I'm just back from a magical eight day tour of South Africa with a group of great American bloggers and South Africa's own Nick Haralambous, one of the geniuses behind Zoopy, Africa's YouTube. The idea was to create some interesting content about aspects of the country that often get missed by old media, and have it ripple through the blogosphere.
As you can see if you visit www.brandsouthafricablog.com or www.weblogtheworld.com (and keep visiting, because it's taking time to get everything uploaded), we saw and did a lot in a very short space of time and met some really extraordinary people along the way. Standouts for me included Nkhesani Masilani, a geologist I spoke to 3.8km underground at Anglogold Ashanti's Tau Tona mine; Elizly Steyn, the 28-year-old metallurgist from Springbok running the production side of things on De Beers astounding Peace in Africa mining ship; and Dr Adrian Tiplady, the astronomer, engineer and world class jazz musician — he plays with Manfred Mann — who is helping make sure South Africa wins the right to host the giant Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the most ambitious undertaking of its kind ever.
So tight was the schedule — even when we were on the bus and not prostrate with exhaustion we were mostly tapping out posts on our laptops, editing video and sound or uploading photographs — that I didn't read a newspaper or take in a news broadcast for almost the entire time we were on the road. I do not mean this as a criticism of the media, but boy, to experience South Africa for a week with media intake dialed back, and the political cacophony nothing more than background hiss, was a truly refreshing experience.
That said, politics was never very far from my mind. Here we were, a bunch of bloggers, geeks and media mavens, experimenting with social media as a means of changing the way people look at South Africa. How, we were asked, might a political party use the same tools to advance its cause? What did Barack Obama's use of the web have to teach the ANC or Cope or the DA or the ID or the UDM or whoever?