Adriana´s thoughts on Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa

Posted on August 3, 2011

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Impressions on the little hilly country Swaziland

Swaziland, the little country on the border of Mozambique which lies in within the South African nation; there is where we arrived, after being in Mozambique for about three weeks.

We encountered many unexpected differences for two neighboring countries which we thought would be more similar…

…from palm trees and beaches to mountains and cattle…

…from green vegetation to brown dry terrain…

…from people walking in sandals and t-shorts, to people dressing for cold, wearing long pants and covering their necks with scarves…

…from Portuguese to Swazi and English…

…from shops selling basic goods to big supermarkets which have too much to select from…

…from almost no infrastructure for tourism to a valley full of casinos and signs for lodges and touristic complexes…

… from very basic agricultural plantations to big agricultural planes…

…from skinny muscular people to a surprising amount of overweight people…

A huge gap of differences exists between these two countries, so big that it is actually frightening to realize how two countries can be so close, but still have so many both economic and social differences. The same supermarket chain is almost four times bigger in Swaziland than it is in Mozambique, with a range of selection at the level of supermarkets in Europe.

The beautiful view of the sunset and sunrise with the mountains in between made the freezing nights shorter and made it worthwhile staying there. The nearly domesticated impalas that weren’t afraid to approach people made me think of the importance of creating natural habitats for wild animals in which they can preserve their natural instincts. Many parks don’t have all their natural species, so if the predators don’t exist the prey doesn’t develop properly their instinct of survival, which had happened with these impalas.

View in Swaziland

Zebras in Milwane National Park

Nearly domesticated impalas

The Execution Rock, where the king of Swaziland had his hiding place, was a marvelous mountaintop with a nice view, especially while listening to the drums of a nearby Swazi tribe.

View from the Execution Rock we hiked up

Cameras flashing and white people watching and clapping at the organized Swazi dance at the campsite we were staying at made me become sad.

It just didn’t feel real. But would it ever feel real? People clapped enthusiastically and filmed the show and I felt that those Swazi people (also employees at the campsite) were almost inventing this dance to entertain these tourists and make some money.

I would love to go back and see a real dance. Maybe the one that is done in front of the king every year so he can choose his wife? Will that be more authentic, or has it been converted into a tourist attraction as well?

Nevertheless, Swaziland still remains an absolute monarchy and one sees the picture of the young king almost anywhere portrayed and hung up in the wall.

I really wonder how many people still support him and the monarchy.

Impressions on Joburg- So far

Johannesburg, called Joburg here in SA, the largest city in southern Africa has filled me so far with three feelings.

Horror.

Having read and heard declarations of people supporting the apartheid system has filled me with nothing, but horror. At the Hector Pieterson Memorial I saw some videos of people living during the Apartheid, making repulsive remarks and assertions not many years ago.

Surprise and chock.

I feel we think we know enough. I knew very little, and still don’t know enough about such a recent history.

Shame.

We definitely should know more about what happened during the apartheid system and about the black liberation movement. When thinking about it, only 20 years ago this racist system was abolished – a system in which people were brutally discriminated only by their perceived skin color…

Soweto, the ghetto (called township, Soweto stands for south western township) created to house all the non-whites during the apartheid has now been converted, just a tiny part of it, into a tourist attraction.

It is sad to see that only that tiny touristic part has been well kept, coincidentally the block where Nelson Mandela and Desmond’s Tutu used to live. Both of them Nobel Peace Prize winners. If you keep driving more into Soweto, you far from see the same; you see what you imagine when thinking of the slums of a big city of a developing country.

And this is the most populated urban area of all southern Africa. Shocking for sure and sad.

Joburg’s city center is clean and nice, however no whites are seen anywhere. They appear to be “kept” in their neighborhoods or in the big shopping malls that surround the city.

View of Joburg’s sky liner from our tents

Blame it on perceived insecurity, or whatever you want…

It still is strange and an uneasy feeling sinks into me while thinking about this reality; I really don’t believe it should be like this, it doesn’t feel right.

I just hope this will change soon. Very soon.

Impressions on South Africa and Lesotho

After having spent 3 nights camping at Diamond Diggers backpackers, at their little garden that had a great view of Joberg´s sky line, we decided to head towards Durban. We didn’t miss the Apartheid Museum, the Africa Museum nor South African Reformed Church Sunday celebration…

The Apartheid Museum gave us a better understanding about the history of South Africa, from the discovery of gold to the establishment of the Apartheid system and the reconciliation process led by Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu in collaboration with de Klerk.

While looking for a Catholic church to attend Sunday mass, we stumbled upon a little church from which we heard good music and asked if we could join the celebration; happy to have new people they didn’t hesitate to invite us in and welcome us. There was loud music and four people singing on a little stage accompanied by a guitar a piano and recorded music. The voice and energy was incredible; everybody was singing and dancing and smiling.

After about half an hour the preacher came out, the celebration was held in English-Zulu, it was actually pretty interesting, while the preacher talked in English there was a translator translating into Zulu and the other way around, if the preacher spoke Zulu, there would be an English translator. The preacher had a very powerful voice and even at some moments seemed scary, he used his hands and eyes to reach the audience, which stood and sat there for about one hour and a half listening with their full attention.

We were the only white people in the little church, and even were referred as Boer by the preacher (those with Dutch antecedents that speak Afrikaans and  “inventors” of Apartheid).

At one point we heard this loud scream that came from a woman that became overwhelmed by her own feelings and had to scream out her love for God. A bit scary for me, at least. But it seemed that no one was surprised and it might be something that happens often. People would pray aloud and praise the Lord raising their voices and hands while sometimes making a shivering movement.

All in all it was a very interesting experience even though it meant that we had to stay for almost two hours and a half – there was simply no way we discretely could sneak out…

While heading to Durban, we decided to spend the night in Kestel, just in between Joburg and Durban, at Karma´s Backpackers; a very cozy place run by a retired South African women. We decided not to camp because it was extremely cold and it looked as if it were going to rain; and that was indeed a very wise decision. It actually snowed that evening. Yes, the next morning we woke up to 2 cm snow, everything was white and it was very cold, specially because the house wasn’t build for this type of cold, they hadn’t seen snow for three years!

View we woke up to in the morning

Picture taken with the hostess of Karma Backpackers

We crawled into the car and put the heater on to warm up and headed to Durban, to our surprise after having been driving for 15 minutes we encountered that the road to Durban was closed because of the snow and had been closed since last night.

We tried an alternative route, but were unlucky and it seemed that there was no way we could get to Durban that day. The decision was made to attempt to drive around Lesotho and towards the coast after passing the mountainous country and avoid the snow. We were sad to leave behind the Drakensberg National Park that had been highly recommended by many people, but we didn’t really have any other option. At last moment we decided to enter Lesotho and find a place to stay in Maseru. We crossed the border and entered what was our fourth country in the African continent to visit.

The terrain reminded us of Swaziland, mountains and houses made out of brick or stone to keep the heat. However, I felt it had fewer infrastructures, or it looked as if the country had less money. The cold climate made it very difficult to grow anything and it seemed that everything was imported from South Africa.

But that was not the highlight of the day. The freezing night I will definitely not forget, we arrived late when it was already dark to the camping site. We were hoping to maybe sleep in a dorm, but it was completely full.

We set up the tents and tried to make a fire, but didn’t succeed because the wood was wet. We went early to bed and woke up to an extremely cold morning. Our hands kept freezing while taking down the tents and my toes didn’t heat up after an extended defrosting in the warm car. It had been the coldest night so far, without doubt, specially because we were using a 15 degrees sleeping bag to sleep in below zero temperature, no wonder!

Trying to make a fire while freezing

Frozen tent!

Nevertheless, the view we woke up to was very nice; it was interesting to see in the sunlight what we hadn’t really been able to appreciate while driving in the dark night.

We left Lesotho that same day and parted towards East London, then went towards Port Elisabeth and headed for  Cape Town.

Caro in Port Elisabeth

Poster found in Port Elisabeth

What has shocked not only me but all have been the presence of a black township after or before any village we passed while driving. I think it’s extremely hard to understand or realize the result of the apartheid system before seeing that in every single village you have a separated township that was built as a separate town for the black to live. And it seems that it almost remains the same. Some black people have moved into the town, but no white people have gone to the township to settle down. It is even not recommended to enter a township without a guide or in a guided tour.

Township

Another township

These townships normally are five times the size of the village and have very limited business activity or services. The schools that are located still have lower standards than those located at the village. It that sense South Africa has many challenges to face. It seems that white people complain about security and the feeling of ownership the young black generation feel they have over the white people’s things, but on the other hand, it looks like almost nothing has been done to improve things after Mandela. After having talked to people that lived a grew up during the Apartheid system, if looks like everything has remained the same, only two things have made whites and black really celebrate together as a nation; the liberation of Nelson Mandela and the winning as the host of the World Soccer cup. Other than that, it seems that whites and blacks mix very seldom.

Amazing mountains, fields of green and amazing nature in general accompanied us up until cape Agulhas, the most southernmost point in Africa and were the two oceans, the Atlantic and Indic, meet and up until Cape Town.

View in Western Cape

View from campsite near Joubertina

View from sightseeing point on our way to Stellenbosch

In Cape Agulhas

Cape Agulhas

On the way we stayed at a campsite near the university town Stellenbosch. The University of Stellenbosch was founded based on the principles of Apartheid, it was meant to educate the “boer” students that would compete with the other universities, which accepted students from different backgrounds. This all was confirmed by the interview my parents had with the present rector of the University, Professor Botman.

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