Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest on Sunday in his homeland of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province and The Rainbow Nation marches on.
I have vivid memories of that gently undulating land with its small native Xhosa villages with rondevels- small round dirt and manure walls, whitewashed and then painted with zig zag colours, and thatched roofs. At the side of the roads you could purchase pottery, clothes, dolls, wooden carved animals, skins, and more. Goats wandered around and sometimes small herds of sheep, and ostriches.
Most inhabitants still live in nasty shacks without electricity or running water in huge settlements. They buy food and produce and the very thin plastic bags are scattered in the wind and on fences and take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Between Fort Beaufort and Alice near the Tyhume River, I was driven in a small truck around a citrus farm, producing oranges, lemons and grapefruit with the owner an Afrikaans education administrater about to retire from his job with the blacks only DET, and settle there on his land. After a quick rain shower a rainbow appears above the distant hills.
I mentioned Ft. Hare University in tiny Alice before. Besides its two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Mandela and Desmond Tutu, its black graduates came from all over Southern Africa. Yusef Lule, President of Uganda, Oliver R Tambo ANC hero, Seretse Khama, President of Botswana, Julius Nyere, President of Tanzania, Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia, Chris Hani, assassinated anti apartheid campaigner....
Near Port Elizabeth I was taken into the hillsides for the ending of a month long Xhosa initiation ceremony. The teenage boys were circumcised by the witch doctors and then sent off into the countyrside with only a blanket. They came back into camp and a graduation ceremony cold and covered in mud as I any their families applauded.. Mandella suffered the same fate at the age of 16 about 1935..Ouch!
Back in Johannesburg I met with an old friend at Wits University, University of Witswatersrand, where Mandela had spent 6 years studying law before his incarceration. It was the first campus to intergrate, and even has a pro team in the PSL- Bidvest Wits, The Clever Boys, although players are now professionals and no longer students, and I have been to watch matches a couple of times in their small stadium.
On two trips in the Western Cape I have visited Cape Town, been on the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. Suprisingly it is 3 miles wide up there with lots of fauna, flowers, plants and small animals and birds. One day I took the ferry for an hour in the choppy seas to Robben Island and a guided tour by a former inmate. I stopped by Block B, Cell 7 a 3 x 3 foot cell (1 metre square) where Prisoner No. 46664 spent many years with only a thin mat to sleep on. He broke rocks in the lime quarries which I visited. Outside his block was a dirt football pitch.
The prisoners had a thriving league called The Makana Football Association,(MFA) with teams, referees, league tables. Everything was recorded. The most popular book in the prison library after Das Kapital by Karl Marx was... Dennis Howell- Manuel of Refereein!!. Read 'More than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid', by Chuck Korr & Marvin Close.
Another time I was in False Bay, and to Boulders Beach near Simonstown a couple of times, with its colony of tiny jackass penguins only 27 inches, (70 cm) tall. They make a donkey braying noise. At nearby Kalk Bay I had fish & chips by the quayside. I was a guest for 2 nights of Rovos Rail in the luxurious small 5 room St. James Mansion in Kalk Bay on the Indian Ocean, overlooking the tide pools and the whales further out. A well stocked free liquor cabinet, huge breakfast and my own personal butler.
After that I went as a guest for two days on Rovos Rail. www.rovos.com, the most luxurious train in the world to Pretoria, stopping one night near Kimberley, capital of The Northern Cape Province, and a trip down The Big Hole, the former diamond mine. My compartment was a third the length of a carriage, all of which were lovingly restored Edwardian style luxury with a king size bed, small lounge area and a walk in bathroom and a butler service.
All superb meals were in a restored and elegant Victorian dining car with an open ended observation car at the back with free snacks and wine between meals. One highlight was passing Kampers Dam full of pink flamingos, and at least 20,000 of them took flight as we passed by 10 minutes out of town..
Completely different was my trip up north through Nelspruit in the Low Veldt to Limpopo Province and the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world. I was staying with a friend who taught at Southern Cross, a boarding school in the bush near Hoedspruit. Students wear khaki uniforms and learn normal lessons plus all about the environment around them. The football / rugby pitch had a fence around it but failed to prevent creatures burrowing and digging holes.
Leslie's house in the bush with a thatched roof, is air conditioned, and at the breakfast she served by the small pool, we shared it with the four baby warthogs of mother Esmeralda, plus 3 baby giraffes and a guinea fowl, as a foot long millipede crawled along the fence.
We were invited for dinner at the Kampana Private Game Reserve next to the public Krueger National Park . After a luxurious buffet we climbed into a Land Rover with stepped up observation seats and off we went on a four hour drive. We came across gazelles, giraffes, zebras and a pride of lions. Then some elephants crashed across the track. We also photographed small kudas, steen bucks, bush babies, white rhinos, wildebeast, dwarf mongoose. In the trees were verver monkeys, night jars, yellow billed hornbills, and scattered around were huge termite mounds.
Our guide told us how to track and identify prey by the spoor and droppings. As soon as the elephants dropped their loads the tiny dung beatles came and chopped them up into little pieces and carted them away.
We stopped for SUNDOWNERS by the large watering hole where animals came to drink and meet. A camp table and chairs was set up and we had Cape white wines in silver goblets, hard liquour, fruit juices, dried apples and Bilbong- dried beef strips, watched from above by croaking foam tree frogs.
What a life... what a country...what a future.