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International evening "Meet the world": South Africa 14.03.2013

On the evening of March 14th, the Meet the World series was proud to hold its first event outside the Domus Dorpatensis house, at the club named Genialistide Klubi. A larger venue and an exotic subject in South Africa gathered the interest of over a hundred attendees, a new record for the Meet the World series.

The headliner of the event was Paul Senosi from Cape Town, South Africa, a man who, after falling in love with an Estonian woman, has divided his life between the two countries. He gave an emotional overview of the history and culture of South Africa. Paul went through all the most common associations with South Africa starting with apartheid and segregation. He reminded everyone that it was important to understand that South Africa is not a black country but a yellow country. As for the history, South Africa was a Dutch penal colony for a long time, as Cape Town was an important harbour between Europe and India. With this being an important route for spice trade, the impact can still be felt today in the large quantity of different spices in use for South African cuisine.

While warm and optimistic in his speech, Senosi was sceptical about reversing the geographic segregation of South Africa saying it’s hugely difficult to change. He did emphasize that since the white people weren’t driven out after the end of the apartheid South Africa can rightfully be called a rainbow nation.

The second speaker was Raivo Valk, an Estonian who visited South Africa a few years ago and had a large collection of photos with him. Referring to himself jokingly as a “fake expert” but “proud of it”, he went through a few interesting facts such as South Africa having 11 official languages. Raivo also mentioned that it was really weird to first arrive at the other side of the world: “It’s very shocking coming from the northern hemisphere when you see the sun coming from the wrong side.” “No, you have the wrong side, we have the right side,” Paul pointed out quickly, with both men laughing.

They went on to point out the fact that South Africa is the richest country on the continent and could be a powerful player in global politics as it has plenty of resources – from gold and diamonds to uranium. Senosi, though, reminded everyone of the fact that while everyone now has a right to vote, the economy is still within the hands of the same people as it was during the apartheid years. Though pointing out a few contradictions and problems within the South African society, he also explained the philosophy of ubuntu. Ubuntu is an ethical theory that underlines the connection between everything and everyone. Or as Paul put it: “We are because of each other and can’t be without each other.”

Both men wholeheartedly encouraged everyone to visit South Africa. They downplayed the talk about high crime levels as even the poor are friendly and welcoming in South Africa. Paul also drew a few comparisons between South Africa and Estonia. He first surprised everyone by asserting that South Africans drink more beer than Estonians. He then asked what the national bird of Estonia was. Upon hearing barn swallow he laughed that it is more of a South African bird as it spends more of its year there.

During the short Q&A that followed, Paul commented on the recent football world cup, saying it was more football’s governing body FIFA’s event than a South African one. He was sad to say that a lot of the infrastructure built for the event hasn’t been of much use since. Furthermore, it was a tourist attraction that made lots of money for western companies but improved the local economy only marginally. Despite these pessimistic notes the mood was rather light as Paul had charmed the audience throughout with his sincerity, good humour and witty insights about South Africa.

After the Q&A had finished, everyone had a chance to try some actual South African cuisine and then stay for an African themed party which the presenters were also kind to attend and answer more questions from everyone interested in South Africa.