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The Ebola virus strikes in West Africa and what happens? Potential tourists immediately cancel their trips to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The tourism industry (via The Safari Company) countered with an info-graphic which points out that people living in Europe and  Brazil live closer to the outbreak zone than anyone in east or southern Africa http://africageographic.com/blog/ebola-are-you-at-risk/

Part of the reason is ignorance: most of the ‘world’ sees Africa as one country and not the 54 independent nations that make it up. BUT… maybe it’s not so surprising when one looks at maps of the world. Most world atlases tend to underestimate the size of Africa as the Mercator projection (on which most world maps are based) distorts the size and shape of large objects, as its scale increases from the Equator to the poles. Maybe this ’down-sizing’ of the continent has subconsciously influenced and reinforced the belief that Africa is less important, somehow inferior? 

The Safari Company and the Economist (via a twitter link) produced maps of Africa which gave a better understanding of the sheer SIZE of Africa – a continent into which north America, Mexico, India, China and most of Europe (including eastern Europe and Siberia) fits comfortably. Here is the one provided by the Economist:

Map of Africa

(Source: https://twitter.com/TheEconomist/status/505989352410066944/photo/1)

But this shouldn’t explain why South Africans also undervalue Africa and their African roots. 

futurefact finds that 64% of South Africans believe that, in general, people from South Africa are superior to those from other parts of Africa with 52% agreeing that they see themselves as South African rather than African (even black South Africans were more likely to describe themselves thus). 42% believe that South Africa is more like Europe and America than Africa. Almost three-quarters distance themselves from Africa believing that South Africans should look after itself and its own people and not worry about the rest of Africa. Half of us believe that most criminals in South Africa are foreigners.

At the same time, 78% of South Africans really appreciate the music, arts and culture coming out of the rest of Africa. South African companies are already major investors in Africa (outstripping countries like China and the US in terms of the number (if not the value) of projects according to Ernst & Young’s 2013 African Attractiveness Survey.

Africa can catch-up and catch-up quickly. Almost 50% of South Africans already had smartphones in 2013 but were inhibited by high data costs from accessing the internet. But Facebook is investigating ways of providing free internet access in Africa and Asia and many South African cities are providing free wifi hotspots, as are taxis and other forms of public transport. 

Maybe when Africans (including South Africans) start valuing our own continent, other people will start taking it more seriously and realise its potential.

futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2013 which is based on a probability sample of 3,025 adults aged 15 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 21,6 million adults. futurefact 2014 is currently in field with results due in November. If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www. futurefact.co.za

(First published in Saturday Star, 20 September 2014)