..differences...

August 27, 2009  •  Leave a Comment

After a month and a half of living in Cape Town, my list of differences between South Africa and America has grown substantially. Of course, I am not suggesting that this is surprising, it just goes to show that even after a month of being here, I still find things in my day to day routine that are drastically different from home. 

 
This week on campus was the Student Government elections. Of course, being part of the student government at home, I was very interested in hearing about the candidates for each position, how they campaigned, voted, etc. Most of the procedures are the same between UCT and AU: the candidates put up posters, hand out quarter sheets around campus, and try to meet as many people on campus as possible before voting starts. However, because this is South Africa, politics in general is very different than that in the US. 
 
On Wednesday, as I walked by the main steps of campus, that overlook the valley, there were a series of voting "booths" set up for students to come vote for their new leaders. This is very similar to the US. (Aside from  the fact that AU votes online...but we'll overlook that.) What shocked me was how campaigners for candidates would stand directly next to the booths yelling their candidates name to those voting, encouraging them -- almost pressuring them -- to vote in a specific way. 
 
This would NOT go over well in the US. 
 
Granted, this was just a student government election, however, rules in the US for elections would still apply. On the national scale it is illegal to campaign within a certain distance of a voting location, and it certainly would be illegal to shout the name of your candidate next to a voting booth. 
 
I couldn't help but laugh as I walked by. Very very different. 
 
...
 
Then, just yesterday as I was riding the UCT shuttle home, I noticed another peculiar act that would almost never be seen in the cities of the United States. 
 
There was construction occurring on the sidewalk, where it looked as though they were removing a very long cable that had run underneath the entire length of the sidewalk, possibly running for blocks. As I watched, the cable continued to appear as the men pulled it out of the ground and coiled it up neatly next to them. 
 
Now I have no idea why they were removing this cable, or even had an reaction to the fact that they were removing it. 
 
What struck me as odd was how they were removing it. In the US, I would expect about 4 men, and some sort of crank to attach to the cable, mechanically pulling it -- slowly but surely out of the ground-- automatically coiling it for transport. I would expect the men to just be observing the operation in case anything went wrong. 
 
In South Africa, there were about 2 dozen men, all dressed in bright yellow/orange construction vests, and no machines. The two front men were up to their waists in the hole from which the cable was being removed, alternately pulling at the cable to initially pull it from the hole. 
 
Behind them, about 15 men were lined up, slowly moving towards the front two men. When they reached the front, they would reach down, grab the cable, and RUN backwards away from the hole! Over and over and over. Get in line, wait wait wait, reach the front, grab, RUN! It seemed to be working just fine, as the final men coiled the cable as it was pulled. 
 
The word that came to mind though was inefficiency. Those men must have been out there all day pulling the same wire, and a majority of their time was actually spent waiting in line to pull. I couldn't help to think, why didn't they just use a crank, only needing 1 or 2 men, and have the others work on different construction needs around the city. I have seen at least 10 other areas that could use some help. 
 
Of course though, that's just not how its done here in Cape Town. Those men are perfectly content waiting in line, socializing, and slowly but surely achieving their goal of removing the cable. 
 
I have a feeling, that some American venture capitalist would have cringed watching the process. I certainly did. 
 
...
 
The list goes on and on...but I assume you've gotten the point by now. The word to describe Cape Town, and South Africa as a whole, is "inefficient". 
 
It makes me think its good my father isn't visiting. The slow and lacking service would probably make his time here pretty unenjoyable. 
 
The scenery and culture easily makes it up to me though. 
 
Until later, 
333KEC

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