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Snapshot of South Africa – South Africa has a wide variety of ethnic groups, and eleven official languages. The most-spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. Afrikaans is primarily spoken by descendants of Dutch settlers. English is the fifth-most spoken language, however most of the country’s media uses English. South Africa suffers from economic disparity, with about one quarter of the population unemployed. Many of South Africa’s social and economic problems are carried over from the Apartheid era. A little over 70% of the country’s population are Christian. Zion Christians and Pentecostal churches are the most dominant. Traditional tribal culture is more dominant in rural areas. Kwaito music is very popular, though jazz and other forms of music are also present. Soccer, rugby, and cricket are the nation’s most popular sports. Due to the many cultures there is a wide variety of foods in South Africa. Braai barbeques are very popular, which use different meats such as beef, goat, and mutton. Chicken and corn-based foods, with different spices are also common meals. Barbecues are served more among the Dutch, as well as different stews using tomato and onion sauce.
The Church is extremely strong within the Durban area and there is a lot of missionary/member interaction. Wards are very strong and attendance at church meetings are in the hundreds. However, outside of the Durban area, the membership drops dramatically. You may encounter branches with as few as twenty people attending and you may be lucky to get forty to attend. This mission is not tracting based, but serviced based. Encouraging members to do member missionary work is a successful method in bringing non members and less actives back to church, but service is also another means of accomplishing the same thing. The people of South Africa are no stranger to travelling missionaries, but what they are stranger to is people asking them to change their way of life and adopting a new religion. Service is a way to reach out to the people and help them understand that as a missionary you care about them, and that you’re trying to help them and their community. You will be asked to do manual labor from working in the fields, to painting houses, to redoing roofs, and by serving with the people, they will begin to trust you, be more receptive to receiving the Gospel and more willing to change their lives. A temple has been announced, however there is no specific temple site yet.
You will encounter a variety of food on your mission. You can eat anything from a pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, to a plate of rice and boiled chicken. Because of the vast population of Indians in South Africa, in some areas you may eat curry three to four times a day.
Transportation varies according to the area but you will most likely be walking or driving.
As always use basic common sense, if you’re at the wrong place, at the wrong time, you can get into trouble. It is best to not find new people to talk to after dark, and it’s important for missionaries to not wander around after sundown. Theft can be a problem if you are not careful.
There are different customs based on the different ethnicities of people you will meet. Each culture has different customs that you should learn so you don’t offend people. It is customary to greet the male member of the family first. When shaking hands to greet mature adult males, you must shake hands in a specific way as a sign of respect. Shake with the right hand and use your left hand to hold your right forearm. Always knock on doors softly.
If you are greeting elderly men and women you would refer to them as either Baba (for males) or Ma (for women). A very European greeting is ‘howzit’ and this can be said for anyone of any age who is European. Instead of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’, cheers is the general response and you can say this to anyone. It is better to use the native language of whoever you are speaking to, to say simple phrases such as hello or goodbye. Locals don’t expect you to be fluent in their language, but carrying a basic conversation in their native tongue goes a long way.
You don’t need to bring very much with you because in almost all the areas, you have access to good grocery stores and places where you can get essential equipment and clothing. Strong work shoes are essential for basic manual labor.
The mail service in South Africa is unreliable so it is recommended to send mail directly to the mission home. It takes about two weeks for a letter from the United States to get to South Africa. The mission home has a P.O. box that all the mission mail goes to and once there, missionaries can receive letters that are distributed by the assistants during zone conferences, transfer meetings and senior couples may take mail to the missionaries.
PO Box 1741
What items were hard to get or not available?
Certain types of candy were hard to come by. You cannot get Dr. Pepper. You can get just about anything you need but it’s also hard because you’re looking at different brand names. So the first few times you go to store, you might not know what you’re looking for.
What did you eat the most of? Rice. Meals that were prepared by someone else were mainly rice based.
What is the craziest thing you ate? I ate crocodile and it was actually really good. It was something exotic at a restaurant. There were times where I didn’t know exactly what I was eating, and I didn’t ask. I just made sure to eat whatever was in front of me.
What was most surprising about the culture? Whenever you were transferred, you had to adjust and adapt to the people and their culture in your new area.
What advice would you give to someone going to this Mission? Be accepting of a culture very different of your own. It’s different, but keep an open mind. Be ready to serve the people and work for them.
What do you wish you had known before you served? You are there to work, so keep an open mind. It’s not that the people are hard to get used to, it’s their mannerisms. The people are nice but they are also very blunt. However just because they’re blunt with you, doesn’t give you the right to be blunt with them.
Use your p-day wisely. Use it to prepare for the rest of the week. If it means doing laundry, cleaning, unwinding, playing soccer or basketball, just do it. Organizing sports with the members is also an effective way of involving less active and non members. If you can help it, don’t spend p-day in your apartment. Get out and see Africa! See places you don’t see when you teach. Go to a game park, go on a hike, go see the Indian Ocean. There are a lot of cool things to do so don’t nap–it’s a complete waste of time.