According to local South African newspaper, Maritzburg Fever, Pierre Buckley, returned with renewed appreciation for his home town and country after spending six weeks in the U.S. as a Nelson Mandela Washington Fellowship participant in the Young African Leaders Initiative. According to the newspaper he took a special pride on the strides that South Africa has taken for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGTBI) community.
In an interview with Maritzburg Fever, Buckley said that South Africa and America share many cultural challenges.
“There are many similar issues that both countries face. There’s a big gap between the rich and the poor and America also faces huge racial issues,” he said.
Buckley said that although America is progressive in many ways, South Africa is more progressive in terms of gay rights.
“SA is doing great work. We’re very forward thinking here, which is something I am very proud of. They were very interested in our work with religious organisations and wanted to know more about that,” he said.
He added the best part of the fellowship is the amazing doors it opened in terms of networking, not only for the Gay and Lesbian Network, but personally.
“Things happen so fast there. American’s are doers. It’s exciting to know that things just happen, and they happen fast,” he said.
During his time overseas Buckley said the group of students, all of whom came from various countries in Africa, could not walk around the university campus where they studies without informing campus security.
“There is still a lot of segregation among the races and what we think is bad here is subtle compared to what I witnessed there, it was much more blunt and in your face. The sad thing is you can see so many Americans have lost their identities, they’re struggling to belong, to find themselves,” he said.
Although Buckley recommended the fellowship programme, he said he was thrilled to be back on home soil.
“America lacks warmth and realness. Maybe it would have been different had I gone for a holiday, but to be there, being essentially a part of the system, lacked realness. There are still a lot of barriers that need to be overcome. I’m glad I had the experience, it was great, but it’s important to remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” he said.