Forming a natural border between Lesotho and South Africa, the Drakensberg lie deep in rural Kwazulu-Natal. We spent two days driving around the spectacular scenery which is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape is characterised by rolling plains of long yellow grasses, divided by small rivers, and dotted everywhere with scattered settlements of traditional Zulu houses. The highlight was definitely the famous Amphitheatre, which is an 8km stretch of cliffs which rise over 3,000m in height, forming a natural border between South Africa and Lesotho.
Back in Johannesburg, we had two goals to fulfil. One was to visit the Apartheid Museum, and the other the World Cup Final. As it happened, there was a Park and Ride facility located at the Apartheid Museum, which allowed us to combine both into the same day. So we left early on the Sunday to give us plenty of time for the three hours which are advised for the Apartheid Museum. As it happens, you could spend a whole day in the museum, as it charts the history of South Africa from the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in the 19th century, right up to the present-day democracy.
From the first encounter at the museum, you get a sense of the twisted reality that was apartheid, as your entry ticket classifies you as White, or Non-White. Based on that, you are invited to use the appropriate entrance to the museum, which is lined with other signs from the apartheid-era, classifying areas and services based on race. During apartheid, groups of unqualified inspectors would judge a person’s colour by a number of predefined categories such as white, coloured, or black. In some cases, this could have disastrous consequences resulting in families being split apart as a man could be classified differently from his wife. In such cases, there was an appeals process, where your “colour” could be revised. One of the more amusing exhibits showed a newspaper article which listed the changes that had been recorded by the appeals board, the final sentence stating, with no hint of irony, that “no blacks have become white”.
There is so much information in the museum. My only criticism would be that it could break up the visit into different stages to help you progress, for example, The Formative Years, Organised Resistance etc, as sometimes the amount of information can be slightly overwhelming – I’ve named the sections myself below. One section that I found very interesting was “Petty Apartheid”. This described practices where schools would be provided, but without tables and chairs. Or at train stations, the majority of passengers were non-whites, and they would have only one gate, while the whites would have several which would hardly be used. And trains for non-whites would not run on time, and would not have destinations marked on them, rendering it almost impossible to be sure you would board the right train. The intention was obviously to degrade the people as much as possible. Another fascinating section was on the life of Steve Biko, a resistance leader who sought to overcome these psychological methods, and to restore pride and self-belief in the black people. He was beaten into a coma while in custody, and not given medical treatment for days, which resulted in his death, one of many who died at the hands of the regime.
Another section of the museum describes the actions of white people to fight the apartheid policies, but as Nelson Mandela stated in one of his trials, these people “existed in spite of, not because of the grotesque system of justice in this country”. Another area describes the township violence which took place after the release of the political prisoners and the unbanning of the black political parties. This period was in fact the bloodiest time of all, a state of almost civil war among the different ethnic communities. And importantly, a section on the international landscape during these times. During the Cold War, a blind eye was turned to Apartheid because the USA counted on South Africa as an ally to fight communism in Southern Africa, even supporting a strike against nearby Angola. And in fact, international pressure was only applied on South Africa after the end of the Cold War, showing the ugly side of world politics, where self-interest inevitably prevails over principle. The flipside of course is that Robert Mugabe gave shelter and support to the ANC military wing in exile in their time of need, which helps you understand why South Africa has never condemned the Mugabe regime at its worst in Zimbabwe.
We had spent over three hours in the museum and still hadn’t finished, but kick-off was approaching, and the museum was closing anyway, so we hit the road to Soccer City. There were people from every country at the final, and it was full of colour, none more noticeable than the trademark orange of the Netherlands, helped by the fact that most of the seating in the stadium is itself orange. But even that couldn’t help Spain running out 1-0 in extra-time after a tense and frequently ill-disciplined final. In fact the highlights for us were a colourful opening ceremony, a brief appearance from Nelson Mandela, who was greeted by 80,000 fans singing Ma-Di-Ba!, and to top it all off, the presenting of the World Cup trophy to the winning team. And so it ended, Spain were the World Cup champions, we had attended 4 of their 7 games and somewhat frustratingly seen them score a only a single goal in 3 of those games, and Honduras could hold their heads high knowing that ultimately, it was the world’s best who had sent them home.As we were in Johannesburg, and were bidding farewell to South Africa, we figured it would be appropriate if we had a night out with the first South African we had met on our World Cup trip, Francois, who had helped us so much throughout our trip with tips and contacts. So we met in the aptly-named restaurant “Carnivore” on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The restaurant is centred around a huge fire grill, which serves up a huge selection of South African game. We ate springbok, crocodile, venison, pork, and my personal favourite – zebra! All washed down with some good company and some Pinotage.
And so we bid our farewell to a month in South Africa, the first African World Cup, 7,500km of driving, enough memories to keep for a lifetime, and to make us want to come back for more. So thanks South Africa for everything and well done for making it a terrific adventure!