Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A letter from Cape Town to South African actress Charlize Theron

Dear Charlize:

How’s the family? Any good Hollywood meltdowns lately, or other celebrity dirt? (Pix: I didn't take it, but it is Charlize).

As I promised at our last meeting over cocktails in Malibu, I’m writing to fill you in on my visit to your homeland, South Africa.

Here in Cape Town, I’ve been received like a long lost brother by my colleagues at the University of Cape Town (pictured), where I’ve delivered a few lectures and met with communications professors about peace journalism. I also attended a seminar on internationalization of university curricula, where I was fascinated to learn that bringing international elements into college curricula is often seen here as a contributing to standardization/Westernization of teaching and thought. We had a lively discussion about how to expose students here to international concepts without marginalizing the vibrant indigenous cultures here. At this seminar, I was constantly showered with heart-felt hugs and sincere smiles in a way that would seem forced or artificial at an American or European university.

I detected the same positivity and warmth from the 120 students I taught in one advanced communications course at UCT. (Note to Park University students: Yes, 120 students in one communications class. Not to be preachy, but you should count your blessings the next time you step into a class in Parkville with 20 peers and one professor.) The students were a bit quiet at first, but soon warmed up. They impressed me with their thoughtful questions, and with their desire to get the most out of my peace journalism lecture. This is very un-professorial, but I got a really good vibe from them. Maybe this eager intellectual curiosity comes from the fact that decent schools are often scarce or prohibitively expensive here, and that even where there are good schools, many Africans struggle to pay primary and secondary school fees. This gives them a deeper appreciation of one of life’s precious gifts—the opportunity to learn.

Not only are the people beautiful, Charlize, but so is the scenery. Trip Advisor ( users recently rated Cape Town the number one tourist destination in the world, and it’s easy to see why given the area’s natural beauty (mountains and beaches), cultural and historical landmarks (museums, galleries, and Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years), and outstanding food (seafood) and wine.

However, as you are well aware, there are two Cape Towns—the glittering one tourists see, and the poverty-stricken one hidden in the former townships, where a sizable portion of Cape Town’s black and mixed-race residents reside. The living conditions are often terrible, and feature tiny shanties without electricity (or with a dangerous illegal connections), running water, or sanitation. It’s hard to pin down how many live in these former townships in the Cape Flats, though statistics do show that a whopping 15.6% of the area’s residents live in shacks. ( Given the city’s 3.5-million population, this means over 500,000 live in squalor. Unemployment and disease are rampant in these former townships located just a few kilometers from one of the world’s most stunning, vibrant city centers.

I know that you’re aware of all this because of your laudable charity work here. I’m encouraging my friends to go to to find out how they can help.

Give my best to your family. Drop by the next time you’re in KC, and we can cook up a braai (South African style barbeque).

Hugs (the sideways embrace a married man has to give a beautiful woman or else it’s the frying pan upside the head for you mister),



  1. Just stumbled upon this post and your blog on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network and really like it!! Will definitely become a regular reader and visitor! T.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I hope you won't be disappointed in the upcoming non-Charlize related posts. However, I will try to regularly post Charlize pictures, if nothing else.--SY