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Debunking the Misconceptions about South Africa

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.
The misconceptions of South Africa that plague the world require a cure

The land of the setting sun is a wild paradise where animals rule alongside nature’s stretching plains, and the people struggle with horrible Wi-Fi service. Ahh! Yes, South Africa is our home and one that has inspired tall tales throughout the world. Misconceptions and stereotypes swarm our country with different degrees of absurdity – some downright, horrendously ignorant and others quite ridiculous. I can recall these misconceptions first being dispelled on a large stage by the South African comedian Trevor Noah. His comedy shows in America often played on dismantling stereotypes through a blend of satire and knowledge. Yet South Africans are still reminded that a lack of understanding remains, as evidenced by the ridicule singer Tyla experienced after identifying as coloured online. Incidents like this are only fostered by Western media coverage of Africa wherein only one view is shown, the consequences of a single view have dangerous results. To put it simply, these misconceptions are ridiculous, foolish, and… ridiculous again. 

Back when the 2010s were partying on, Trevor Noah moonwalked onto our stages with freshness and a mind to debunk long-held stereotypes. He hit the European shores and the Americas with gasps of ‘oh’ and ‘wow’. He has most probably saved hundreds of South Africans from being asked by foreigners if they ride lions to school and if they have met Nelson Mandela. Watching him dispel these stereotypes in the comfort of my own home made me giggle and gaggle quite a bit, but it also made me aware that these stereotypes still exist throughout the world. How shocked my face must have been when I realised people believed African was a language

The issue of stereotyping and cultural misunderstanding was brought back into the public sphere by the ‘Tyla incident’. South African singer Tyla broke through the charts and recently won her first Grammy for Best African Music Performance. She was bombarded with complaints and rude comments when she stated she was coloured, with her non-South African fans retaliating. One TikToker stated,“Coloured is what they called Black people before they got rights in [their] country”, which implies that Tyla and coloured people do not have rights because they do not fit into the American idea of freedom. The word ‘coloured’ is a slur that was predominantly used in America and holds memories of a painful history for African Americans, and this demographic thought that Tyla’s representation of her identity conflicted with American racial politics – which, in the classic American way, was assumed to be the global standard. This lack of understanding of cultural nuance shows an American ignorance, which begs the question: How can countries dance to Amapiano with such vigour but know so little about its origins? 

The Western media coverage of South Africa, and Africa in general, promotes ignorance through poor representation. Firstly, there is a distinct lack of African diversity as the global media predominately shows poor or starving people. They perpetuate the idea that Africa is a dangerous and backward continent rather than a place with beauty beyond just the savannah and with good infrastructure and stability. Britain recently warned their citizens who travel to South Africa about terrorism and danger when they issued a statement that “terrorists are very likely to carry out attacks in South Africa”. This warning shows the way the West perceives us, but it is just one of many incidents that have and are going to occur. The media has painstakingly sculpted and scratched out a view of Africa and it is one that inspires little nuance, beauty or truth.

Just to be safe, maybe I should say a few things…

  1. South Africa is not homogenous. There are not only Black people in this country, and even within this population, there is a wide range of cultures and languages. This is reflected in our twelve official languages, which, unlike this American podcaster’s lies, do not include Mandarin at the expense of Xhosa and Zula.
  2. This is not a small country. It is five times bigger than the UK. 
  3. Lastly, and this is a big one, South Africa is not a region of Africa but a country. 

The outrage aimed at Tyla and even the fact that Noah’s satirical routines exist shows a crucial truth: African representation should and must be better. We should all debunk these ridiculous perceptions and stereotypes of South Africa and Africa and take this blatant display of American ignorance as a warning and lesson to respect and research other cultures rather than assuming that the American way is the only one. 

I am a undergrad student majoring in English Lit and Media and writing.Extremely nervous for what's coming but equally elated for the new experiences.I have a great interest in the arts and business worlds as I think they go hand in hand. They are a peculiar pair but I have faith in their relationship as we would all benefit from it. My other interests are writing as well as reading have novels but I would be lying if I said they were always my passion. I had(have) a freakish obsession with movies as well as series of all genres. Picture a girl scrolling through her phone for 2 hours researching a film only to pick the one I thought of in the beginning. After I watch a film I sometimes like to do research on them to get context or to just get some understanding. The movie Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating animation that only is appreciated fully if one researches how it was produced. (Cue cheesy line)Similar to a life one can only appreciate it once you know who and how it was produced.I couldn't not squeeze myself into 3 paragraphs and no this doesn't truly capture me but it has a fun tangent on movies. P.S Horror movies are poetry