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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - I bid you good day from a sunny South Africa. Recently, there has been much coverage in the local printed and written media about the levels of crime in South Africa, and points have been raised that I cannot hope to dispute, because they are true. Crime has been committed by South Africans of all races, against South Africans of all races, and I myself am in support of the re-introduction of the death penalty. (I remind you that views expressed here are not necessarily indicative of the publishers of G21, or of the South African government or indeed, any other South African).
Gaynor Paynter & her sons
Crimes have been committed against tourists, children, women, the elderly, and each time I hear of another crime committed it brings sadness to my heart. One of the many reasons I am left feeling despondent about crime in South Africa is that it surely discourages international tourists to visit our country.
If there is any tourist out there who has the money, the time and the will to visit our country, and does not do so because he is put off by the levels of misdemeanour, this in itself is a crime, because South Africa simply is one of the most beautiful countries the world has to offer.
We are so fortunate in South Africa to be able to boast a full spectrum of sites that tourists can visit. I can almost guarantee that whatever a tourist would like to see, we have it here. The diversity of the tourist attractions that our country has to offer is almost comparable with the number of different types of people we have to offer.
Tourst attractions that we have at our disposal include the cool gusty tranquillity of Cape Town, overshadowed by the splendour of Table Mountain, the hot humidity and miles of warm, relaxing, beach and sand that Durban has to offer, to the dry, dusty sand dunes of the desert, which come to life in such dramatic fashion during spring time in an explosion of colour, all linked by long roads dotted by millions of one street towns. If you come from Johannesburg (as I do), a city which is made up of nothing but commerce, industry and crime in a built up grid of streets, highghways, airports and train stations, your holiday begins the minute your car takes you out of the metropolis.
I was fortunate this weekend in having the opportunity to camp (together with my family and some friends) overnight in the Drakensberg, a mountain range which is situated approximately half way between Johannesburg and Durban. To reach this destination from Johannesburg we took the highway as though we were going to Durban, and turned off the highway after about three hours drive (after stopping at that oasis, the One-Stop garage, where we filled up the car and our stomachs).
We passed through the small town of Harrismith where I noted to my husband that the houses did not even have walls, let alone security bars and gates, and his tongue in cheek comment was that the people of Harrismith had probably not heard of these security measures yet! It was at this stage that the adventure began for us, because the road took us through the most scenic mountain pass, flanked on either side by leafy trees, emerald green grass and crystal clear rivers, to the Royal Natal Camp site high up in the Drakensberg.
The Drakensberg Mountains feature quite prolifically in the history of this country, for it was this mountain that ten thousand of the first Afrikaners, who were known as the Voortrekkers, crossed over in their ox-wagons (this expedition is known in history as The Great Trek) to escape the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, which was at that time colonised by the British. The British had implemented policies which the Afrikaners were not in agreement with.
Naturally enough, no roads or pathways over the Drakensberg were in place then, and the Voortrekkers hacked paths out with axes so that their mobile homes could pass. Conditions were harsh and exhausting and very many Voortrekkers perished (the thought occurred to me that perhaps they would not have been as taken up with the beautiful surroundings as I was!). It was during this time, too, that the famous Battle of Blood River occurred. The surviving Afrikaners (of whom it is estimated that there were approximately 5000) established a new province, the Oranje Vry Staat (Orange Free State) which has since been split up into several smaller provinces. The Afrikaners split the land up in order to set up farms, and this is still a farming community today.
The mountains are also famous for another reason - long before the Afrikaners ever got there, the Bushmen inhabited them, hunting for their food, setting up home, and doing art work. Today, their drawings are safely guarded from all tourists - if a tourist wishes to see the drawings, he has to take a tour guide with him (to protect against desecration).
One of the factors that struck me as being quite remarkable during my stay at the Drakensberg is how swiftly the weather can change. We drove down on a Saturday and the weather was beautiful, hot, with sunshine in abundance. We had about five or six clouds in an otherwise blue sky, the wind was blowing, but it was a warm breeze, and it was more like a cooling gentle wind than a hindrance. After we had chosen our camp site and pitched our tent, each staking his claim on the piece of land upon which he would sleep, we hiked about four kilometres from our campsite up the mountain to The Cascades, a trickling waterfall complete with rocks and a quaint pool, in which we dipped our toes and cooled off refreshingly.
Whilst we were sitting eating our picnic lunch, the two more experienced hikers amongst us noticed a rather sudden change in the weather. The clouds were building up fast and the sky was definitely not as blue as it had been when we had started out. Within about an hour, the sunshine that had greeted us upon our arrival had given way to a dark, ominous sky, and we expected to experience our first electric storm inside a tent, which is apparently quite an awesome experience given that a person does not have bricks and mortar to protect one. However, this was not to be, rather to my relief, as I was wondering how I would calm down my two little boys - the threatening storm cleared away and we were able to braai our supper as we had originally planned.
Later that night, I was wakened by quite a loud noise battering down onto our tent, which turned out to be a gentle rainfall, the effect of which was heightened inside our tent by the fact that we had set up camp beneath the branches of bluegum trees, and each time the wind, which was by that time gusting, blew, it deposited streams of water meters down onto our tent.
By the time that the morning broke and the first light of daybreak appeared, the rain had subsided to a soft, soaking drizzle. The day was wet and muddy, and the clear view which we had had the previous day was now coated by a soft, billowing, white mist. It looked for all the world as though the mountain was wearing a blanket. I took two photographs of the same view, one on the bright clear day, and the other on the wet day, and I cannot decide which photograph I prefer. Each one is beautiful in its stark difference to the other, but just remember the Voortrekkers and think that they had to deal with these harsh weather changes in conditions far different than mine and my family╝s!.
I have described my impression of our short holiday to you, but in my opinion the Drakensberg is something which one has to see for oneself in order to appreciate its full beauty.
I was quite moved by my experience, and in closing and in tribute, I leave you with a short poem I wrote upon our return to Johannesburg.
The Mighty Drakensberg
Oh what a wonderful weekend we've had
Our faces wore beatific smiles
And our hearts were glad
To stay one night in The Mighty Drakensberg
Oh what a fantastic two days were spent
As we viewed our lush green land
And put up our tent
In the beauty of The Mighty Drakensberg
Oh what a luxury it is to walk
Up short sections of God's own work
Much too awed to talk
In the power of The Mighty Drakensberg
Oh what an honour we've had to have seen
This statuesque piece of land
Just to say we've been
In the majestic, the mighty, Drakensberg
Good bye, and God bless you all.
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