Monday, January 4

A new decade dawns

Garry and I arrived back in London today. Our Summer vacation is clearly over. The short-sleeve 27°C temperature and endless blue skies of South Africa have been replaced by crisp 2°C highs and a frost that settled at four this afternoon. I’ve spent much of the day shivering despite throwing on layers and turning up the central heating in every room.

Our final three days in Africa have passed in a whirlwind of tourist highlights. Alongside more traditional sights we’ve also seen another three refurbished football stadiums ready to receive the FIFA World Cup in June. On Thursday we spent a leisurely day driving the final leg of the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. We took the scenic route from Prettenberg Bay, turning off the main highway onto R102. This is the original coastal road engineered to overcome two deep ravines that once forced north-bound travelers to detour a hundred kilometers inland.

The old road winds down through the scenic Grootrivier Pass to a secluded white-sand beach called Nature’s Valley, before winding back up to the coastal plateau. The views were among the most stunning we saw on the entire Garden Route. We were lucky to see them. The road was only reopened a few months ago after sections were washed away by heavy winter storms and flooding in 2007. A second section, the Bloukrans River Pass, is still closed.

Our next stop was St Francis Cape. It boasts a pristine white Light House, now a National Monument, at Seal Point. Built in 1878, the lighthouse stands watch over the third most southern point on the African continent. It’s a desolate spot where pounding waves relentlessly pound both sides of the cape’s extreme rocky point.

New Years Eve was spent in Port Elizabeth. We based ourselves at an immaculately appointed private guest house, Manor 38, a block from the sandy shores of the Indian Ocean. If you’re ever in Port Elizabeth this is the place to stay! The room was huge, out host was attentive and the pool was perpetually inviting. We initially joined the crowd gathered for a free evening concert at nearby Hobie Beach. By 9.30pm we decided couldn’t really be bothered loitering until midnight and ventured home to watch in the new year on television.

New Years Day saw us fly to Johannesburg where we met up for dinner and drinks with Marcus, a colleague from work, and his equally delightful fiancé, Kate. We first stopped for cocktails at the exclusive WestCliff Hotel’s Polo Bar. It’s located high on the hills of Johannesburg, overlooking some of the city’s leafiest suburbs. Dinner was at Moyo, an African themed restaurant in Melrose Arch. We met up with Marcus and Kate again the following morning for a “local’s” tour of Johannesburg and nearby Pretoria.

We began our final day in South Africa with a drive through downtown Jozzie before stopping at Constitution Hill. Here we toured the city’s old Fort, once a prison for opponents of Apartheid, and the new Constitutional Court. Nothing symbolizes the incredible transformation of South Africa more than these two venues, crowded together on a low-lying hill overlooking Johannesburg. The Court now upholds one of the world’s most inclusive and progressive constitutions, hearing its cases in a building built with bricks salvaged from demolished sections of the old prison.

We then visited the new Apartheid museum. Opened in 2001, the museum documents the historical roots of South Africa’s many oppressed ethnic groups, along with the rise and fall of the nation’s formerly racist regime. Visitors are initially greeted seven stark pillars, each labeled with the fundamental values enshrined in the nation’s new constitution; democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.

However, for me, the most poignant exhibit was the large yellow and blue police armoured vehicle parked in the middle of the building. The Casspir is monstrous machine. Its sheer size and construction simply shouts brute force and aggression. It made me vividly recall news footage from the Apartheid era as these vehicle attempted to quell endless and often violent black African resistance. Nothing symbolized the cruelty of Apartheid more than this machine.

We then made our way to Pretoria, stopping briefly at Soccer City, the recently refurbished stadium that will host the FIFA’s World Cup final in July this year. The stadium’s exterior design resembles a calabash, an African cooking pot. It’s clad in a dazzling mosaic of fire and earthen colours with a ring of lights circling the bottom of the structure, simulating fire underneath a pot. The stadium’s architecture stands in stark contrast to that of the Voortrekker Monument, a monolith structure overlooking Pretoria.

This monument is a national icon for Afrikaans South Africans, memorializing the plight of the Boers who fled British rule of the coastal cape province between 1835 and 1854. Its construction began in 1937 and was finally inaugurated on 16 December 1949. The ceremony was officiated by the then-prime minister Daniel Malan, whose National Party had been elected the previous year promoting a new national policy called Apartheid.

In the years since the monument has come to symbolize the story of another oppressed group of people. For more than two hundred years the Boers constantly felt their very survival under threat; both from the English-speaking population and the native African tribes. Against this oppressive backdrop, the Afrikaans were ultimately driven create their own equally oppressive form of government.

Today a black man is President of South Africa, elected by universal franchise. Jacob Zuma governs a nation of 60 million people, preparing to host one of the globe’s largest sporting events, for a game once the preserve of blacks. Nothing symbolizes the nation’s transformation since its first truly democratic election in 1994. It seemed fitting to finish our last hours in South Africa at the foot of the Union Building, the office of the President, watching dusk settle silently over the distant Voortrekker Monument. What a perfect way to begin a new decade. Viva 2010.

Click here for more on our South African vacation.

1 comment:

Mbini said...

I enjoyed reading this like I am not South African, or I am not familiar with it. Thanks for sharing.

South Africa