Africa, all that it is. And all that it isn’t, anymore.
The continent of Africa is known as the “dark continent”, the birthplace of humankind, a continent of extremes, the land of no hope, and other cliches about the “heart of darkness”.
It is a continent steeped in the blood of battles between tribes and between colonial powers. Equally it is fraught with controversy, criticism and corruption, from it’s southernmost tip of Cape Agulhas to the northernmost shores of Tunisia and from it’s easternmost point, Rodrigues, Mauritius to it’s westernmost point of Santo Antao, Cape Verde Islands.
There is certainly more than enough mysticism surrounding this vast piece of terra firma, many of which are embroidered upon with much relish, in tales of the explorers of yesteryear.
That is not to say that these accounts are fictitious, quite the contrary as these brave explorers were, amongst other occupations, historians, cartographers, sailors, merchants, scholars, botanists, artists, preachers and so on.
In today’s South Africa, it is something to ponder the sights that must have met the eyes of the original European adventurers who made landfall on the southernmost Cape coast back in 1488, one Bartolomeu Dias, Portuguese mariner under the rule of Henry the Great.
It was a land teeming with animals, rich in vegetation and fresh water and the only sight of human habitation was in the nomadic Koisan tribes who moved behind the herds and flocks of animals who migrated between grazing grounds as the seasons dictated.
Fast forward to the 21st century and a picture of the most radical contrast imaginable is depicted. Not only has the country forged it’s way into the world record books for many wonderful accomplishments, along with some less noteworthy and vastly more notorious ones, it remains a country richly coloured by it’s history. A history as colourful as it’s current “rainbow nation” status, which includes the very darkest, as well as the very lightest colours of the spectrum.
The most annoying, frustrating and frankly, incredulous occurrence in the country today is load shedding, or to use the new phrase “load reduction”, where the electrical power of this fiercely modern country is literally switched off! Regardless of the status of one’s electrical bill, if one is legally connected to the national power grid, the lights simply go OUT! This is a concept that my foreign friends will find extremely difficult to wrap their minds around.
Instead of continuously moaning about this highly inconvenient occurrence, South African’s once again don their practical attitudes and sense of humour and make the most of the situation. The innovation that has evolved out of this darkness is quite remarkable from headlamps for reading, braaing (bbq) and other close work, to solar powered LED lights that dazzle even the darkest corners.
Sadly the switched off attitude is something more and more “trapped” South Africans are employing as the fight is simply not worth the fighting. They mostly choose to “pick their battles and win the war” through some of the sharpest quips, jokes, memes, songs and ads!
The staggering picture of decay that we have seen these past two days is both painful and pitiful. Driving through the former “homeland” of the Transkei, after enjoying a piece of paradise on the (virtually) pristine Wild Coast, we were amazed and dismayed by the “purgatory” evident on our road trip adventure. On either side of the legendary Umngazi River Bungalows we were, at times, horrified by the squalor, the poverty, the litter, the animals, the traffic, the roads, the people – it cannot be painted up into a social media picture of perfection, no matter which angle one looks at it from.
I salute my countrymen who show the attitude of digging deep, as most frontier folk do, and getting on with it, either by sitting back in the pitch dark to enjoy the light of a fire, a candle, a lamp or even just looking up to enjoy the starlight on display in the Heavens.