|The plan||We plan to travel around South Africa over eight days, covering the north east part of the country|
August 27... Pretoria - Hello from South Africa - the rainbow nation. We've had a great few days driving around this beautiful and interesting country. After making a quick exit from Johannesburg International Airport in a cheap hire car, we found a place to stay in Pretoria, the administrative capital. We had a nice stroll around the botanic gardens in the afternoon, before going to a small but enjoyable church service at the Full Gospel Church. The next day we had to drive into Johannesburg to go to the Indian Consulate to get our visas (not an easy task with endless bureaucracy and fees). We had a quick glimpse of the city on our way out - first, fancy tall buildings, then an industrial area, then on the outskirts, run down shanty towns and crammed housing developments. The scenery changed again though to pleasant rolling hills and farmland, as we drove to the Drakensburg mountain ranges. These mountains, whose name in Afrikaans means Dragon mountains, border Lesotho and look spectacular. We arrived just at sunset to enjoy a lovely view and take some pictures before staying in a little bungalow with a thatched roof for the night. There was an excellent restaurant where we had our best meal of the year - Graham had a big steak (mmm... steak) and Nicole had mushroom soup - (yum!). Stepping outside the next morning, we were surrounded by dense smoke that had spread from a fire we saw in the distance the night before. Asking a friendly old man nextdoor, he reassured us that no, it wasn't a bushfire - just controlled burning. His wife took the opportunity to mention that she had seen us taking photos of the view the night before at the side of the main road. "Be careful," she warned us, "last year, two British doctors on their honeymoon were murdered at that exact spot." Hmmm.... We're being as careful as possible. Hiking through the Royal Natal National Park in the mountains the next morning was a lot of fun. We saw a troupe of baboons having their morning grooming session, and had lunch at a tranquil stream. Later that day, we drove through the KwaZulu-Natal province towards the coast, stopping at a few historical sites on the way. We've been learning snippets of interesting South African history since arriving here. Driving along dirt roads we stopped at the Blood River Monument (marking the site of a Boer-Zulu battle where 3,000 Zulus were killed and three Boers suffered injuries), and Rorke's drift (where 100 British soldiers held off 4,000 Zulu warriors). We looked for Isandlwana (where a large contingent of British soldiers were killed by Zulus) and Martyr Cross near Eshowe (marking the point where the first Zulu person was killed by his own tribe for converting to Christianity) but couldn't find either of these sites. Driving through this region of the country we passed dozens of small villages of traditional Zulu circular huts with thatched rooves. Many of these didn't have connecting power lines, and we saw quite a few women carrying water in buckets to their houses (often by balancing the buckets on top of their heads). Along the roads were usually hordes of kids walking to or from school, often munching sugar cane from the nearby fields. We also passed plenty of modern-looking towns with black and white people ambling down the streets going about their daily business. At the coast we camped just south of the Mozambique border at Sodwana Bay in the Greater St Lucia Wetlands. This spot is known for the most southerly coral reefs in the world, so we couldn't resist having a snorkel, even if the water was rather cold. There was a surprising amount of colourful fish to see, and heaps of different types of coral in the rockpools near the shore (it was no Red Sea though!). We also went for a walk along a trail with a warning sign "beware of hippos and crocodiles" but we didn't see either of these. There were many vervet monkeys around the place though, and we had fun watching them pop their heads into people's tents to look for food - they're really quite bold! Last night we had a long drive back to Pretoria, through surprising weather conditions - a massive hail storm (to rival the great Adelaide hail storm of 1991!), which left the roads looking like they were covered in snow, as well as a lot of rain, fork lightning and low-lying clouds reducing visibility to "not much" - Graham coped very well. We're back in Pretoria today - time to do some serious clothes washing and get that Indian visa (hopefully!). Love Graham and Nicole.
August 29... Pretoria - Yesterday we visited Soweto, on a tour (us and two guides in a car) - this was definitely a worthwhile experience. Soweto is the most famous black township in South Africa, lying just southwest of Johannesburg (Soweto stands for SOuth WEst TOwnship). Its origins lie in the forced expulsion of millions of blacks from the city centre in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1970s and 80s, it was the site of many protests and struggles against apartheid. Today it is a mix of third world slums with pockets of black middle class and even upper class suburbs (known as "Beverly Hills" where the houses of Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela are found). A large proportion of the housing in the area consists of makeshift corrugated iron sheds where large families cram into two small rooms and a kitchen. These areas have no electricity or running water - there are outdoor communal taps and toilets (mostly long drops). We were taken around one area by a young local man working as a guide. In his area 20,000 people live with 80 toilets and 40 taps for them all to share. Women and children walked by, hauling buckets in their hands or balancing them on their heads. We had the oppotunity to meet one lady and look around her house. She was a widow who lived in the tiny place with her 3 children. Despite living standards in these parts being a shocking contrast to the great wealth evident in other parts of South Africa, our guide was hopeful - he told us that government plans to improve housing and amenities are underway, as are local community initiatives. But of course, change takes time. We stopped at a bustling market which had stands of fruit and vegetables, traditional healers selling bark and leaves, and even an outdoor Christian healer where people could approach for loud prayers. At the butchery, several men were hacking away at carcasses on tables, while others were grilling cow hearts (only 10 rand each - $2.50) and chatting to each other in Xhosa (the main language spoken in Soweto - its one of the languages with all those tricky click noises)... This morning we went to a service at St Columba Presbyterian Church where the minister gave a short children's talk about how God loves everyone the same regardless of skin colour, and a good sermon about humility... Later we visited the Apartheid Museum which was an eye-opening and solemn experience. South Africa became a nation in 1910 when the British and the Boers united and set up a "democracy" where only white men could vote. Afrikaner nationalism grew over the next few decades, and the system of apartheid was introduced by the Afrikaner National Party in 1948, with the goal of total segregation based on race. Their policies continued until 1991. We just couldn't believe some of the mad laws that were enforced including: separate park benches and public toilets based on race; suburbs designated for particular races; pass laws that required all blacks to carry permission slips to travel outside their designated living zones. Even the realm of medicine was absurdly affected - black medical students (who were a rarity) were not allowed to perform dissections on white cadavers and black doctors were not allowed to give medical care to a white patient (even if the white patient was dying or there were no white doctors around). The museum chronicled the growing opposition to apartheid in detail, through decades of peaceful and violent clashes, protests and negotiations, right up to the transition to a full democracy in 1994. Having read about all the events that occurred, it is truly an amazing feat that such reconciliation and peace in the country has been achieved... We've had a really fun time in South Africa, and even though there is a high crime rate here we've been lucky enough not to encounter any problems. It's not hard to notice though that crime is very much a concern for many South African residents when every second house has barbed wire, razor wire an electric fence or even all three surrounding it! Otherwise, the suburbs look very much like Adelaide. Tomorrow we're off to Hong Kong and China and we can't believe we're on our final leg: Asia! Love Graham and Nicole.Click here to see some photos from South Africa