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The Gulf Between Us

by Colin Jones in October 2012 - What on Earth?

I have been fortunate to have travelled to some fascinating parts of the world. My memories of Vietnam, Cambodia
and Thailand, where I enjoyed some truly exquisite cuisine and culture, of Havana, Cuba, where despite hardship, the people are amongst the most vibrant of any I’ve met. All these places still warm me in ways which are not matched by my travels in the USA, Britain and continental Europe.

Now, living and working in the Gulf and eagerly awaiting the arrival of my wife, I am struck by the wonders of a modernizing Arab experiment where tradition and progress are locked in a fascinating dialogue.

I am here to direct the development of a museum which itself reflects this dialogue as it engages with both historical and contemporary themes. The museum is part of a larger heritage project which, in turn, is part of a 75 acre urban redevelopment project in old Doha.

Cranes are ubiquitous. Everywhere you look ultra-modern high-rise buildings mushroom sky-ward. My down-town
apartment is surrounded by at least half a dozen construction sites teeming with workers. I find myself thinking of the men sitting along roadsides with their motley tools back home hoping to get even a day’s pay for any kind of job on offer.

Qatar is one of the richest nations in the world. It wasn’t always so. The discovery of oil and gas changed the fortunes of a nation which had built its economy on dates and pearls, resources which the world found
cheaper ways of producing.

The population, made up of relatively few Qatari nationals and a significant number of people of slave descent, many still actual slaves, was plunged into shared hardship.

The new wealth made it possible for everyone to benefit and slavery (officially at least) was abolished.
The story of Qatar is far from finished and is filled with fascinating chapters. It is a story of the making of a nation out of the most unjust of relationships; master and slave. Both are now Qatari and enjoy a quality of life few nations will know.

This was brought about by the discovery of oil and gas. The future of these resources are under scrutiny for reasons known to us but it cannot be denied that the decision to share the wealth was key in building Qatar both physically and psychologically.

Qataris, whatever their origins, share a common identity and prosperity. This brings me back home to South
Africa. As I write, all the international news channels headline the appalling Lonmin mine killings. I make the comparison. The wealth produced by platinum, gold and diamonds and our many other natural resources are not shared among those who produce it.

The lot of miners, as with all the poor, remains abject despite constitutional guarantees and their enduring misplaced hope in the nation’s leadership. We were given a chance to re-write our history in 1994, to create a new chapter of a shared future. Either we share it or we write this chapter in blood.


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