Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a world in one country

last week i drove down to nelspruit to do a locum there over the christmas period. while driving down i remembered how much i love this country! witbank is on the highveld and heading off towards the lowveld one first drives through open grasslands. it is vast and open. although i have never seen the american praries, i assume that must be a good comparison. after the grasslands you drop off the escarpment into the lowveld. the drop itself is beautiful with passes, clifs and quaint little villages.

once in the lowveld it is a different world. it is subtropical. very hot and humid. everything is lush and green and the abundance of life is almost tangible. nelspruit must be one of the most beautiful places i've ever seen. i felt totally at home, which i suppose is a bit odd for someone like me who has lived on the highveld all his life.

but driving there the love for this country was deeper than just the physical beauty. i felt a connection to the land. a deep belonging and understanding of it. often people talk about a respect for the sea. that is the closest comparison i can think of. africa somehow is always wild at heart and demands a level of respect. every inch of our country has been fought over numerous times and i have ancestors on differing sides in some of those conflicts. maybe this gave me a feeling of belonging. almost earned permission from the land to walk upon it's soil. all very melodramatic i suppose.

on the way there i took the photo shown above. i think only a south african can fully appreciate this photo. it was taken at a place next to the road where cargo trucks stop at night so the drivers can get a quick nap. they sleep in their trucks. this sign attests to the fact that some of these drivers have woken up in the morning to find their wheels gone! if you stop there, you may have your wheels literally stolen from under you. in true south african fashion the government solves this not by trying to catch the perpetrators, but by placing the onus on the drivers. don't stop there any more unless you want to donate your wheels to the less (or more) fortunate. if you stop there, don't blame us if your wheels are stolen. these things are reclassified as normal. it has become part of the south african experience.

in an earlier post i referred to signs warning of hijacking hotspots. it is a similar phenomenon. if you stop in those areas you have a very real chance of being hijacked. in our country this means you will be forced from your vehicle at gunpoint and your car will be stolen. sometimes (more often than not) they will shoot you just for good measure. once again this has moved into the realm of normality. the average south african knows where not to stop and where he must not go at all. i remember once driving past some european tourists walking in an area i wouldn't be caut dead in (if i was caught there i would probably be dead). they seemed oblivious to what i perceived as clear danger.

but as wierd as this sounds, when i saw the sign, i laughed and felt truly south african. the combination of the beauty of the land, the historical complexity and the understanding of the present situation all came together in a rather confusing mix, reawakening in me my deep love for this country and its people.


Frances-Anne said...

South Africa had that effect on me too: driving for seven hours from Durban to Johannesburg, deep into the night, I had the sensation of being one with the land in a very profound way. "It is god's own country" as a friend of mine would say. The feeling is indescribable.

Jabulani said...

I confess, I burst out laughing as soon as I saw the sign, but then I am still an African at heart.

Despite being born in England and having a Welsh grandfather, I have African blood. The mist in the mountains of the Drakensberg and Valley of 1000 hills, the drive through Pilgrim's Rest and Blyde River Canyon to the potholes, the vista from Table Mountain out across Cape Town, the road out of Gordon's Bay along the coast, The Garden Route, the barrenness of the trek thru the Kalahari from Jo'burg to CT, hell, even the slag-heaps and mine-heads in Jo'burg ... all these things ooze through my blood like molasses. South Africa is a dangerous mistress; once she has had you in her hands, she never lets you go. If you leave her, she keeps a little of your soul as her compensation for your loss.