If beauty cannot be shared with everyone, is it really beauty?

Christian Kochon
Jun 17, 2015 · 4 min read

by Christian Kochon

Of late, I find myself deep in thought, pondering the diverse experiences that call South Africa home. A home, which now includes my experiences as well. And at the heart of these contemplations is the majestic beauty that is South Africa, and the ugliness that it masks.

If you’ve never been to South Africa, you might be mistaken into thinking that it consists of only a couple major cities with sprawling plains in between where tourists go on safari to watch the once mighty lion roar. But you’d be mistaken. In many ways, South Africa is similar to the United States, my home country. There are large metropolises and sprawling suburbs dotted with malls and movie theaters and fast-food chains. And yes, there are the national parks where one can “safari,” much like the United States has national parks where one can go “camping.” But the comparison doesn’t end here.

At the heart of this country is the hub of South Africa; Johannesburg, a city of mosaic beauty, complemented only by the kaleidoscopic being of its citizens. At its best, it’s a city of distinct societies, cultures, traditions and peoples folding themselves into each other, giving birth to new creations, new visions and beautiful new realities. This past Saturday I experienced the Neighbourgoods Market, a multi story/roof market where people from all over the city come to gather and enjoy the company of one another. Every Saturday starting at nine, people arrive to enjoy delicious food and drinks prepared by local vendors and to browse and purchase specialty goods from local crafters and artists. This is but one taste of the vibrant culture that Johannesburg is home to, and I am lucky enough to experience it.

I say I am lucky because Johannesburg is also home to some of the starkest inequality of the world. Not everyone experiences the Johannesburg of Neighbourgoods Market. The city of Neighbourgoods Market, with its vibrant culture and incredible opportunity is a city that is often denied to many of its citizens. Walls and electrified fencing surround homes, communities and businesses and to be honest, I find it disturbing. I get this feeling I’m in some distant, futuristic dystopia, but the reality is that this is the norm. Apartheid might be over but division still remains. Only this time it is between the haves and have-nots. And here, the allegory to the United States resumes. Both have histories of apartheid, both have the uncomfortable reality of inequality.

Don’t get me wrong, South Africa is beauty. But it is a beauty that also betrays its people. Two societies exist in South Africa, one of poverty and one of affluence. The regal beauty that many think of the savannah is also dotted with an extreme lack of choices and limited opportunities to thrive. It is a place where education is broken and where many just drive through to get to where they are going. In the city and suburbs, high walls and electrified fencing are used to keep the wretched poor away, “for security” they say. But security for who? For the walls that keep people out also trap people in and destroy the concept of community.

So how do we make the world beautiful without damaging our souls? How do we open up the world to those we’ve robbed? We’ve lost ourselves. Somewhere in the magnificent beauty of the world, we lost ourselves within our self. “We grew to big. We grew too far apart to accept the humility and the humbleness inherent in our nature: that of being human and humane.”[1] These words, elegantly express the contradiction of the Rainbow Nation. South Africa is home to many peoples, but that spirit of Ubuntu, the beauty that is “I am because we are” and “a person is a person through others” has been lost. South Africa has become a nation of two classes, of two societies, and the beauty of one masks the ugliness of it.

So again I ask, how do we make the world beautiful without damaging our souls? How do we incorporate the beauty found in the motifs and endeavors like Neighbourgoods Market into our world without excluding those of us who are less fortunate — those who have been oppressed, beaten down, and robbed of their livelihoods? The world is a beautiful place, but that beauty shouldn’t come at another’s expense. If beauty cannot be shared with everyone, is it really beauty?

It is said that the world yearns for beauty, that that is why there are colors. “It’s why flowers put so much energy into attracting bees and why drops of water transform themselves into a rainbow when they encounter the sun. Nature longs for beauty and is only satisfied when beauty can be exalted.”[2] If we want to continuously find beauty in the world, we must first recognize the beauty of each other, and treat each other as such.

And this is where South Africa’s hope lies, in the beauty of its people — “because a person is a person because of others, unto others and through others.” I have been welcomed to South Africa with open arms. Now let’s just open them wider.

[1] Zihlenga (José Cossa). 2015, uBuntu: Minha Essência… My Philosophy… of Education!

[2] Paulo Coelho

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