What Post-Cards Don’t Tell You About African Culture

When people visit Africa, what are the types of things you would expect them to bring back? When you think of the continent ‘Africa’, what sorts of expectations do you have in mind when you just hear the name? Most people think of exotic animals, authentic food and patterns, and starving children. However, South Africa rarely depicts these stereotypical cultural aspects at all. In fact, the only places that actually do portray these stereotypes are tourist attractions in the area; for instance, Green Market Square. So there is a noticeably large gap between cultural expectations of Africa, and the reality of what the culture actually is. Cultural expectations are not for the people of South Africa at all, but for the tourists visiting the area so that they get the full-fleshed feel of being in a different country and “experiencing” a different culture.

The Green Market Square is a large area where hundreds of street vendors come together to sell “home-made” arts, crafts, jewelery, clothing, knick-knacks, and much more. However, the target is definitely aimed towards tourists of South Africa rather than South Africans themselves. As I wandered around the market, I noticed that the area was mostly populated by foreigners and locals were rarely seen shopping at all. Vendors never hesitated to usher me over to their corner and shove a souvenir that screamed “Africa” into my face.

The sorts of objects I constantly encountered were African animal based accessories with real fur and bones, post-cards with starving African children staged on the front, and unique patterns plastered on almost everything from bowls to fabrics. Of course foreigners (especially white foreigners) consumed in all of the propaganda, but local South Africans did not, possibly because they knew this was not the country, or even the continent, that they know. What the entire world associates Africa with is not what it appears to be at all, especially South Africa.

The South Africa that I know where’s the same name-brand clothing that I do in the US, eats some of the same kinds of food, and consumes the same popular culture that I do. I’ve only witnessed “African” culture in the popular tourist attracted areas such as the Green Market Square, which doesn’t justify African culture to the slightest. So now when you think of Africa, do you still think of exotic animals, authentic patterns, and starving children?




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