Reflections on South Africa and Lesotho

April 11.

Well, headed home now, so I guess it’s time to reflect on this trip.

First, the timing of the trip was unusual, coming only eight days after returning from Morocco with Carol. For sure, that’s a whole lot of traveling in a short time, so I was somewhat concerned about that. It worked out fine, though. I’m glad I’m not taking another major trip in eight days, but I don’t regret doing these two. Of course, South Africa would have been much more fun with Carol, but I think that her decision not to come was right for her.

Walking up and down hill was not a breeze for me on this trip, though, and that’s a concern. To put it in context, I am certainly able to walk and when there are smooth surfaces or railings, I am fine, both up and down. A certain amount of the problems I had can be attributed to high altitude in Lesotho and to my being heavier than I should be. I need to lose some weight between now and my next major trip, and I also hope to do some walking in preparation for the trip. Going down hill, however, without a railing on uneven surfaces may continue to be difficult. So I’m going to need to watch that, or travel only to countries that have moving walkways everywhere, which could eliminate some of the more exotic destinations. Now that I don’t hear worth a damn and can’t walk downhill, I may rapidly be approaching a variation on Descartes, “I blog, therefore I am.”

The trip itself was terrific. Nevada runs a great trip, includes a wide diversity of activities, and does it with a spirit of fun. Our small group of seven (plus Nevada and guide), was very compatible, with no real losers, and the guides were uniformly terrific, which is critical.

The best days for me were in Lesotho, just moving through the spectacular landscape, observing life as we passed along. Beyond that, though, there were many memorable aspects to the trip. In no particular order, some that come to mind are spending time alone with a professional photographer in Joburg, the wonderful Origins Centre in Joburg, spending time with sangomas (faith healers), the quirky guy who built airplanes out of scrap, attending a Friday night synagogue service in Joburg, the market in which animal parts were sold to healers, witnessing the early morning baptisms in the sea in Durban, the Shembe religious service we went to, a day with the graffiti art expert, the visit to the Constitutional Court in Joburg, seeing the Mandela capture site sculpture and several very excellent art galleries. That’s a whole lot of memorable events in a pretty short time.

I think I got a reasonable number of decent photographs. Each photography trip confirms for me that I’m just not interest in schlepping multiple camera bodies with six different lenses. Nor am I much interested in delving a lot deeper into the technology of photography, even though I recognize that that could improve the end product. I am interested, though, in learning techniques for capturing subjects in more usual ways.

It continues to be an incredible privilege to be able to experience what I’m able to experience in the way I’m able to do it.

I appreciate all of you who take the time to follow the blog and, especially, those of you who take the time to comment. My friend, Gil Cornfield, often shares reactions and insights that go to the heart of what I experience, so I’ll close with this comment Gil wrote about my travels in Lesotho, “It is awe-inspiring to realize that those statuesque shepherds and we inhabit the same planet.” Yes, it is. And as long as I can experience awe in traveling, count me in.

The Constitutional Court and More

April 10.

As our flight does not leave until 8PM, I hire Freedom to drive Stan and me around for the day, and then drop us at the airport.

Our first stop is the Constitutional Court, where, Albie Sachs, a former Justice, has arranged for us to be given a tour by two young assistant curators, Francois and Thina, here posing in front of the Freedom Dancers sculpture outside the building.

The building is an amalgam of art and justice, due in large part, to Albie’s influence. No detail is overlooked and every piece is connected to the Court’s commitment to the equality of all people as reflected in the South African constitution. Outside the court building is a sign saying Constitutional Court in each of the eleven official languages of South Africa.

The fonts on the above sign have been specially-designed to reflect the people’s they represent. Francois and Thina are extremely knowledgeable about all of the pieces, their artists and how they relate to the Court’s mission. The works are diverse and, in many cases controversial.Most all of the pieces displayed have been donated to the Court by the artists. The building is modern, architecturally interesting and engaging. Even the men’s room that abuts the justices’ chambers reflects a commitment to equality, regardless of rank. Here is the courtroom.

The court is located on Constitution Hill, a hill that used to be a fort and a prison (actually four separate prisons, that housed Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi, among others). Today there is a modern building that serves as a women’s jail. We could easily have spent the day there, but had to settle for two hours.

We stop by to pick up some South African fabric that Stan wants to make into ties, then continue to Amatuli, a huge gallery that contains art work of all kinds, a bit overwhelming. We have lunch nearby.

We continue to Liliesleaf Farm, the place where South African colonial police captures about ten ANC leaders who were meeting and planning sabotage operations. The raid led to convictions of many who were sent to Robben Island. The place is very interesting historically and has a wealth of material, which, unfortunately is not displayed or organized in a way to allow one to grasp everything. Still, it was worth a visit and, if we’d had a good guide and it wasn’t at the tail end of the trip, we might well have enjoyed it a great deal more.

From here, Freedom drives us to the airport, with a good three and a half hours to spare before our flight. Time to blog and eat in the airline club (though Stan is unable to join me there).

Graffiti and Soweto

April 9

We have a full day to explore Johannesburg accompanied by the amazing, and fun, Jo Buitendach. Jo has a degree in History & Archeology, and a Bachelor of Science and Honors in Archaeology from the University of the Witswaterstrand. She is currently enrolled at The University of Cape Town completing a Masters Degree in Conservation of the Built Environment. Her enthusiasm for the Johannesburg Inner City, its history, culture and rejuvenation is infectious.

Jo shows us around her favorite graffiti sites, the Public Art future developments of the Maboneng Precinct, Braamfontein and its surrounding community. We walk through an open-air museum with rich exhibits of public art, urban living, fascinating history and amazing architecture. I have seen (different) parts of these areas with Angus, early in the trip, but Jo’s familiarity with all of the artists and styles of graffiti, street art and murals that we see is extraordinary and transforms the experience. We walk into some shops and have lunch in Joburg’s most recent modern, called Victoria Square, built around a former industrial area.

In the afternoon we drive by the impressive football stadium and then drive through Soweto, a township of some four million people, whose history is intimately involved with apartheid in South Africa. We drive down one street that is the only street in the world on which two Nobel Peace Laureates lived, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. While some of the areas of Soweto are now well-to-do and rather upscale, most of it reflects the image that people have of the area.

In the evening we have a farewell dinner, though only Stan and I will not be joining the group on a three-day safari. Two young men entertain us at the dinner. Prior to the dinner, I read the “real South African blog,” to the group which takes a light look at what transpired on the trip. The “real blog” is well received.

Stan and I bid farewell to the group, who will be leaving early in the morning.

Waterfront Rituals and More Sangomas

April 7 and 8

Before breakfast and checkout we head to the beach to photograph groups of traditional healers and religious groups that usually come on Sundays to pray at sunrise. The scene is interesting, but disturbing to me, as those being initiated are treated very roughly and seem in danger of drowning.

We return to the hotel for a quick breakfast and then head south, past Port Shepstone to another Zulu community in the foothills of the Ntantana Mountain overlooking both the Nyandezulu Waterfall and the sea. Dudu Malinga welcomes us into her home where she lives with her daughter, grandchild and nephew in a rural Zulu Village.

We meet Sharon, who leads us deep into the community of the KwaNzimakwe, meeting elders of the community including Mr Dlezi, who is an elder in this small village, a full member of the Shembe Church. The people in this community are also connected to the WOWZulu organization.

Afterwards we visit a number of different “sangomas” (traditional healers or shamans) and participate in their rituals. The women in our group have to improvise skirts out of scarves. Sangomas are traditional healers of South Africa, practitioners of traditional African medicine. They fulfill different social and political roles in the community, including divination, healing physical, emotional and spiritual illnesses, directing birth or death rituals, finding lost cattle, protecting warriors, counteracting witchcraft, and narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of their tradition.

There are two main types of traditional healers within the Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, and Tsonga societies of Southern Africa: the diviner(sangoma), and the herbalist (inyanga). These healers are effectively South African shamans who are highly revered and respected in a society where illness is thought to be caused by witchcraft, pollution (contact with impure objects or occurrences) or through neglect of the ancestors. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 indigenous traditional healers in South Africa compared to 25,000 Western-trained doctors.

we visit with an elderly Shembe couple (Mr and Mrs Dlezi) and, of course, encounter the inevitable cute little boy.

Late in the day we continue to Port Edward, where we stay at the quite nice Estuary Hotel & Spa.

Shembes and Sand Castle

April 6.

This morning we visit the Ebuhleni ba Manazaretha Shembe Church. It looks like rain, but it appears to us to be a huge crowd of about 1000 people, seated on mats in a grove of trees, barefoot and dressed in robes to hear and participate actively in the service led by a major Shembe leader, Umvangeli. People we talk to say that the attendance is 1/4 or 1/10 of what it would normally be because of the threat of rain.

The Shembe Religion was founded by Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe (c.1865– 2 May 1935) and was the largest African-initiated church in Africa during his lifetime. A self-styled prophet who claimed to have been sent directly by God, Shembe started his religious career as an itinerant evangelist and faith healer in 1910. Within ten years he had built up a large following in Natal with dozens of congregations across the province. Although the Nazarites were eventually eclipsed in size by several other Zionist Churches, the Nazarite church eventually had well over one million members before it began to splinter into competing groups in the 1980s.

After the Shembe service (about an hour and a half), we drove over to see the impressive shark-shaped stadium and then down to the beach to see large sand castles, skate boarders, young ladies posing for photos and people just hanging out on the beach.

While many people may not be aware of this fact, Durban has the highest concentration of Indians outside of India. Indians from north and south India first began arriving in the Port of Natal from India in 1860. Unlike East Africa, where almost none of the emigrants took to agriculture, in South Africa indentured labor was primarily provided for agriculture and as servants, cooks, watchmen and builders at the Natal-Transvaal Railways. There were two waves of Indian emigration to South Africa; the first being indentured labor brought by the British to work in the sugar cane fields of Natal, and the second was in the form of paid passengers, who were mainly Gujarati Muslim and Hindu businessmen traveling to Africa. Indentured labor, a modern form of slavery tied a worker to an employer by contract (usually for five years) in return for wages and the cost of passage. After 1917, the majority of the laborers stayed back and became land owners on Durban’s east coast and diversified into other fields. By the 1940s, the next generation became the backbone of the emerging industrial working class in KwaZulu- Natal.

By 1936 there were 219,925 Indians in South Africa, half of whom were born in the country. Mahatma Gandhi, who arrived in 1893 as a lawyer, played an integral role in South Africa’s political transformation. He was part of the formation of a unified Indian identity and in 1894 he formed South Africa’s first Indian political organization, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC).

Indians were considered non-whites during apartheid and thus they also felt the effects of stringent rules put in place against all black persons. They were forcibly moved into Indian townships, they could not enter certain stores, use particular beaches, marry outside their race and even walk on some roads.

Today Indians make up about 2.5% of the population in South Africa and have contributed to not only the diversity of the country but also the economy. A number of prominent Indian South Africans have emerged from the east coast including previous South African cricket captain, Hashim Amla and political activist Kader Asmal. Local food in Durban, including the iconic “bunny chow”, has been created by Indian people and many famous curry spots in Durban are run by Indians. Indians also runs a large number of businesses in Durban and can still be found in former Indian areas like Phoenix, Chatsworth and Overport.

In a tip of the hat to,the Indian population, we enjoyed a terrific Indian dinner.