Out of the Blue: Laguna is Little Cape Town

Westminster has Little Saigon. Artesia has Little India. Even Anaheim got in the act by declaring a section of Brookhurst Street as Little Arabia.

It's high time Laguna memorialized its very prominent South African community and officially declare itself Little Cape Town. It could be great for business. More people would see us as a smaller version of that gorgeous resort town on the tip of Africa's Southern Hemisphere, where the dramatic, rugged mountains cascade to the sea. Where there's great surf, amazing wilderness, plus Boervorst (farmer sausage), Peri Peri and lamb curries (all available at Mozambique).

Truth is, Laguna is a South African colony, with hundreds of South Africans raising families here. I was lucky enough to have five of them on my radio show last week to talk about the passing of Nelson Mandela and the impact he had on their lives.

It was riveting radio, if I say so myself. In fact, I was so terribly excited to have these five illustrious folks on with their mellifluous accents that I forgot to record the show, so for those of you who missed the live broadcast, I now will do my best to recollect the proceedings.

Our panel included Beverly Walker, proprietor of The Flower Stand, and Debbie Naude, a community volunteer, both from the warm Indian Ocean city of Durbin.

From the business capital of "Jo-burg" (Johannesburg) were Leon "Meschi" Schmidt, a management consultant for a firm called Madiba (Mandela's tribal name), and Cindy Newman-Jacobs, an educational consultant.

And from glorious Cape Town itself was longtime Sawdust Festival glass blowing artist Gavin Heath. All are raising children here. The perfect mix of folks from three of the more prominent cities in the country.

Each recounted stories of growing up under apartheid, and how normal it seemed because society was so well ordered and managed. Most had black servants — but they were loved and treated like family. Plus they were taught that segregation was simply part of their history.

Most of them came of age in the '60s and '70s, when South Africa was isolated in every sense from the rest of the world. They didn't even have television.

But slowly, surely, the walls of segregation began to crack as they got a glimpse of the outside world. For Heath, surfing introduced him to international travelers seeking South Africa's perfect waves. They were Aussies and Euros, and they exposed him to '60s music of protest, from Dylan to the now famous Rodriguez.

In Naude's home, her family voted for the left-leaning "Progressive Party," which advocated abolishing apartheid.

There was enough uncertainty about apartheid in the Newman household that Newman-Jacobs' parents insisted she get a British passport to ensure safe and easy passage to other countries.

Both Naude and Newman-Jacobs are Jewish, and as we spoke it came to light just how instrumental the many South African Jews were in fighting apartheid. Remember, apartheid was enacted just after World War II, so if any group could rally against the injustice of segregation and persecution, it was South Africa's significant Jewish population.

In fact, early in his radicalization, Mandela was mentored by two Jewish men, Nat Bregman and Lazar Sidelsky, who both worked at the law firm where Mandela first clerked.

For others like Meschi, the moment of clarity came when he enrolled in college just after serving his mandatory term in the military, where he blithely upheld apartheid rule. The following year he was thrust into the ferment of university protest, and that's where he developed his consciousness that apartheid was terribly wrong.

"Free Mandela" became the cause they all supported, yet the uncertainty about their future led them in one way or another to travel and experience the world.

What led them to Laguna was mostly a confluence of opportunities and affinities. We have the same climate, friendly vibe, and of course, surf. And while they wear their heritage and history proudly on their sleeves, no one is rushing back to the homeland.

Most visit regularly. Heath is hoping to spend more time there, and Walker said she would return to Durbin were it not for her children and grandchildren living here. But life is just too good in America, and particularly in Laguna, where doors are left unlocked and children run freely, something so many of us Yanks take for granted.

They all agreed that South Africa is one of the most beautiful, amazing places on Earth, with stunning bio-diversity and, of course, the African bush and wildlife. Having visited myself, I can attest to the spiritual, primal power of the place. You won't leave the bush the same as when you entered.

But they also have significant concerns about their country's future. While everyone agreed that Mandela was a mythic statesman, and the only person who could have reconciled the nation without bloodshed, they were mixed on how well he and his successors have run the country.

On the very bright side, there is a burgeoning black middle and upper class in business and government, and that is a major achievement. But crime is on the uptick, and nearly everyone they know has had a violent encounter. Homes are secured with high walls, barbed wire and surveillance cameras.

South Africa has some of the highest rates of HIV, poverty and illiteracy in Africa. Yet it is still the economic engine that produces most of the goods sold across the continent.

Mandela rightfully deserves his place among the pantheon of greats who united a divided country through nonviolence. Hopefully his legacy will bear relevancy when Secretary of State John Kerry heads to the Middle East next month to once again attempt to broker peace with Palestinians and Israelis. It's a message that should resonate around the world, that we are all created equal, regardless of color or belief.

Speaking of which, my radio show the night after Christmas promises to be a lively exchange when we explore the meaning of faith and the nature of reality with a colorful panel of diverse spiritual leaders in Laguna. It will be 9 p.m. Thursday on KX93.5. Only in Little Cape Town. Tune in, bru! And Happy Boervorst to all!

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

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