I foolishly failed to bring my international power adapter to South Africa, breezily expecting that I’d find one at my hotel. A marketing arm of the South African government has brought over to get a sense of how the country is preparing for next year’s World Cup, and my understanding is that I’ll also get to attend a Confederation Cup game or two. I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on tomorrow. I hope I will, at least. My plan is to file a column tomorrow. I’m a few hours ahead for once in my life, which is nice. One wonders if I can make this time zone business work for me on a longer term basis.
Initial thoughts: the plane from Dulles to Dakar to Johannesburg was full of an improbable mish-mash of people, ranging from the quiet intensity of the enormously large gun-loving Afrikaner man to the voluble and demanding bald American business guy to the urbane middle-aged African American woman who is obsessed with the Die Hard movies who was seated next to the genteel African student who was interested in my book on the history of post-apartheid South Africa. Or rather Alec Russell’s book on the subject. I didn’t write it. I didn’t even buy it — I borrowed it from Christian Brose of Foreign Policy, who is a generous soul. I prefer counterprogramming in my reading, e.g., rather than read a book about Zuma on a flight to South Africa, I’d normally want to read a book about Suharto. I did read large sections of the forthcoming Isabel Sawhill + Ron Haskins book on building an opportunity society on the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, which will be fodder for future Agenda posts. But boy, I plowed throuh the Russell book. This was definitely the work of a veteran foreign correspondent: newsily engaging and well-informed, if far from comprehensive. It gave me some useful context, though I’m really interested in mundane stuff, like the drawing of provincial boundaries, the renaming of provinces, developments in local government, finer-grained accounts of the economic transition, language policy, etc. One hopes I’ll pick up a bit while I’m here. Still, worth reading.
Best part of the trip so far: Abdul Karim, who drove me to the hotel from the airport, is a brilliant dude. Born in 1978, he arrived in South Africa in 1994 as a student. He’s now a first-year political science undergrad, and he’s a totally incisive observer of the political scene in Kenya and South Africa and the wider world. Definitely a dazzling conversationalist. He’s going places. We had a frank conversation about perceptions of South Asians among other things.
Of course, the trip has lasted for just a couple of hours, not counting the endless flight. So we’ll see what happens next. Assuming I’m properly wired, I intend to keep you posted.