Dad. In America, that is called child abuse. In South Africa, it is called promoting education. It’s what you do to the guy who gave you the hot mieliepap.

Lekker: An Afrikaans word meaning ‘nice’, this word is used by all language groups to express approval. If you see someone of the opposite sex who is good-looking, you can exclaim: “Lekkerrr!” while drawing out the last syllable. You might, however, get a klap.

Tackies: These are sneakers or running/tennis shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tyres. “Fat tackies” are big tyres, as in: “Where did you get those lekker fat tackies on your Volksie (VW), hey?”

Dop: This word has two basic meanings, one good and one bad. First the good. A dop is a drink, a cocktail, a sundowner, a noggin. If you are invited over for a dop, be careful. It could be one or two sedate drinks or a blast, depending on the company you have fallen in with. When you get invited to a braai, you will inevitably be asked to bring your own dop. Now the bad: To dop is to fail. If you dopped Standard Two (Grade 4) more than once, you probably won’t be reading this.

Sarmie: This is a sandwich. For generations, school-children have traded sarmies during lunch breaks. If you are sending kids off to school in the morning, don’t give them liver-polony sarmies. They are the toughest to trade. Definitely not lekker.

Bakkie: This word is pronounced “bucky” and it is a small truck or pick-up. Young men can take their “cherrie” (g/friend) to the drive-in flick in a bakkie, but it is not always an appropriate form of transport because the seats usually don’t recline and you may be forced to watch the film. This is never the purpose of going to a Drive-In flick.

Howzit: This is a universal South African greeting, and you will hear this word throughout the land. It is often used with the word “No” as in this exchange: “No, howzit?” “No, fine.”

Now Now: In much of the outside world, this is a comforting phrase: “Now, now, don’t cry-I’ll take you to the bioscope tomorrow.” But in South Africa, this phrase means a little sooner than soon: “Ill clean my room now now, Ma.” It is a little more urgent than “just now” which means an indefinite time in the future.

Tune me grief: To be tuned grief is to be aggravated, harassed. Be selective about using the term. For example, if your bank manager calls you in for an urgent chat about your overdraft, you should avoid saying: “Hey, listen. You’re tuning me grief, man.” That would be unwise and could result in ‘major tuning of grief’. There are variations. You can say about your boss: “This oke (guy) is tuning me uphill.”

Boet: This is an Afrikaans word meaning “brother” which is shared by all language groups. Pronounced “boot” as in “foot”, it can be applied to a non-brother. For instance a father can call his son “boet” and friends can apply the term to each other too. Sometimes the diminutive “boetie” is used. But don’t use either with someone you hardly know – it will be thought patronising and you’ll probably get ‘donnered’, hey.

Pasop: From the Afrikaans phrase meaning “Watch Out!”, this warning is used and heeded by all language groups. As in: “Your mother hasn’t had her morning coffee yet Boet, so pasop and stay out of her way.” Sometimes just the word “pasop!” is enough without further explanation. Everyone knows it sets out a line in the sand not to be crossed.

Skop, Skiet en Donder: Literally “kick, shoot and thunder” in Afrikaans,this phrase is used by many English speakers to describe action movies or any activity which is lively and somewhat primitive. Clint Eastwood is always good for a skop, skiet en donder flick. Vrot : Pronounced – “frot”: A wonderful word which means “rotten” or “putrid” in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they really don’t like. Most commonly it describes fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of takkies worn a few times too often with unwashed feet can be termed ‘Vrot’ by unfortunate folk in the same room as the wearer. Also a rugby player who misses important tackles can be said to have played a vrot game – but not to his face because he won’t appreciate it. Pasop: We once saw a movie review with this headline: “Slick Flick, Vrot Plot.” However, it is mostly used to describe the state of the drunk boets at the braai who finished all their dop.

Graze: In a country with a strong agricultural tradition, it is not surprising that farming words crop up (pun intended) in general conversation. Thus to graze means to eat. If you are invited to a Bioscope show, you may be asked: “Do you want to catch a graze now now?.

Catch a tan: This is what you do when you lie on the beach pretending to study for your matric exams. The Brits, who have their own very odd phrases, say they are getting “bronzed”. Nature has always been unkind to South African schoolchildren, providing beach and swimming pool weather just when they should be swotting for the mid-summer finals. If you spend too much time catching a tan at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp klap from your Dad.

Rock up: To rock up some place is to just sort of arrive. You don’t make an appointment or tell anyone you are coming – you just rock up. Friends can do that but you have to be selective about it. You can’t just rock up for a job interview or at a five-star restaurant. You give them a tinkle first – then you can rock up. You can, however, rock up at a braai providing you’ve brought your own dop.

Scale: To scale something is to steal it. A person who is “scaly” is not nice, ie a scumbag, and should be left off the Christmas party invitation list. If he does rock up, don’t give him any pap, donner him, boet, and scale all his dop, hey!.

QED: Here Endeth the Lesson From Oom Eric. Wednesday, 8th August 2007

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How do you bookmark?

In another example of the Google-ization of the world, one of my students asked today how to bookmark a page. We were talking about how Google has made indside pages the new home pages, and how you never even need to see the home page of a news site, if all you want to do is find a particular article.

None of the 45 students today said they use bookmarks. All just Google what they want. And one said she didn’t even know how to bookmark.

I can geez about the days when we bookmarked everything then couldn’t find anything because we never organized our bookmarks.

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Word usage

The first of what likely will be periodic updates on how South Africans and Americans use words differently:

A vegetarian Afrikaaner: Someone who eats chicken

My small Toyota utility truck: My bakkie (pronounced more like bucky)

A free newspaper: A knock and drop

A traffic light: A robot

A dam: A lake formed by a dam

The wall: A dam that forms a lake

A professor: A lecturer

A backyard barbeque: A braai, pronounced brei

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South African hospitality

Monday, Sept. 10 — This past weekend I learned more about South Africans’ wonderful hospitality. On Friday night, Elsie, the sister-in-law of my host, Pedro, took me out to dinner for the second time in the week, because “guests should not eat alone.” Elsie, her friend Celia, and I had a good meal and great conversation at a Greek restaurant.

On Saturday, I spoke with one of the people working in my apartment complex who told me about rural South African weddings. He said in the countryside, the wedding usually lasts eight days. And although just about everyone in the village is invited, anyone who shows up is welcome. His culture truly understands and practices community engagement. He does not have that sense of community in Pretoria, and he misses it.

On Sunday, my colleague Willie Meyer invited me to a zoo, a boat ride and then a braai (barbeque, pronounced brei) at his home in Hartbeespoort with his wife, three daughters, two sons-in-law and several grandchildren.

I ate way too much meat and salad, which was just fine with me. But it seemed like every few minutes after we ate, I was being given another “typical South African drink.” Then Willie, his sons-in-law and I retired to his basement den, and in honor of Pavarotti, we listened to some of his recordings, then just played a variety of classical music while we continued to drink yet more typical (alcoholic) South African after-dinner drinks. (They were delightful.)

Eventually I realized that I had to drive 40 minutes on the “correct” side of the road on a route I’d only been on that morning, and decided it was time to go. Also, South Africa’s rules about drinking and driving are strict, with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and above illegal. Otherwise the evening would have continued for hours.

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More from a community newspaper publisher

Haartsbeesport Lake

Haartsbeesport Lake

Haartbeesport Lake

Haartbeesport Lake

Click here for more photos of Hartbeespoort

Hartbeespoort Lake (formed by a dam)

Sunday, Sept. 9 — I met with Deon van Huizen, publisher of the weekly paper, Kormorant, in Hartbeespoort, and with Willie Meyer, one of my current colleagues at Tshwane University of Technology, Sushanguve campus. Willie has lived in Hartbeespoort for 35 years, and helps Deon by editing copy and writing editorials. Willie just won third place for editorial writing in the Association of Independent Publishers Community Press Awards. Deon won third for his photography.

Deon repeated what I heard several times at the newspaper conference: It does not make economical sense to do anything more that cut and paste his news site online, using Microsoft FrontPage. About 50% of the people in his upscale community are online via DSL, but he said South Africa’s average is more like 20%. (One of my guidebooks says it’s 2%.) However, Deon thought 100% of his customers used mobile phones.

It takes him two hours a week to cut and paste his newspaper online. He said that’s all the online site is worth, because it does not bring in any revenue.

Four years ago, he experimented with sending SMS text messages of the newspaper’s headlines to his readers, but he said no one cared. It didn’t cause people who would not have picked up the paper to do so. Those who were going to get the paper not matter what, did not need the text message, and those who were not going to pick it up, were not persuaded by the text message. So, he stopped doing it because it was expensive, labor intensive and brought in no revenue.

During the Christmas break in publishing, Deon plans to switch from the Corel layout system to Adobe InDesign, part of Creative Suite.

Most of the articles in the Kormorant are in English, but some are in Afrikaans.

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How one publisher is using SMS to unite his community

One community newspaper publisher is creating a new revenue stream by using SMS to unite and organize its audience. We’d call it crowd sourcing in the U.S.

The small community does not want a high voltage electric or microwave tower to be constructed in its midst. The company that wants to build the tower is required to post a legal notice describing the project and announcing the pubic comment period. But the announcement can be small, obscure and in publications most of the people in the area don’t read. So the newspaper, in conjunction with the mobile phone provider, organized an SMS database hosted by the newspaper of everyone who wants to  the SMS, so the newspaper and the mobile phone provider split any revenue. The comunity now has a group of people doing the research that couldn’t be done by a small newspaper: every day combing through every publication in the area looking for the hidden notice of the public comment period. Communities here have learned the hard way that well-hidden notices of public comment periods have been followed by projects that the community didn’t have a chance to oppose.

The newspaper advertises the SMS number and its purpose; readers send one SMS message to that number and then are logged into the database. The paper also uses the print ad for the SMS service as an opportunity to promote its in-depth coverage of that issue in the newspaper.


Filed under Africa, Teaching Journalism

Observations from community newspaper conference

On Sept. 7 I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Publishers (community newspaper publishers) in Johannesburg. The day of training sessions and talks is very similar to the sessions at journalism conferences in the U.S. The softwear session was how to use all of Adobe’s prodcuts to create graphics, edit photos, layout and design pages and set everything up for publishing in print and on the web. I also attended a session describing the voluntary Press Council of South Africa, which chooses a ombusdman empowered to hear complaints against the press.

The colleague who brought me here, Fanie Groenewald, a journalism lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology, conducted a panel on copyright and plagiarism. He clearly has a good relationship with a lot of these publishers and editors.

The several publishers I spoke with all said their circulation is slowly rising and has not fallen. The sessions were heavily focused on the revenue side. One publilsher told me that an online site is an expense that he can’t afford until it can make enough money to pay for itself. Another said that it is not typical here for a newspaper to offer a service like SMS alerts for free. New products like that typically are not offered until they are accompanied by a revenue stream.

Several publishers said that if they put their newspapers online, they will be scooping their main money-maker, their print product, and will be alerting their competitors to their stories. These are the same arguments U.S. publishers made about 10 years ago when they were trying to figure out what they should be doing online and how that product should relate to their print product.

Until online ads become more profitable, these community newspaper publishers have little interest in developing sophisticated and expensive web sites.

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South Africa’s professional journalism training

South Africa has tried to address a problem that U.S. journalists continually fret about: journalism training. Here, all industry groups are required by law to set aside 1% of their payroll for ongoing training. Then, if a newspaper, for instance, sends someone to a professionally recognized training course, that paper gets a credit against the amount they already have paid. If they don’t send people to training, their 1% levy in essence will be used by those organizations that do send people to be trained further. Training courses also are offered by professional journalism associations.

This sounds like a smart system to me, but I’m told it doesn’t work well in practice because the group that receives the funds from the 1% set-aside, is banking it more than spending it. And there are arguments over whether the money should be used to reimburse papers for hiring interns or for short courses taught by journalism professors or for courses taught by consultants or professional training organizations?

Sadly, there is lot of money available for ongoing training that is not being used. I’m told the banking the insurance industry groups here make much better use of their training money.

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My students at Soshanguve campus

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Working on their blogs

Working on their blogs

More Photos

During this first week of teaching at Tshwane University of Technology, I met students at the main Pretoria campus and at a township campus about a 40-minute drive from the Pretoria campus. The campuses are wildly different. The main campus is huge and fantastically landscaped with a lot of private study nooks with chairs, benches and tables. The campus in the township of Soshanguve is very small and limited. The students in the township campus generally come from lower socioeconomic levels than the students at the Pretoria campus. Both groups of students, however, are the most polite and among the most attentive that I ever have encountered. The students’ cell phone activities, particularly transactions like banking, usually go beyond what we typically use a mobile phone for in the U.S. Their Internet connections, however, are much fewer and less powerful than what we have in the States. SMS is THE means of digital communication here. Typical questions from students at both campuses concerned how to maintain journalism’s ethics and principles in a world of citizen contributions. We discussed whether journalism’s principles and ethics are holding the profession back in the world of the Internet. We discussed how many journalists are being true to themselves, but in doing so are losing their audience. I told the students that their ideas can have maximum impact now, because new organizations realize they need new ideas and new models. They looked at me like I had been smoking something. But they kept smiling.

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Journalism education in South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Photos of Tshwane University of Technology Pretoria campus

Journalism training takes two forms in South Africa — at a general university or at a technical university. The model for the technical training is Tshwane University of Technology, where I am teaching in Pretoria. The general plan is that students study only journalism for four years, and for two of those years they are getting hands-on work experience at a news organization.

During years one and two, students take journalism classes on campus. In year three, they have a year-long internship, with a supervisor at the work site and a faculty supervisor. Also during the year three internship, students must find a community organization that needs help publishing an internal publication, and they must accomplish this task. For instance, they might start a newsletter for a church or an environmental club.
In year four, they are considered to be trained well enough to be working as a full-time journalist, which they do. Then on periodic Saturdays they come to campus for lectures on topics like politics. They also study newsroom culture and are taught how to fit in and survive it.

The selection process is rigorous at a technical university, so the students who are admitted, are there because they really want to be journalists and because the university believes they already have had a broad education. Their student colleagues include engineers, medical students and landscape architects

At the general universities, journalistic training is more as it is in the United States, with about two-thirds to three quarters of the classes constituting a basic liberal arts background, including courses in communications threory, and the rest being in journalism.

The technical university plan seems to better address concerns of U.S. news organizations and journalism professors, that there is not enough time to teach all the basics, have the students become proficient in those skills and then also teach the multimedia skills required in digital journalism. The flip side is that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, students also need basic knowlege of economics, history, geography and literature, as well as second-, or even third-, language skills.

The movement here is to somehow try to combine the plans at the two different university systems into one program for journalism training. And I’m told it won’t be easy.

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Balancing transformation and affirmative action

South Africans are very proud of their huge diversity, including scores of different cultures and 11 official languages. Many are rightly, I think, proud of their incredible accomplishments since the demise of apartheid. Now, however, their post-apartheid world is entering the world of affirmative action and reverse discrimination claims. Some whom I’ve spoken to fear that the country is on the verge of another big polarization or, on the opposite side, “another miracle.”

The challenge now, as a journalism colleague told me, is “What’s the right balance between transformation and affirmative action?”

Even if you agree that the past history of South Africa (or the United States) requires a re-leveling of the playing fields, no two people are likely to agree on the specifics or the degree of any program designed to accomplsih that.

I attended an affirmative action lecture by law Prof. Phillip T.K. Daniels from The Ohio State Universtiy. The questions and comments at this lecture pointed out the fact that South Africa and the United States are facing the same situations of how to balance the claims of those who say they were harmed by affirmative action with the civic need to eliminate huge gaps in opportunity.

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General observations

Everyone I’ve met has been friendly, polite and more than willing to go out of their way to make sure things are going well for me. They love to entertain over meals, which works for me. The food has been great — lots of grilled meat, vegetables and fruit. Buddawurst here is like bratwurst in Germany. The South Africans I’ve met all want to know if I like their country, which I do, very much.

But it takes getting used to the fact that South Africa is both a first-world and a third-world country. Turning two or three blocks in a city, you easily can walk from one world to another, going from a modern apartment building to a lot filled with shacks. Driving a mile can also take you from a gigantic rolling hill and valley covered with thousands of shacks, to a neighborhood of middle-class brick homes.

Most Americans are more used to seeing the vastness of the South African countryside than European or even other African visitors here are. The area from Pretoria to Johannesburg is large flat plains, then slightly rolling hills. Gigantic boulders dot the plains, along with stands of short trees. The dry season will last a few more weeks here, so right now all the land is brown and dusty. Looking down on Pretoria, which is in a valley, is like looking at Los Angeles on are really bad smog day. When the rains start, I’m told the countryside will completely transform to lush green.

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My apartment in Pretoria


The courtyard

The courtyard

Click here for pictures of my apartment in Pretoria


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