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Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa, and is in Gauteng province, about 60 km (35 miles) north of Johannesburg, which is the biggest city, and the provincial capital. Gauteng is a northern Sotho word, meaning "place of gold", and the province is called that for the obvious reason that there are lots of gold mines in it, though they are all in the southern part.
South Africa has a democratic government, but it hasn't always been like that. Our first democratic elections were held in 1994. Before that, our form of government could best be described as a race oligarchy, and it was a pretty dictatorial one at that. The previous government's policy of rigid racial segregation, called apartheid (pronounced "a part hate") made South Africa notorious all over the world. Well, it's gone now, but cleaning up the mess it left will take quite a while. We still have problems, of course - poverty, crime, unemployment and so on. But almost every country in the world has such problems.
The second election, in June 1999, was tame by comparison. One intersting result was that more representatives of smaller parties were elected, so there should be a greater variety of opinion in parliament than there has ever been before.
Freedom and democracy in South Africa were not won without a struggle, however. It was a struggle in which many different people and organisations played different roles. For some glimpses of what things were like in the old South Africa, with an oppressive and authoritarian government, which suppressed opposition, you can read about the banned waggon.
I can't show you a South African TV commercial, but perhaps the next best thing is the Web site of one of the advertisers whose commercials get watched more than most, so get a load of this! Just click your browser on the icon, and download Nandoscape now! Nando's sells fried chicken that is squashed flat, and looks as though it had been run over by a 26-wheeler truck. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Nando's.
During the 1999 election campaign, when every lamp post was adorned with posters showing the ugly mugs of politicians, Nandos had posters with slogans like "Try the beloved poultry" and "Had enough of bull? Try chicken." Their trucks have things like "Poultry in motion" and "The X-fowls" painted on the sides
Newspaper cartoons and comic strips can also give something of the flavour of a country, or at least of certain segments of society. One of those that does this is Madam and Eve, which is peculiar to the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
I've compiled a few sound file samples in case anyone in knowing how some words are pronounced by English-speaking South Africans. You'll find them on the South African English page.
Having a democratically elected government does not mean that all problems are instantly solved, and South Africans, like people in other countries, often complain about the problems of the present. With unemployment, poverty, homelessness, a lot of violent crime, and an epidemic of Aids, there is plenty to complain about. But when we look at the problems of the past, and where we have come from, there is a great deal more to be thankful for. At the next general election, many of the first-time voters will hardly remember the apartheid era. But sometimes it is good to look back, and see where we have come from.
Each person will have experienced the past differently, and each one's experience is only a small part of the whole, nevertheless, I think it is worth recording, to show a little of what it was like. So I'm compiling some memory pages, as snapshots of the past, and will add to them as I get time.
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Updated: 16 May 2009