“We accord a person’s dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves.” – Nelson Mandela
If you haven’t thought about South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994 (or since you learned about it in history class), it’s time to take a closer look at this lovely nation. Its diversity is clear in both its geography and its culture, with 11 national languages! Did you know it has beaches, deserts, forests, farms, mountains, valleys, wetlands, and urban areas, both large and small? And a mix of native Africans along with Afrikaners of Dutch and German descent as well as immigrants from India, Asia and England?
First, a safari: Cheetahs! Lions! Elephants! Giraffes! Zebras! The guides and hosts were good stewards of both the environment and the wildlife, and we felt we were observing them without interfering.
Another must-see is Robben Island, a former leper colony that was a political prison during Apartheid; this is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and one can still visit his cell and get a guided tour from a former prisoner or guard.
Semester at Sea also provided several opportunities to visit townships. Townships are living communities outside a town’s periphery, historically without indoor plumbing, electricity and even windows. Here is a SAS description: “Townships in South Africa came about as a result of apartheid city-planning policies. These policies excluded non-white people from living in the suburbs of the city. Families were forcibly moved to areas on the edge of the city, where they had to live in harsh conditions and cope with extreme poverty. Although apartheid may have ended in 1994 when all ethnic groups were allowed to vote, many people still face harsh conditions as a consequence of poverty. Despite these conditions, a strong sense of community, vibrancy, and faith fills the townships. There is a growing sense of hope as many redefine their futures.” Our visits provided an opportunity to see community gardens, anti-gang and anti-drug programs, dance troupes, an orphanage, schools, and daily life from the perspective of locals. It was inspiring to see brick houses being built to replace shanties with the help of state money, and entrepreneurs starting cafes with family collaboration.
A common theme throughout our stay was a dire water shortage. Let this be a lesson for the rest of the world. Climate change, increasing populations, development, and an administration distracted by politics. Sigh.
chakalaka (a vegetable, bean and spice dish), pap (a maize porridge), fish, curries, and yams with a variety of desserts such as malva pudding and melktert.
And then there was my foodie tour. Off we went to Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa, famous for its Dutch and Victorian buildings, its historic streets full of shops and cafes, its university, and hundreds of trees and flowers in full bloom (it’s just the beginning of fall here). Oh, and its food. We started at a local coffee company for fresh roasted brew cooked with chocolate and cardamom. Second was a stop at the local biltong shop with many varieties of this dried salted meat similar to jerky (but made from antelope). Next was lunch and wine at a refurbished mill that is a designated farm-to-table hot spot while quaint and friendly at the same time. Lastly, dessert at a locally owned café where they served us homemade nougat and cakes. It might have been a bit much but we walked at least 3,000 steps between stops, taking in the historical sights and people watching.
St. Pope John Paul II, who was a vocal opponent of apartheid, would be pleased with the progress that has been made in South Africa, and would likely encourage us all to continue to work towards dignity for all, as Nelson Mandela expressed so well.
Next stop: Ghana