Getting ready for a trip to South Africa to see wildlife, I subjected my husband to yet another travel video on Netflix called Destination Africa. The film purports to be from 2005, but is really a stunningly awkward and outdated series of home videos from circa 1986.
The South Africa host Kristine Pearson goes out of her way to say that apartheid isn’t as bad as Americans think. What’s even weirder is that she went from providing, one reviewer described “shaky video from inside a car and her naff commentary about the plight of black South Africans” to an award-winning humanitarian who’s outfitting Africans with radios, lights and MP3 players.
The publicist for her group Lifelineengergy declined to comment but said Pearson said she didn’t know how it got on there. A company called Education2000 put it there as an educational film. How it ended up on Netflix is inexplicable.
The video starts with hokey graphics and then Pearson comes out looking like she stole her outfit from Claire Huxtable. Oddly, Pearson says that she didn’t intend to produce a video, but later realized she had “something of value.” That’s peculiar because she uses a microphone, interviews people and at times narrates events to the camera.
“I know some people will feel it was inappropriate to have gone there at all, but mine was a personal, not a political, journey,” she says, making it clear this is really what it seems: a travel video about how fun it is to go to South Africa under apartheid. “However, contrary to what people think, the government has abolished nearly all institutionalized apartheid.”
Netflix shows this as having two stars, but if only I’d actually read the brutal reviews. At this point in the DVD, David is threatening to change the Netflix password and cut me off from my bad movie choices.
The video in undated, but I think it’s 1986, from Marc Gunther’s interview with her. At the time, President P.W. Botha had declared a State of Emergency in much of the country that would last until 1990, when negotiations started to end apartheid.
“In no way do I personally support the South Africa’s Apartheid,” Pearson says. “Yet I must say, however real the television images from which most American form their impressions of the country, such pictures did not at all correspond with my experiences there.” That year Congress overrode Reagan’s veto and started sanctions and South African raided neighboring countries, going after ANC supporters.
I could understand a 1986 South Africa video if you were looking for wildlife, but she barely sees ostriches and baboons. She gambles in Sun City, rides a luxury train (and shoots video of herself in the bathtub with a bottle of champagne) and tours vineyards. “I couldn’t wait to hit the mall,” she says. “I loved trading in a day of charging animals for charging my American Express card at the mall and a day of hedonistic pampering at the hotel spa.”
She visits Soweta, claiming “it was not uncommon to see Mercedes in these sections” and that 90% had electricity. Even now only about 80% of South Africans have electricity; Sowetans pays a much higher rate than whites, most are in arrears and the power company keeps disconnecting service.
Which is why groups like Lifelife Energy are so desperately needed. Shortly after her three month video trip, she moved to South Africa in 1988 and got a job at a bank. Then in 1999 she started this incredible project, which brings self-powered radios, mp3 players and lights to orphaned kids and other completely desperate people across sub-Saharan Africa. She won a $50,000 grant in 2001 from the Tech Museum of Innovation Award for Technology Benefiting Humanity and has since picked up well-deserved awards from TIME (2007’s Hero of the Environment) is a fellow of the Schwab Foundation for Outstanding Social Entrepreneurship. The transformation is almost as baffling as the video.
Where to See Wildlife in Africa