Opinion

Balancing stability and change in South Africa | Rich Elfers

All of us struggle between the desire for stability and the desire for change. Some favor stability and order above all else. Others are dissatisfied with the status quo and want to improve conditions for themselves and/or others.

I write to you from the home of my daughter Betsy and her family in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, where I see these two forces at work.

Recently, Betsy and her family took us on a tour of the Champagne Valley in the Drakensberg Mountains. We were mainly among whites who were on holiday, since it’s early summer here. The area is beautiful and green with luxury resorts, dams and spectacular views of the mountains and fine buildings. These people enjoy their stability because, for them, life is good.

Nearby Loskop, a Zulu community of about 50,000, has a 40 percent AIDS infection rate. Poverty is endemic. Until recently, few had electricity and running water usually comes from a faucet outside among the houses. There is little furniture in their homes. They live in small mud huts. There is no way most Zulus will ever be able to afford to take advantage of those resorts except, perhaps, as employees. South Africa has the greatest income disparity in the world. This is the “stability” that these blacks encounter.

Betsy, with the help of local Christians, aid from the U.S. donations and nonprofit contributions, now pays salaries to 20 full-time, home-based care workers (who make $150 a month), a few part-timers and a part-time nurse to care for their physical needs, a pastor to minister to their spiritual needs and a full-time social worker/manager. They care for about 500 AIDS patients and orphans. For these people, change comes in fits and starts.

The contrast between the rich, primarily white world and the poor blacks is stark. Since I come from the West, I’m more comfortable with the white stability, but when I see the endemic poverty and suffering, I wish for even half that stability for the blacks.

Nelson Mandela was recently buried in the Eastern Cape, about 900 miles to the west of where I am writing this. He was one of those few great leaders the world gets every generation or two. Today we will visit the place where Mandela was captured. We will spend Christmas near Cape Town. We will also visit where Mandela lived after he became the president of the Republic of South Africa.  Mandela was a change agent who also brought greater stability to the lives of blacks, Asians and coloureds, without taking away the financial stability of the whites, a remarkable accomplishment.

One reason I travel is so I can shake myself out of the comparably stable world in which I live and to remind myself that on a personal level others are not as fortunate as I. Being reminded of that challenges my complacency. It reminds me that for the privileged few, change is necessary to bring stability to the many who suffer poverty and want.

Why not have “life is good for all,” not just the privileged few?

Our Mobile Apps

Community Events, April 2014

Add an Event
We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Apr 16 edition online now. Browse the archives.