Leaving South Africa, Johannesburg

It’s just gone midday on the day we’re flying out and with having an extra two people on this part of the trip I’ve had less time to blog than I might have liked but I want to record a couple of thoughts before we move on.

Firstly: I’ve loved South Africa – it’s so beautiful, friendly, and the late winter weather is so pleasant.

I’m also troubled, deeply, by the problems the country has and by what the real solutions might be, and I’m troubled by the pervasive resentment that exists between racial groups even though individuals seem to behave courteously to one another day-to-day. The frustration the (very small group of) tax paying “haves” feel towards the (enormous group of) “have nots”  is understandable; the tiresomeness of living behind huge gates just to protect your family is more than I could cope with; the question of how to move forward from here is complex, but not, I think, unanswerable.

What I’ve found here is more Coetzee’s “Disgrace” than I had expected, but also more beauty, more wonder, more wilderness, more quiet, more comfort.

Secondly: I hadn’t expected to be so in awe of my experiences in the game parks – the majesty of the African animals goes without saying but often, in zoos their impotence takes something away. The intensity of the experience of spotting a leopard in the wild and staying to watch and photograph him is for me one of the “memories of earth” that Douglas Coupland mentions in Generation X* – I am completely in awe: at the time I could barely speak, hours later I couldn’t sleep for excitement.

South Africa is a brilliant travel destination, and early spring is a wonderful time to be here: the tourist spots are quiet, accommodation is cheap (with the possible exception of the wine areas) and the weather, for us, has been perfect (and a welcome break from the incessant Russian-Mongolian-Chinese-Japanese summer heat.)

Finally a huge thanks:

  • to Ms K and Lily for all their hours of driving and for their company: you guys made this a real holiday for us;
  • and to John (who we met on the Trans-Mongolian express) who not only gave us the run of his lovely Johannesburg home and let us empty out his fridge, but whose warmth and encyclopedic knowledge of all things South African (history, animals, politics) enhanced our stay immeasurably.


Another country we can’t wait to come back to, and one whose complex problems will continue turning over in mind for a long time to come. 

*”… after you’re dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what’s going to be your best memory of Earth ? … What moment for you defines what it’s like to be alive on this planet ?”

2 Responses to “Leaving South Africa, Johannesburg”

  1. You know, one of the few experiences that I had that I couldn’t sleep afterwards was being in a car accident in a big red volvo (it was written off) driven by an American who no longer had a valid American drivers licence, in a borrowed car. I would prefer to see a leopard.

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