South Africa, Beautiful Country of Contrasts and Struggle

South Africa tour, Part II

By Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director

An elephant chased us.

During our daylong safari in an open-air jeep in KwaZulu National Park, a male elephant emerged from the bush and started moving toward us.

At first, the eight of us were excited and taking pictures and shooting video. But our guide soon realized he was headed straight for us and quickly put the jeep in reverse. It seemed like we backed up for about a half mile before another jeep pulled up beside the elephant and honked the horn, forcing him back into the bush.

That was our scariest moment of the two-week trip to South Africa, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Zimbabwe. We started in Capetown and moved slowly north toward Hazyview, Johannesburg and Soweto in South Africa.

The escorted tour also included an 8-hour safari tour of Krueger National Park. Neither time did we see lions or leopards. But we saw lots of impala, giraffes, elephants, white rhinos,hippopotamus, cape buffalo, kudu, wildebeests, monkeys, black back jackals, wart hogs, baboons and native birds. 

We saw white rhinos from our open- air Jeep. They are one of the big five that hunters find most difficult to kill. The others are leopards, lions, Cape buffalo and elephants.

We visited Table Mountain National Park and the Boulders Visitor Centre where the hundreds of penguins that have adopted the coast as their home sound like braying donkeys.

The lands of South Africa are simply beautiful. We often traveled in a coach which allowed us to view the countryside while our guide described the trees, flowers and wildlife living in the area. She also described the local economy.

We stopped at one place called God’s Window. And looking out on the lush, green valley with a mist slowly rising, it was easy to see why it was so named. We all stood there in awe.

On Day 4, we flew from Capetown to Durban. From there we were on a bus steadily traveling north and viewing the countryside. And at each stop, there was shopping. Sometimes, it was organized with women in collective shops selling local goods.

We also stopped at Thomas Bourke”s Luck Potholes, where waterfalls, greenery and river made a beautiful park. Following the paths, we were able to staying close to the water. You could see how the rocks and greenery made a beautiful place of relaxation.

But contrasting with the rich land was the pervasive poverty, a leftover from the apartheid days which ended with electing Nelson Mandela as the first Democratic president in 1994.

The economy is growing but there still many native Africans who can’t find jobs in the small towns where families lived in free housing but without running water or electricity. Education is being emphasized now but Africans were denied equal education for so long they are not able to get higher paying jobs.

This male elephant chased us until the Jeep scared it back into the bushes.
Photos by Sandra Long Weaver

An optional tour allowed us to have a home-cooked meal with a South African family. We talked about their everyday lives under apartheid and under democracy, the neighborhood and their hopes for the future. And we had a combination of Indian and traditional South African foods. Delicious.

Our second optional tour was of three wineries outside of Capetown. South African wines were delicious and we ended with cupcakes and wine at the final winery. Between wineries, we stopped outside the prison from which Mandela had been released and took pictures in front of a statue of the revered leader. 

Our tour of Soweto included a visit to the Mandela home where he and wife Winnie lived for 11 years before going to prison and just a few days after his release 27 years later.

We also learned the story of Hector Peterson, a 12-year-old boy killed by police during a demonstration by children against having to learn the Afrikaans language in school. There was memorial to him outside the Apartheid museum.

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