The image of men and women wearing animal skin covering only their nether regions and tribal dancing in a circle around a big fire is the idea that foreigners expected when they visualised Africa. Rest assured, they were wrong.
The international perception of Africa is always changing, in this day and age there isn’t one specific view of Africa as the media showcases mixed content to people all over the world. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of bad publicity just like any other country but there’s no denying that the global perspective of Africa is moving away from false impressions and towards new change and development.
I was scrolling down my Twitter timeline one day and I saw that I had a notification: a girl from Texas tweeted me and told me that she would love to visit South Africa but she was ‘scared to get lost in the bush’. She also asked bizarre questions such as “Do zebras just walk freely down the street in South Africa?” (Trust me, I was super tempted to be a sarcastic little witch about the whole topic) but then I realised that there are so many misconceptions about South Africa and Africa in general.
The most popular misconception is that people have the impression that Africa is a country. Well, Africa is a continent. “Oh, Africa is filled with lots of tropical rainforests.” – Nope, wrong again. Africa isn’t a desert either, we have deserts such as the Sahara Desert but Africa isn’t just a never-ending heap of sand. We don’t live in huts – although some Africans do choose to live in traditional huts and dung houses. Here’s a tip: just type the name of a city in Africa that you’re looking for into Google and you’ll see that we’re pretty normal.
Not everyone in Africa speaks one language with lots of click sounds, most Africans can speak more than one language. Another popular misconception that gets to me is people asking whether we have technology in South Africa or not. (Nah, we don’t have any working electronics. I’m just tweeting from a rock with a branch attached as an aerial). We do have electronics, sometimes we just get a hold of it later than the rest of the world – which is super annoying.
During colonial times, Africa was always depicted as the ‘dark continent’. I think globally some people still view Africa as precisely that. Africa was regarded as a place where suffering took place due to the slave trade and was also seen as a land full of diseases and barbarity. It’s weird how Africans have a better knowledge about ‘Westernised culture’, yet the rest of the world fails to see Africa as a continent on the rise.
People often see South Africa as a poverty-stricken country due to a ‘lack of human and government capacity, poor infrastructure, trade access and bad economic policies’ (CATO Institute, 2010).
The perception of South Africa improved after we hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The image of the old South Africa – apartheid, high crime levels and poverty changed as foreigners began to realise that South Africa is a diverse nation filled with rich beauty. After 2010 more and more tourists visited Africa: there was a 15% tourism increase in South Africa alone. The Department of Tourism stated that 90% of the people that visited South Africa in 2010 said that they would definitely come back.
Will.i.am, former member of the American hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas said, “20 years ago no one would have ever thought the whole world would come to South Africa for the World Cup… this is historic.” People often fail to see the beauty that South Africa has. People all over the world warmed up to the idea that South Africa could be a great holiday destination. South Africa has so much to offer: diverse people, different cultures and numerous tourist attractions such as Table Mountain (now one of the New 7 Wonders of the world), Robben Island, Cape Point – the southern tip of Africa, Kruger National Park (there you’ll be able to see all those elephants that you think we ride to work on), Cape Malay-inspired restaurants, shebeen buffets as well as gourmet African diners.
Celebrity views on Africa also play a role in how the rest of the world sees Africa. Celebs play the role of international representatives for our continent. International artists even mention Africa in songs: Paul Simon sang about Africa in the song ‘Under African Skies’ on his Graceland album. American rapper, Ludacris said, “The best women all reside in Africa.” in the song ‘Pimpin’ All over the World’ featuring Bobby Valentino. Celebs varying from socialites such as the Kardashians and Paris Hilton, actors such as John Travolta, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to members of the royal family Prince William and Prince Harry have made their way to SA shores. Celebs share their positive experiences about Africa through social media which draws attention to our country: “South Africa rocks, this is the place to be:” – Akon.
Africa may need better representation on a global scale due to people being ‘blind-sided’ about Africa and what the continent consists of. So for those of you who still think of Africa as the ‘dark continent’, you really need to think again because it’s time to step away from 17th century ideologies and look towards the ‘Africa rising’ concept.