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Walking the Tightrope: Africa

Sally Codman receives a text message which throws her into red alert.

The text message from Eldest Daughter was guaranteed to strike fear into any parent’s heart.

‘Had all my money stolen but I’m okay, going 2 the police 2 get a crime number.’

Now that’s the sort of message that throws you into red alert - whether you receive it in the middle of the night, when your darling daughter has gone out clubbing - or on a Wednesday afternoon when she’s popped down to Dewsbury Market But when she’s a million miles away in Johannesburg it seems much worse because there’s nothing you can do.

Instead of racing to the rescue, as I’ve done for the past 18 years, I was reduced to leaving frantic messages on her mobile and then worrying when I didn’t get a reply. For the rest of the day, until I finally heard ED’s voice crackling down a dreadful phone line, assuring me in person that she really was okay, my common sense deserted me and I imagined her being mugged at knifepoint or gunpoint or worse.

Until the theft the group of ‘gappers’ (students spending their gap years with the organization actually named Gap) that ED was with, who left the country on January 9th, had been having a great time on an Orientation Course in South Africa. They’d had time to chill out round the pool and enjoy the sunshine – in between the dramatic storms – shop, try barbequed ostrich meat, and enjoy getting to know their fellow students, especially those they’d be sharing placements with at schools all over the country.

A more sobering experience was their trip to the sprawling shanty Township of Soweto, at one time a no-go area for whites, but today busy cashing in on the tourist dollar with tours and entertainment and who can blame them? Today parts of Soweto, where Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu both lived for a time, are offering arty postcards – with some of the profits going to the subjects in the photos.

Other areas feature entertainments like ‘Kwela, Gumboots and all that Jazz’ – a musical on the history of the area. Like many other visitors the ‘gappers’ were both fascinated and horrified.

ED said later that the Township was friendly and frightening at the same time and in the poorer parts people still lived in dreadfully overcrowded conditions, with five people living in a room the size of our smallest bedroom – which is a tight fit for a single bed, table and chair.

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