Amid all the negative news about South Africa, Max du Preez had three encounters which left him feeling positive about the future.
Cape Town - South Africa is a broken place. There is aggression and intolerance about; the government is inept, corrupt; too many things don’t work; our children’s future is bleak.
Is that more or less your view of our country today? Well, let me tell you of my experiences in the past week.
On Tuesday, I spoke to the book club of a Pretoria NG Kerk congregation on my latest book (A Rumour of Spring). This is the congregation most of the members of the last apartheid governments attended.
After my talk, the congregants engaged me in conversation. I was expecting at least some to be critical of my message. Instead, I was questioned intensely about my ideas on how faith communities could help to heal our society; how they could help fight racism; what they could do to make the country a better place.
I left with the feeling that these Afrikaners are committed and concerned South Africans, at peace with the democratic dispensation and not in denial about the past or white privilege.
I wish more black South Africans would get to know people like these.
The next morning, my 9-year-old child was unexpectedly diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes, a condition she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
On the advice of our family doctor, we took her to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
I was apprehensive – it’s a state hospital and I’ve been inundated with bad news about public hospitals.
I was astonished. The specialist paediatric services are on a par with the world’s best. It is an extraordinary place of knowledge and caring catering for children from all over the country and the rest of Africa.
My child was then admitted to Groote Schuur. Nervousness again: this is a massive place run by the provincial government, how good could it be? Like all fathers, I wanted the best for my child.
After two days, my overwhelming emotion was one of gratitude and pride. I cannot imagine my child getting better care than she’s getting at Groote Schuur.
The endocrinologists are not only known as among the best in the world, they are compassionate people.
The ward doctors and interns I met were professional, friendly, energetic and kind – my child loved and trusted them.
The sisters and nurses are something else. They treated my family lovingly, caringly and professionally. I was amazed.
One would never guess these wonderful women travel far to hospital daily, are over-worked and under-paid.
There were a few children in the paediatric ward whose parents did not visit while I was there – the nurses seemed to have adopted them as their own.
When my wife had a bit of an emotional moment, some of the nurses rallied around her and one prayed for her in Xhosa. I now know what ubuntu really means.
Look beyond the interior decor and, during visiting hours, the people from all walks of life walking the corridors, and you might think you’re in the most expensive private hospital in the country.
Groote Schuur is a truly remarkable place and one all of us should be proud of.
This is public health at its most excellent. It is super-clean, efficiently managed and offers the best specialist care one can imagine. (Even the food is good.) I suddenly feel a lot better about the income tax I pay.
The question did come up in my mind though, how the Western Cape could run a hospital like that while many public hospitals in other provinces are places where people are neglected and die unnecessarily.
On Thursday, I spoke at a mining conference in Joburg.
I wasn’t looking forward to engaging with fatcat mining bosses and managers focused on extracting minerals efficiently to make shareholders rich without concern for workers and surrounding communities.
I didn’t meet such people. Most of those who engaged with me were conscious of the wider responsibilities mining operations have in our society and are looking for new solutions.
A former officer in the old SADF explained to me that his company was specialising in how mines can be run to last as long as possible and to the maximum benefit of the community rather than making huge profits.
I left with the feeling that my recent depression about the state of my nation was inappropriate and misguided.
We should all look deeper into our society, beyond the newspaper headlines and angry rhetoric and recognise our remarkable strengths and human potential.