This writeup is a work of passion, an act of love, the product of pride in my country and need to have her glorified. It is a work-in-progress. /msg me to add more.
It begins with a brief description of the physical geography, tells of the people and their politics, without repeating what is said at South African History, a writeup conceived in the beginning stages of this writeup, yet noded six months before. It tells of the legal system and the sporting pride, before moving on to a somewhat Cape Town biased travel guide.
Read, enjoy, go visit.
As its name suggests, Emzants' iAfrika, or South Africa, is the southernmost African nation. Bordered to the north by (from west to east) Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique, Lesotho is landlocked up in the mountains.
The Atlantic Ocean's cold Benguela current flanks our west coast, while the Indian Ocean's warm Mozambique current washes the eastern shores.
Legend has it that the two oceans meet at Cape Point, the rugged cliffs at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. Many jump to correct this, asserting that the oceans meet, at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa 300km east of Cape Point. They're wrong too.
Who can draw an imaginary line and say where one water molecule is from the Indian and one from the Atlantic? The closest would probably be where the two currents collide at the edge of the continental shelf, 300km south of Cape Agulhas. The interface of the currents is a long turbulent stretch of eddies that break off and move north up the west coast.
The coastal plain is, for the most part, rugged and untamed. Thanks to the tropical latitude and the cold ocean current, the west coast is extremely arid. Then northern parts receive less than 50mm of rain a year, and shipwrecks outnumber people in most places.
The stretch from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route, is sublime. Breathtaking scenery, few dangerous currents, pleasant water temperature, good waves. North of Port Elizabeth is the former Ciskei, where beautiful estuaries are flanked by small resort towns.
East London is the last "big town" before Durban. From then on it's the old Transkei's Wild Coast: a rocky coastline battered by fierce waves. Coffee Bay and Port St Johns are the only towns with paved road access. Both are breathtakingly beautiful, but watch out for sharks as there are no nets here! No surfing or swimming in the river mouths at dawn or dusk please!
The KwaZulu-Natal South Coast is a chain of sleepy villages that come alive during the Festive Season. Amanzimtoti , Durban and Umhlanga Rocks is where the action's really at, the domain of Surf Lifesaving, surfing and safe swimming protected by shark nets. Progressing north, things begin to get tropical. Go diving at Sudwana but watch out for crocs in the mangroves. Richard's Bay is the port from whence most of the iron ore is exported. Next stop is Mozambique!
The narrow Coastal Plain is cut off from the hinterland by a continuum of majestic mountains. The most famous range is the Drakensberg, in the east, which is home to the country's highest point. The interior is, for the most part, totally flat, although you will encounter undulating hills between the Highveld and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga.
The Rainbow Nation
is a celebration of ethnic diversity. With more official languages1
, and a fair sprinkling of those (nine
), protecting our culture is important. Our history documents the inclusion of Khoi
and French Huguenot
people to our cultural melting pot.
Music is a large part of South African culture, and I know of one noder who has noded more than a few writeups on that theme. See Umoja for a history of South African Music, and I do mean go and see it if you're in London because it's also an excellent show.
See also: South African History
In 1994, the first democratic elections were held. The African National Congress (ANC) swept to power with over 50% of the vote. Seven of the nine provinces were won by the ANC, with the Western Cape falling to the National Party (NP), and KwaZulu-Natal entering into the hands of the predominantly Zulu Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP).
The NP was the official opposition, claiming approximately 30% of the vote and the Deputy President's chair. Midway through the term, however, the party pulled out of Parliament. A foolhardy move, the idea was to allow the black buffoons to screw up so everybody came around and saw that the country can't cope without white people in charge. Of course there wasn't even a hiccup and the NP paid the price in the 1999 elections.
South Africa has a Three Tier government. Central government still holds most of the purse strings and oversees the judiciary. Provincial governments are powerful, but not to the degree of I Federalism. Education and social services are administered at provincial level. Local Authorities did not go without during the devolution of power, but the right mix has not yet been found. Initially, the large urban areas were divided into Substructures (seven in Greater Cape Town), but these have now been regrouped into Unicities. The Unicities have been given African names, which caused initial uproar, with people mistakenly thinking that the cities themselves were being renamed.
There is a Three Tier court system that enforces Roman-Dutch and English Law. The only country with a similar legal system is Sri Lanka, which shares our Dutch - English colonial history. Essentially, the legal system has a Roman Dutch base, with the English Precedent system superimposed.
The Supreme Court of Appeal is the upper tier. The second tier is the provincial High Court, also the upper guardian of all minors. The lower tier is the series of Magistrate's Courts. There is also a Small Claims Court for civil cases up to a certain monetary limit. The Small Claims Court is presided upon by experienced lawyers on a voluntary basis.
The Constitutional Court has the final say. If the Supreme Court has failed you and you believe that your claim is constitutionally valid, you may take your cast there.
The constitution was certified in December 1996, the culmination of many months of debate, negotiation, mediation and diplomacy. It was based on the ANC's Freedom Charter and is internationally renowned for it's liberality.
Given our history of Human Rights Abuse, the constitution respects your right to do anything that does not infringe the right of somebody else. All South Africans have the right to a house, an education, health care, freedom from fear and intimidation... But the government cannot afford to provide all of these to all. It's a Catch-22, but we're working on it.
South Africa has a proud sporting heritage. Football, rugby and cricket are at the forefront of spectator sports. Our teams for the latter sports are in the top five on the world stage, and we have qualified for the last two football World Cups and have competed in a few African Cup of Nations finals in recent years.
We also have Olympic swimmers (Penny Haynes), runners (Elana Meyer, Morne Nagel), baseballers amongst others, and play a mean game of netball. Sport is part of the way of life, and basketball is rapidly growing in popularity in impoverished areas.
You will find international airports at Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, though the latter mostly for Southern African destinations, like Mauritius. Most airlines fly to Johannesburg, but the number of direct flights to Cape Town has dwindled in recent years. Cape Town to Miami used to be the longest commercial flight, but I believe there are longer ones these days from the US West coast.
Overland trips is probably the next biggest cross border movement (well, legal one, anyway!), with Cape Town to Victoria Falls via Namibia or Botswana still extremely popular despite the current security issues in Zimbabwe.
A few cruise liners visit our shores, usually operating between Mauritius and Durban, with extensions along the coast to Cape Town. Presumably with the new Casino development in Mossel Bay, cruise liners would stop there too. Cape Town is also a popular destination for sailors, and is included on many yacht races. Cape Town is probably the most popular party port for Chay Blythe's Global Challenge races that run every fourth year, around the world in the wrong direction3.
Public Transportation in South Africa is sick, ailing, near non-existant. Taking a (shared) minibus taxi can be extremely entertaining, definitely worth it for the cultural experience. Just make sure you know where you're going, know what the fare should be, and keep your mouth shut so nobody hears your accent.
Hiring a car is a good idea, though plenty of tour companies can take you on tour buses to all the good spots. Some travellers prefer flexibility. Drive on the left hand side, and good luck finding an automatic in the budget range. Stick shift rules supreme in South Africa. South African drivers could use a few lessons, and the long distance motorways (the N2, the N1, etc) should be avoided if possible. If you're going a long way, consider a domestic flight, for what it'll cost you it really is worth it.
Sadly, drink driving is a little too prevalent, with many tourists joining in the fun. Do not do this! There are a hundred reasons not to, one being that taxis are readily available.
Where to stay
South Africa has been a popular backpacker destination since the latter half of the 90's. The backpacker route tends to follow the coast from Cape Town to Durban and beyond, with some branching through Swaziland on the way to Johannesburg and the lowveld. Cheap and cheerful hostel accommodation available in many of the sleepy towns and in all of the cities. There are backpacker magazines and guides that are usually free. Book a few days in advance, though you may be accommodated if you turn up at their door. Expect to pay around R50 (US$5)4 a night in peak season.
Camping is a South African tradition (that my English mother saved me from), and most coastal towns have campsites if roughing it is your thang. I've never felt anything but safe while camping, but I haven't camped in South Africa for a few years so you may want to ask at the campsite about security and have a nose around.
For those with a fist full of dollar bills (as opposed to a briefcase full, the exchange rate is very favourable), you may want to stay in a Bed and Breakfast (B&B). These are easily affordable. There is the added bonus of staying in a typical South African home and experiencing a bit of the culture. That was intended to be a vague sentence, you can stay in a B&B in a (shanty) township in Cape Town, in an affluent neighbourhood, in a small Afrikaans town. Prices vary considerably and you'll have to book at least a few weeks in advance, particularly if you're coming in peak season.
For the luxury traveller, you'll be wanting hotel accommodation. There is a broad spectrum of hotel out there, with many small town one and two star hotels merely an excuse for a liquor licence. Be choosy. If it doesn't have a website, you probably don't want to stay there. Anything three stars or more is just fine. Some of the top range five star hotels are priced in US$ and you will not enjoy the benefits of the favourable exchange rate.
The playboy traveller will more than likely be tempted by the vast number of private and national Game Reserves. Shamwari and Sabi Sabi are two of the most popular game farms, though the smaller ones are also often excellent. Many boast the Big Five5 and provide the lap of luxury in a quintessentially African atmosphere. Game drives, game walks, spa baths, outstanding food (especially game, but less adventurous palates also catered for.) I am ashamed to admit that in some of the private game farms, hunting is cheap and easy, with Big Five hunting still tolerated. I do not condone this and hope to God almighty that you will not abuse nature and be so flippant with awesome and endangered species. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
What to do
South Africa is rivalled only by New Zealand in terms of outdoor action. Take your pick from watching sport (South Africa hosts the 2003 Cricket World Cup), going walking in the mountains, veldt, numerous nature trails or on the miles and miles and miles and miles of sandy beaches. Lie on a beach or surf, go river rafting, Bungee jumping, abseiling, canyoning, mountain bike riding, horse riding... the list really is endless.
Culture is near to the heart of most South Africans, and you are spoiled for choice with museums, wine farms, guided walks through historical bits and guided tours of the townships. Take a sunset cruise, go up Table Mountain (by foot or cable car)
The cities have a great nightlife, with ethnic caf? and trendy clubs. The theatre is alive and under patronised, and do not miss out on the music!
It's no secret that South Africa is not the safest country in the world. Recently deceased Minister of Safety and Security, Steve Tshwete, did a good job of reversing the rising crime rate graph, but crime - and violent crime - are still more prevalent than one would like.
A few things that are second nature to South Africans will help you to enjoy your holiday all the more.
- Be aware when you're walking. Look behind you from time to time, if you can see your shadow in front of you, you'll be able to see if someone comes a little closer to you than desired without actually turning around.
- Do not wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive camera equipment prominently. You're just asking someone to snatch it off you, even when stopped at a traffic light with your window open.
- Drive with your doors locked, especially if you have central locking and no passengers.
- Do not walk around at night, unless there are lots of other people walking where you're walking. Safety in numbers applies. If you're going clubbing, you can walk from your car to the club without worry, so long as you're not parked down a quiet dark alleyway.
- Do not ask a stranger to take your photograph... unless you didn't like the camera anyway and it's insured.
A work in progress. /msg me what you'd like me to add.
- Official Languages:
- The race circumnavigates the globe in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds and currents.
- The currency fluctuates. Rates quoted approximate as at August 2002
- The Big Five are:
The Big Nine extends this to include Cheetah, Zebra, Giraffe and Hippopotamus.
- Actually, South Africa co-hosts the Cricket World Cup with Zimbabwe but there's speculation over whether they'll take over those games.
As usual, many thanks to Gritchka =)
- 23 years of living in South Africa