Understanding South Africa

To understand the South Africa of today I felt the need to delve into its past and attempt to summarise a very complicated history!

When the first Europeans arrived in South Africa, the Portuguese, they paid little interest in the Cape, although they can be credited with providing the name, Cape of Good Hope in 1487. In 1647 a Dutch vessel became marooned in the water near Cape Town. Retreating to land to build a fort for protection, they waited a full year for rescue, inadvertently becoming the first European settles. Soon after, the Dutch settled in the Cape, although even at this time they restricted contact with the local people. Instead the Dutch East India Company dispatched their own people to farm the land. Most of these people were of Dutch decent accompanied by some Germans and later by the French Huguenots (who fled persecution due to their protestant beliefs). When we visited Franschhoek (French corner) these French roots are widely celebrated, we even stayed within the Chamonix wine estate. Later generations of these Europeans became known as the Boers (wandering farmers).

What the Dutch did next had a huge impact on the future racial makeup on South Africa. They began importing slaves, mainly from Madagascar and Indonesia. Over time these slaves, the local indigenous people, and the Europeans began to mix. Their offspring form the basis of South Africa’s coloured population. It might be worth noting that coloured is a perfectly acceptable term in South Africa. In fact in Ghana people are also referenced by their skin colour, it’s no different from saying the blonde woman or the thin man.

When the British arrived to take the Cape from the failing Dutch in the late 18th century they also took along 5000 British settlers, adding another dynamic to the Cape’s white population. Later, between 1860 and the early 20th century, 150,000 Indians arrived, some as slaves and some by free passage. The white settlers saw themselves as superior and took land and jobs where they saw fit. The Boers became insular people, isolated farmers, believing it was their duty to the Lord to rule over the black South Africans. Much later decedents of the Boers became known as Afrikaans.

Moving forward to 1910 and Britain signed the Act of the Union, bringing together various areas to create the Union of South Africa, still ruling in favour of the white population. The Afrikaans found themselves as poor farmers and a nationalist movement began, rejecting English as an official language and campaigning for full independence from the British. With these ideals the National Party (NP) was born in 1914.

To consider the Act of the Union, in 2016, seems crazy. The white people of South Africa made up 20% of the population yet they were given 90% of the land and this was done by simply evicting people from the land on which they lived. Yet the black population could not vote unless they owned land, thus creating a Catch-22 situation.

The British had promised freedom from Boer slavery but it was pure propaganda. A raft of laws were passed preventing the black and coloured population from going on strike or taking skilled jobs. With growing suppression of anyone who wasn’t white the African National Congress was formed in 1923, their goal at this time – to represent the black population of South Africa.

It was in 1948 that the National Party won a coalition vote and Apartheid, meaning being apart, was born. An already prominent separation between the races was legislated. Interracial marriages became illegal, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, even park benches were established. Blacks and coloureds were forced to carry identity documents at all times and were prevented entering certain areas without permits. They were also not allowed to vote.

Apartheid fired up the previously conservative ANC into action along with other similar bodies. By 1960 racial tensions had reached a head and at a protest in Sharpsville police opened fire on protesters, 67 people were killed and 186 wounded, many shot in the back. Many saw this as a turning point, a clear indication of the way South Africa was being ruled.

Growing tensions and protests from the ANC resulted in a raft of new laws which ultimately led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and seven others. The decades that followed, with the ANC underground and much of the movement in prison, are sometimes referred to as the decades of darkness. Apartheid only grew stronger, most notably with the development of the homeland areas. These areas were supposed to allow the black community to live together as self-sufficient, self-governing entities. The reality was many people crammed into a small area which could not supply enough food and with no infrastructure or industry, many fled to the city where the situation was only marginally better.

On the approach into Cape Town today shanty towns can be seen off the main road. Row upon row of small corrugated sheet metal houses are lined up terrace style. So small and fragile, you might wonder if they are temporary, but you will see electricity pylons line the area, and satellite dishes are dotted around. I wonder if this image might not be so far removed from the homelands of the 70s.

In the 80s, with the white population shrinking to around 16%, it was recognised that things would have to change. It wasn’t until 1990 however that Mandela and other political prisoners were freed, 27 years after his incarceration. By 1991 apartheid was officially abolished. In 1993/4 a new constitution was written with constitutional rights for all groups. The new ‘Rainbow’ flag of South Africa was raised and Nelson Mandela became the first black head of state and the first President elected by a fully represented democratic election.

The 20 years that have followed haven’t exactly been smooth. Issues of crime, corruption and racial tensions are still prevalent. People convicted of criminal acts in the fight for democracy remained imprisoned long after the political prisoners were freed. Let’s hope that the Rainbow nation can continue to move forward in a positive way and perhaps eventually tackle those issues that still remain.

Our trip to southern South Africa was wonderful. With stunning landscapes, wildlife in abundance, lovely people and excellent food and wine. I would love to see more and ultimately, understand more about this beautiful country.

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Tramping in New Zealand

I wrote this magazine article back in 2015 but for some reason it never ended up on my blog, If anyone is planning a walking trip to NZ, plenty of good tips here!

Ask anyone who has been to New Zealand and they will tell you how the outdoors calls to you in this rugged and seemingly untamed country. It may seem too adventurous to step out into the wild to explore, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the NZ Department Of Conservation (DOC). They have developed a series of Great Walks which provide waymarked trails through the otherwise vast and inaccessible NZ countryside.

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There are nine walks in total, three in the North Island, six in the south. The distance and terrain varies as does the summer/winter accessibility. The most famous and popular is perhaps the Milford track which allows you to walk into the beautiful Milford Sound.

In December 2014 I travelled to Queenstown in the South where I met my old school friend who had taken a short flight down from her home in Wellington. Always on the lookout for the next adventure we had decided to combine two of the Great Walks to create a seven day hike (or Tramp as the locals call it). We would start with the Kepler Track before going straight on to the Routeburn Track.

The Kepler is a circular walk with two potential entry/exit points. We decided it made the most sense for us to complete it in the direction described in the DOC leaflet but there is nothing to stop it being completed in reverse. To start the walk we had to make our way to Te Anau, so we used one of the shuttle bus services which runs from Queenstown. You can use a similar service to transfer you to, and from, the Kepler track car park where the walk begins.

The daily distances and accent on these walks is well documented and broken down in the DOC leaflets, these can be downloaded from their website. As well as the main track there are a number of side trips described. We did the majority of these and always found them incredibly worthwhile. The Kepler track reminded us both of Scotland with a stunning ridge walk on Day 2 which was very beautiful and atmospheric in swirling clouds and faint blue sky. The walk out through forest and an old land slip was also beautiful. At our final hut, Moturau – which is on the shore of Lake Manapouri, we found stunning weather and promptly plunged into the icy lake. This was the third day without a shower, and so freshening up was rather appealing!

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The huts provide basic accommodation, there are bunks with mattresses, sinks and flushing toilets (in summer). They also have a kitchen/dining area and a hut ranger is resident in summer who deals with any problems and also provides a weather update. The Kepler and the Routeburn huts also have gas stoves but these were not self-igniting so we did get caught out by the fact we didn’t have matches or a lighter. It is necessary to carry your own sleeping bag, food and even a plate, cup, cutlery and pan. Of course you also need to carry your clothes and maybe a small towel. Anything you carry in you must carry out, including your rubbish.

We left the Kepler track on Day 4 at the Rainbow Reach car park. This reduced the walk length by 9.5km but allowed us time to catch the shuttle back into Te Anau, stock up on food supplies, and catch our next shuttle to The Divide. At 532m, The Divide is the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps and one end of the Routeburn track. In this instance we were starting the route in reverse to that described in the leaflet but it made perfect sense as it reduced our car travel time and resulted in us essentially walking ourselves back out to Glenorchy near Queenstown.

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The Routeburn is a 3 day walk, during which you tramp through both the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. We were blessed with spectacular weather and the terrain varied from forestry and beautiful blue lakes to waterfalls and snowy ridge lines. We continued to find freezing cold lakes and rivers to freshen up in along the way. When we made it to the Routeburn Shelter near Glen Orchy we were more than ready for our shuttle back to Queenstown and a hot shower. It is worth noting that no special skills are required for the walks in summer, if there is late summer snow the DOC will close the track. Obviously you have to be fit enough to carry everything you need and you should always carry additional food in case you have to take to cover in one of the designated shelters along the route due to bad weather.

Tips:

  • Huts MUST been booked up in advance and popular dates fill up fast, book through the DOC website.
  • Hut tickets must be collected a maximum of 48 hours beforehand in order for you to receive the latest weather. When booking check where you must collect them and factor this into your trip. Check the hut facilities – do they have stoves and gas for example?
  • You can buy dehydrated meals in many of the local supermarkets, these are easy and tasty. Remember, there is no kettle so even with this option you need a pan to boil water. These meals are marked as gluten free where appropriate. It’s not possible to take any food into NZ, and all luggage is scanned on arrival.
  • In many cases the walks can be followed in either direction, and some require specialist skills in winter, check the DOC website for more information.
  • DOC: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/things-to-do/walking-and-tramping/great-walks/
  • Shuttle Services: http://www.tracknet.net/tracknet/welcomeTNT