Sojourns in South Africa

Sojourns in South Africa

rainbow nation

Sojourns in South Africa

South Africa had always mesmerised me. When an opportunity came my way to visit this country, I went forward to meet my destiny.

The colonial signature is very much in evidence in South Africa — both the Dutch and the English. The Indian presence is more unobtrusive.

Johannesburg, in the Gauteng province, also known as iGoli (the city of Gold), is the largest city south of the Sahara with six million inhabitants. It originated as a gold-mining shanty town, in 1886, and has a veneer of sophistication rendered by its aspiring sky-scrapers, streamlined cars and its throng of go-getting people, but this is offset by the verdant, secluded suburbs, exclusive houses and beautiful gardens.

Amidst this setting is Museum Africa, which offers a glimpse into the country’s natural and political history. In one section on the apartheid period, I saw a sign: If you treat a man like an animal, he will turn into a beast and attack you — which is a telling commentary on post-apartheid climate in some parts of South Africa.

Purple cover

My next stop was Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa that is about 50 km north of Johannesburg. It is also known as the Jacaranda city, because the jacaranda trees burst into a panoply of purple profusion in the South African spring. Probably the most famous landmark of Pretoria is the seat of government, the Union Buildings, designed by Sir Henry Baker, with the backdrop of Meintjieskop, a hill.

“History and poetic justice seem to intersect here,” I remarked to Annale, my tourist-guide, as she told me that it was here that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president on May 10, 1994.I then visited the famous Voortrekker Monument, which commemorates the Great Trek of the Dutch colonists.

In Durban, too, the British colonial signature was evident — especially in the names of the landmarks — Kingsmead Stadium, Davenport Square and Musgrave Centre. For me, driving along the Golden Mile that skirts the main beaches on the Indian Ocean was an unforgettable experience. Durban has many attractions — beautiful beaches, well-organised theme parks, meticulously maintained gardens and attractive shopping malls.

Of the many intriguing tours operating out of Durban, I chose one to Shakaland — an authentic Zulu village that is a 90-minutes drive from the city. Tucked away in an indigenous setting of mimosa trees and aloes and overlooking Lake Umhlatze, Shakaland encapsulates the essence of South Africa with its pulsating tribal rhythms, assegai-wielding warriors and the mysterious rituals of the Sangomas, who interpret messages from the spirits.

My group had a traditional Zulu welcome: the beating of drums and shouting of good-will chants. There were demonstrations of bead-weaving and pottery-making, and the high point of that tour was the vibrant, blood-pounding, traditional Zulu dance. The acme of my trip, however,  was the Greyhound drive from Durban to Cape Town via Port Elizabeth.

I will never forget the journey that skirted the coast, with glimpses of the sea on one side and grass on the other, with a violet haze over the distant hills. It was the beginning of September, signalling the beginning of spring, and the mimosa was beginning to bloom. With the coral trees in flaming blossom and the delicate peach of the camel’s foot trees, the scenery was ineffably beautiful. And, Port Elizabeth is a picturesque city.

Mountain journey

Next, at Cape Town, I must confess that I was neither impressed by the Castle of Good Hope (the oldest building in South Africa, built by the Boers in 1679 to defend themselves against the British) nor the Houses of Parliament as much as I was by the ascent to Table Mountain by a cable car.

The view of the city from atop the mountain was out of this world, and it is no wonder that tourists from all over the world flock to Cape Town for this experience. The Victoria and Alberta Waterfront (V&A Waterfront) has the Table Mountain towering in the background. The arts-and-crafts markets, boating counters and the sea-side restaurants completed my unforgettable experience. After a lunch of ‘Hoek’ fish and chips, I took a cruise to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.

South Africa indeed is the home of ubuntu, an ancient African term that empowers every individual to live up to their potential while remaining in harmony with their natural and human environment.

To the astounding country, I have these words... South Africa, your nuances cling to me — your lilac light, your timeless wisdom, the warmth of your people, your natural beauty, your sad symphony of suffering. Sekunjalo (the time has come), South Africa.

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