Two weeks ago Kobus and I had to take a short trip to South Africa – much-needed and wanted, and long overdue! We left for Tanzania some 4 months earlier, and although the boys have been here during their university holiday, it would be the first time for me to touch, hug, smell and kiss my beautiful daughter, Belinda in 4 months. Although we Skype almost on a daily basis, only a parent can know the pure joy of hugging your child closely as opposed to just talking via cyberspace.
In the preceding few weeks Kobus and I read snippets of the current political problems in South Africa, most importantly the loss of lives after some strikes went awry at the Lonmin Mines – 34 miners killed. The scenes from a parched field near Rustenburg of well-armed police officers opening fire on miners waving spears and clubs had cast South Africa in a new light – that of a land of lowly citizens, kept in check by a distant elite of government ministers, and their friends in industry and the trade unions. This is the picture all over Africa, I am afraid. But it saddens my heart, and I would like to shout like the author, Alan Paton: “Cry The Beloved Country“!!! Farm murders and senseless killing of innocent civilians, sometimes just to rob a cellphone, were making headlines around the time of our visit, leaving us with a deep sense of sadness for our beautiful South Africa!
Since independence and the glory days of Nelson Mandela being our beloved “Tata” or “Madiba” of the nation, we have had an onslaught of the corruption that besieges Africa as a whole, creeping down like a cancer to consume that which Nelson Mandela fought so bravely for and sacrificed 27 long years of his life – all in the name of social justice. Kobus and I are both of the opinion that we are activists at heart and had we been born black, we may just have been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa as fiercely as Madiba had.
Tanzania has incredibly high levels of corruption, probably the highest in Africa, and the local poor folk will steal your clothes off your back if given half a chance, but they are more peace-loving and less brutal than the South African thugs, so we have become less aware of such harsh realities of life in South Africa.
We got up at 2 am to be able to take the ferry across the harbour mouth, as we needed to board a plane to Nairobi first (no luck with direct flights at the short notice we had to book), before heading on to Johannesburg. Driving out in the dark night towards the ferry, with a sleepy Sakkie to drop us, one could almost be forgiven to forget the normal frenetic pace on the roads during normal waking hours. We were the only vehicle to be seen, until we hit the ferry gate. Another solitary car pulled up, with the driver lazily getting out to take a leak into the water before strolling back to his vehicle – and to his horror realising that we know each other from the nearby resort!! He slid into his seat and tried to hide but as we were the only two vehicles on the ferry crossing, it proved futile. Once we docked he tried unsuccessfully to speed ahead of us, but his car stalled, and so we passed him in the dark night and sped off to the airport.
Sakkie dropped us, left and we proceeded to book our suitcases in. To our shock, Kobus was called back from the customs counter, to be told the sniffer dog had indicated that there may be drugs or explosives in our one suitcase! Kobus was a dog-handler in his younger days and knows full well that no one dog can be trained to sniff out both drugs and explosives, but refrained from picking up this argument – strange country, we are Mzungus, and we have no rights. This was clearly imprinted on our minds by Kobus’s employer when we first arrived, and one rule we obey no matter what the circumstances. So Kobus dutifully unpacked the suitcase, and of course nothing was found. Perhaps the official was hoping we would be so scared we would pay a bribe immediately? After this rattling experience we settled down in the holding lounge, waiting to board our plane. As one can never predict how long the ferry wait will be, we had been rather cautious, so now we were facing a long wait due to being very early. Just before boarding, Kobus decided to check on whether Sakkie had arrived home safely. And we got the second nasty surprise of the morning when Sakkie told us that he was only boarding the ferry at that moment, as he already had a trip to the local police station after being pulled over by a cop – yes, at that Godforsaken hour of the dark morning! – and refused to pay the bribe for “not carrying his passport with him”. The station commander thought it wise to let him off the hook, once he learnt who employs Kobus. It pays to mention it in sticky situations, as the company is revered and respected in East Africa. And eventually we could board and fly out of deepest, darkest Africa to our Beloved South Africa!!
We landed in Johannesburg at O R Tambo airport around midday, with my sister Marietha picking us up. I don’t think there are many more moments of feeling so welcome, so at home than when you walk through the customs at your home country and into a bright, modern and clean airport terminal. That afternoon was spent catching up on news from my sister and our cousins, Thalana and Christine. As soon as was a decent moment to slip away, my dear husband and I took off in Marietha’s car to go and shop!! A delight!! Fourways Mall has never looked so inviting to me and soon I found myself sitting trying on some beautiful shoes, we bought clothes for both of us in the latest fashion and colours for the season, we drank an American Iced Coffee, and satisfied returned home to Christine’s lovely, peaceful abode, carrying loads of Woolworths packets full of yummie goodies like custard slices etc. The bath that night was incredible – we do not have a shower at home in Kigamboni, let alone a big enough geyser to fill a bathtub with enough hot water to take a long relaxing soak. We only have a short shower hose which we use inside the bathtub, so this was manna from heaven and long overdue!
We left on the long trip around the country after breakfast the next morning, with first stop at Heilbron, a small town just outside Johannesburg, so we could say hello to some people Kobus knows. Well, at some stage during the afternoon, after a cuppa tea, I started to feel rather squeamish, and soon had a raging cold fever (if there could be something like that!). I was shivering and shaking like a leaf and finally put to bed with about 5 layers of blankets, and a very worried Kobus lying over my feet in an extra attempt to warm them. I was fed medicines and finally and thankfully fell asleep. I rose for a small bite at suppertime, I was aware that a thunderstorm had started, and went back to bed very early. I woke up a few times during the night, still aware of a thunderstorm playing itself off outside, and also that Kobus was up and down to the loo. We rose early next morning, took off in a huge thunderstorm – yes, still going on!!! I am shit-scared of thunderstorms, and was grateful that we were in the car, which is apparently safe??
And so started our long trip down to Cape Town – and long it was! And my stomach started to show me what the matter was the previous day! We had obviously caught a tummy bug or the dry wors we ate the previous day was too rich or off – Kobus was better after spending most of the past night on the loo, but now it was my turn – and that on a long drive… We had to stop at just about every petrol station toilet with me dashing off to the loo as fast as I could each time. We stopped in Lainsburg, where a number of people lost their lives when the river flooded it’s banks in 1981, to pay homage at the graves of Kobus’s mother, grandmother and grandfather. Exhausted, both from cramps and a runny tummy and a sore butt from the long drive, we finally rolled into Cape Town at 8 pm that night – 14 hours on the road.
I spent half an hour chatting to my darling friend Shirley and her hubby Clive, who so graciously put us up in their guest room, before dashing off to pick up my son and his girlfriend for dinner. O the joyous reunion of a mother and her offspring – stuff movies are made of… We had a super meal and evening in their company, eating my favourite Chicken Campagniola dish at Primi Piatti in Table View, before we finally flopped into a soft bed, lovingly decorated by Shirley with freshly picked lavender flowers, and fell asleep.
Shirley woke us up with tea and rusks in bed, and then proceeded to cook us the most delicious breakfast – spoiling us thoroughly. My daughter, Belinda and Allister and his girlfriend Jade, arrived and we all set off to Bayside Shopping Mall, for more shopping and my favourite shake in the whole wide world, peanut butter shake, as only Bica can make it in the mall! My dear friend Celia joined us for a bite to eat, Nicki popped by, I exhausted the kids with walking and buying and we left satisfied. Later afternoon we met up with most of my other friends at our local hangout, Ons Huisie Restaurant (“our little house”), in Bloubergstrand. The view is world-renowned, the waiters know us so well, the company was great, the food fantastic as always – small bites of bobotie, cheese-filled potato cakes, strips of crumbed chicken, small samoosas etc on some fries, washed down with copious amounts of good South African wine! Yum, an afternoon made glorious with all my favourite things close by! I presented Wille with her belated 80th birthday gift – a handmade ceramic bead necklace from Kenya!
After sundown, a few of us drove to Melkbosstrand for a dessert after supper, and later that night I fell into a warm bed again – happy and contented.
Sunday morning saw us heading into town, and discovering what the fuss was about with the kids recommending that we all have breakfast together at Lazari in Gardens. Well, well, well not only did the eggs benedict with smoked salmon taste like heaven, the cakes looked even more heavenly, so we took a few different slices as take-aways.
Sweet as the food was, sadness crept in with every passing second as I knew I would have to hug and say goodbye to my kids before setting off on the rest of the journey. In a haze of tears mixed with soft rain, Belinda and I hugged and kissed our goodbyes, with Allister deciding to take the drive through to Table View with us so he and Jade could be dropped at her house. After a quick hallo and goodbye to her parents, I hugged and kissed my son and we set off, with tears streaming down my cheeks, for Langebaan, to visit my older sister and brother-in-law. It was raining – fitting for my sad heart – but enjoyed all the same, as we missed out on winter this year with living in Tanzania. A cold Cape Town winter brings with it rituals like wearing woolies, hats, scarves, mittens, boots, making fires, hearty meals etc, so it was wonderful to walk into Linda’s house and smell the ox tail pot she prepared. Both Kobus and I had two helpings, and we spent the afternoon chatting away, enjoying the cake until our favourite pastime in Dar es Salaam on telly, the Strictly Come Dancing show aired in the evening. We got the whole family to watch it with us, as it was the season final.
We rose early the next morning and set off to see Kobus’s father, in Ladismith, deciding to drive through Bains’ Kloof towards Worcester. Bains’ Kloof Pass has some special meaning for Kobus and I, as he took me there on our first real date some months ago. And we were delighted to pass through it again. We drove slowly, as a marathon was being run in the rain – wet bodies from the runners passing us all along, and exquisite waterfalls everywhere. The stretch of road between Worcester and Ladismith was as always picture-book beautiful, lined with wild flowers and colourful bushes. We passed Ashton, Montagu, Barrydale and Ronnie’s Sex Shop, which is just a roadside pub, popular with the biking fraternity as a pit-stop, and looked at it as if it was the first time we travelled Route 62 again – of course not, but absence made our hearts grew fonder! We arrived at Kobus’s dad nice and early, and spent quality time with them over a lovingly cooked meal by Ouma Annie. Some more family members arrived and we had a pleasant afternoon.
Kobus and I had decided to spend some alone-time as well on this trip, and so we found ourselves at my cousin’s beautiful holiday home in Wilderness on the Garden Route, with a sea view from each room. We spent a glorious spring day on the beach, eating at a quaint eatery by the train station – yummie food, and just drinking in the beauty of The Garden Route. Late afternoon we drove through to have dinner with another dear friend, Linda, in Plettenberg Bay.
We left to return to Johannesburg after breakfast the next morning, taking the route through the Karoo, and specifically past some of the farms where Kobus farmed a few years ago. The road stretches long and straight ahead, but the stark beauty strikes one constantly, and Kobus entertained me with many a tale from his farming days there. From him and Sakkie getting away with a few bruises only after the truck they were passengers in ramped a river bridge, leaving the front chassis separated from the rest of the truck, to the good deeds the locals will do for each other as only a smaller community would experience. We passed towns like Graaff-Reinet, steeped in history as the 4th oldest town in South Africa, and surrounded by the beautiful Camdeboo National Park.
We hit Bloemfontein late that night – exhausted, and after numerous attempts to find space, finally settled into a basic, but comfortable room in a guest-house. After breakfast the next morning we drove the last few hours to Johannesburg – 4500 kms travelled! Later in the afternoon, we drove through to Pretoria to give Kobus Jnr his vehicle he had so graciously loaned us – dirty and empty, but we made up by taking him out for a great meal at the local Dros – succulent beef sirloin topped with peri-peri chicken livers! And some petrol money…
Friday morning we rose and got ready to tackle the trip back to Dar es Salaam, via Nairobi – and I cried, inside more than on the outside, but still cried and cried. This time not for the raw wounds in South Africa caused by thugs and murderers, but for my own pain for separating from its womb so soon again. It was sore, and I left with much more appreciation for my Beloved South Africa again!
- Witness diversified tourism in South Africa (south-african-hotels.com)
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- South Africa’s Currency Continues To Get Crushed (businessinsider.com)
- South Africa mine fires 1,400 striking workers (cnn.com)
What a touching story you’ve painted. And a whirlwind tour with beautiful pictures. Corruption is everywhere, but at least here in Thailand it isn’t so violent. Paying the police is just part of living here. I’ve read some of the Union fights throughout the history of South Africa and it’s sad.
I’ll tell you, Suletta. It’s also good to hear someone speak out with love for their country. My pride in my country is as strong and it’s sad to see how the world seems so careless of life and happiness and only greed seems to override everything.
People here have light fingers– even neighbors. Since I’m a foreigner most think I’m rich so taking is no big problem. We have to let water weeds cover our ponds to keep our neighbors from helping themselves to the fish we raise. We let them collect snails and offer fish at a low price but to steal gives them no bad thoughts. Something I’ve had to get use to.
Dannie, thanks for your in-depth comments. I believe the problems as described in my post are universal, but one lives in hope that someday soon some good old-style values will return. One would like to be able to live with your doors unlocked etc. And as for the political future of South Africa as part of Africa, I believe we are on a tipping scale and it could go either way. Money is being pumped into Africa and perhaps at some point, but I do not believe it will be during my lifetime still, sanity and better governance will take a hold. For the sake of my kids and their kids etc, I will continue to pray for such stability and do whatever I can to spread goodwill. Take care!