John C. Barry

My reminiscences, thoughts, and travel experiences

Category: South Africa

Western Cape, South Africa. Impressions from my 75-day visit during Q1 2019.

The scenery in South Africa is magnificently dramatic. The beauty of the countryside with its vast, majestic mountains, great oceans, gorgeous weather, and a large variety of fauna and flora, is breathtaking.

Map of South Africa highlighting Cape Town in the southwest and Pietersburg/Polokwane in the north. The area we drove with Paternoster in the west, Knysna in the east, and Montagu in the north. New Berlin, Wisconsin, USA alongside Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes in the US and Canada.

Click on the first image to see in full, then click center right to advance to the next image, finally clicking “X” top right at final image to exit.

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and Linda, my wife, in Pietersburg/Polokwane, 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) north of the Mother City.  We left South Africa for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States with our daughter and son, departing from our residence in Johannesburg in January 1987.  In the 32 years, we have been away from South Africa, we have visited family and friends nearly every year for two to three weeks at a time.  2019 was a different year.  Linda retired in May 2018.  I shut my business in 2018, so we planned our 75-day trip.  I was debating calling this a vacation.  It was not an event where we suntanned ourselves on the beach most days.  The trip was more of an obligation to visit nonagenarian mothers, and visiting friends and family.  We had disappointments.  There were friends we did not have time to visit and places we did not see.  We restricted the trip to a portion of the Western Cape, the area around Cape Town, and journeyed briefly between Paternoster on the west coast to Knysna on the east coast, to Montagu, Bonnievale, and Barrydale, in the northeast, driving about 6,000 kilometers (3,800 miles) during that time.  Herewith some of my impressions.

When I write about South Africa, the country of my birth, it is not a myopic view of the country where we lived in Cape Town, Pietersburg/Polokwane, and Edenglen, Edenvale near Johannesburg where we had our home built.  We have been fortunate to travel.  We have crisscrossed the United States, our adopted country and new residence.  I have visited Canada on numerous occasions, Mexico, the Caribbean, England, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, India, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia.


The scenery in South Africa is magnificently dramatic.  The beauty of the countryside with its vast, majestic mountains, great oceans, gorgeous weather, and a large variety of fauna and flora, is breathtaking.  We experienced pleasant and friendly service in retail stores and restaurants, some unbelievably compassionate people in nursing home care facilities especially the home where my mother is taken care of at one extreme, and the third world reality of total government incompetence, corruption, ineffectiveness, and lawlessness at the other.

Our two and a half month visit cost R61,000 (Rand) (US$4,362), excluding airfare and four nights in hotels that we prepaid from home.  We stayed with friends and family without charge and had the use of a motorcar costing nothing, except petrol/gas.

Naturally, I will not repeat detail here shared in recent blogs previously written to highlight the beauty of South Africa within the province of the Western Cape. (Click each heading below to load on a separate page).

We were in for several pleasant surprises during our visit.  The use of paper straws was evident in all the restaurants we frequented.  Being so environmentally conscious was an enjoyable experience.  More so than Wisconsin, the State where we live.  Other parts of the US, especially Hawaii and California are environmentally progressive.  In South African grocery stores, customers pay for plastic bags.  Consumers are encouraged to invest in reusable cloth bags, available for purchase at the checkout for a nominal fee.  At the store near our home in the US, we get a 5-cent refund for each recyclable bag used to pack our groceries.

One of my favorite restaurants, Rambling Rose in Montagu, run by Sergio and Cay Fernandes with our special server Elton who did a great job of taking care of our every need.

The facility where my mother is cared for in Bonnievale by a compassionate team of caregivers under the owner and leadership of Nurse Jane Phillips.

Restaurant meals, haircuts, manicures and pedicures, massages are unbelievably cheap in South Africa, usually about 10% to 15% of US charges.  Tipping is only 10%.  I recommend the husband and wife team of Michael and Carla of Carma Hair and Wellness Centre in Montagu. Servers in restaurants are abnormally pleasant and friendly, especially if they are Zimbabwean nationals who are well spoken and articulate, which seemed to be the rule and not the exception.  The quality of restaurant food is unparalleled.

When you drive from Cape Town’s airport into the city of Cape Town along the N2 (national road/interstate), you will see Khayelitsha spread out on the left-hand side of the road. Khayelitsha is the Xhosa word meaning “our new home”. The unofficial count is it houses one million people. Notice the satellite dishes, and how the electrical power is linked to the homes, sometimes illegally.

Almost every public parking area in South Africa operates with official or unofficial car guards.  In some situations, they work within above or below ground parking garages where you pay for parking such as at a shopping mall.  They serve to protect your vehicle from break-ins and other vandalism.  The parking attendant earns their money from motorists who would generally tip them R5 (US$ 0.35).  I elected to park in the street level parking at the Blue Route Shopping Center in Tokai, for a quick visit to the bank.  That visit took an hour.  On exiting the mall, I now had the challenge of finding where I parked.  Searching diligently, I was delighted to have a car park attendant show me to my car.  I am amazed that he could recall and connect both my car and me.  I rewarded him with significantly more than R5.  What service.  With the high unemployment rate in South Africa, this is one way to earn money, especially for foreign nationals.  A Google search reveals many car park attendant stories and videos.  Parking attendants typically gross R36,000 (US$ 2,500) per year, tax-free.

We were in South Africa for one public holiday, Human Rights Day, on March 21.  We did not miss any in the US during our time away from home.  South Africa has 14 public holidays, including an extra day in 2019 for voting on May 8.  The US has 8 Holidays.  The government workers and banks celebrate two additional days, Martin Luther King Day, and George Washington’s birthday, while the rest of us working stiffs toil away.

One highlight was attending David Kramer’s “Langarm” (long arm) production at the Fugard Theater in Cape Town on February 24, 2019.  Growing up in Cape Town during the 1960s apartheid era, this musical appealed to my senses.  I loved the bilingual nature of the presentation that made me feel at home.  The storyline with twists and turns matching Chapman’s Peak drive, the talented band, the professional actors and singers and dancers, the humor, the theater in a former church, everything was beyond first class entertainment.  I was sitting next to an Afrikaner and his wife.  She loved it; he hated it and sat frozen throughout the entire performance.  Many of the lines in the show were not “politically correct” in today’s world, but that, frankly, added to reliving the tragedy of our past.  I believe it was nervous or embarrassed laughter shared by most.

South African’s know how to laugh at themselves.  The government tests to determine if you are white.  Slide a pencil in your hair. If it falls out you are white.  The concept of “try for white” because you would live a more privileged existence.  I wrote about my experiences in my 50-year career blog where I attended a party in a Colored area dancing with fellow workers. Totally against the apartheid laws.  I guess it is wretched to look back and see what we lived through, accepted, and experienced.  That is the joy of theater, and a reminder of what most of us have learned, matured with understanding over time, in attempting to be more accepting society, less racist, more tolerant, and living without prejudices.

We spent a night staying in a cottage high up the mountainside in Hout Bay (wood bay) with friends to watch the sunset.  It was another opportunity to have a break in our routine and again admire the beauty of this “fairest Cape in all the world.”

Our visit to Cape Point was a highlight.  It is located at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, sheltering False Bay. It is located 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Cape Town’s city center.  Kelly Izzard invited us on a morning hike.  She is a member of a club enjoying this activity frequently.  Rugged rocks and sheer cliffs towering more than 200 meters (650 feet) above the sea and cutting deep into the ocean provide a spectacular background for the park’s rich bio-diversity.  Cape Point falls within the southern section of Table Mountain National park.  The natural vegetation of the areas – fynbos (fine bush/shrub) – comprises the smallest but most abundant of the world’s six floral kingdoms.  We drove into the Cape Point Nature Reserve heading for Buffels (buffalo) Bay, one of the more beautiful and desolate beaches of Cape Town.  Here we hiked and saw Antoniesgat (Anton’s hole) one of several caves on the Cape peninsula formed by the consistent pounding of waves against the headland.  It is particularly beautiful and ridden with rather mysterious tunnels.  Hiking is somewhat tricky in places where if you are not careful it is possible to sprain an ankle.  We were following an unbelievably wretched smell that turned out to be a giant whale that beached, died, and was slowly decomposing.

Kelly provided us with this exciting legend of Antoniesgat.  When the Dutch East India Company took over islands of Indonesia in 1752, on the island of Sumbawa some of the islanders resisted.  The leaders of the rebellion Lalu Abdul Koasa and his son Lalu Ismail were captured, banished for life as political exiles, and taken to South Africa, incarcerated in the slave dungeons in Simon’s Bay (Simon’s Town today).  After three years, Lalu Abdul managed to escape by digging a hole in the wall and taking a boat tied alongside the prison.  He headed out to sea, eventually landing along the shore at Cape Point, near Buffelsbaai (buffalo bay).  Lalu Abdul laid low for several years spending time in the partly submerged cave, known as Antoniesgat, below the steep rocky cliffs of Rooikrans (red crown).  He befriended local sheepherders.  He became quite a spiritual and political inspiration to the slave community of Cape Town’s “Deep South” and wrote books.  Here is a beautiful passage from one.  “When I stood on Cape Point Mountain and watched the mesmerizing views of the Atlantic Ocean on the left, and the Indian Ocean on the right, I would think that this was a perfect place for my safety.  Isolated and far away in the distance and in time from the memory and the danger of imprisonment in the dreaded underground prison room for slaves in Simon’s Bay.  At Cape Point I could feel peace through walking every day through the environment, studying mountains, flora, fauna, wildlife and capturing my observations with notes and drawings in my diary.”

We saw this Southern Elephant Seal on the coast at Fish Hoek.  This seal is about 12 feet (3.5 meters) long, is on shore to shed its fur and skin, or molting. It stays on the beach for 3 to 4 weeks and during this time does not eat.  These seals have no fear of humans or dogs.  They can dive to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet), and stay underwater for 2 hours.  Part of our afternoon entertainment on a windy day, and walk on the beach.

We drove six hours to Knysna, part of the Garden Route stretching 300 kilometers (170 miles) from Mossel Bay to the Storms River.  We stayed in a delightful cottage with a nearby walk to a restaurant, and a pleasant drive to the East Café Head restaurant with a view through the Knysna Heads.  We enjoyed it so much that we returned the following day for a second meal.  It offered a fantastic view of the bay.  Here we saw the minimal remains of the wreck of the 460-ton sailing boat Paquita.  Built-in 1862 in Newcastle, England, it ran aground on Beacon Rocks at Fountain Point on October 18, 1903.

We visited Groot (large) Constantia (“consistency” from Latin) twice, each time taking different friends to restaurants there.  In 1685, during an annual visit to the Cape, Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein granted the grounds of Groot Constantia to Simon van der Stel the VOC (Dutch East India Company) Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.  Van der Stel built the house and used the land to produce wine as well as other fruit and vegetables, and for cattle farming.  Groot Constantia Wine Estate produces award-winning wines to please every palate.  Jonkershuis (Jonker’s home) Constantia restaurant is nestled in the traditional heart of the Groot Constantia Wine Estate next to the historic homestead and surrounded by ancient oak trees.  Simons Restaurant setting is relaxed with an open kitchen atmosphere to keep you entertained.

I had been in South Africa for a week and not having had any exercise, decided to go for a 75-minute, 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) walk along Route 62 near Montagu, in the Western Cape.  R62 takes you to Barrydale from Montagu, a dual lane, one in each direction, carrying a 120 kilometer per hour (75 mph) speed limit.  Most motorists consider this to be the minimum speed and a few are content traveling at 160 Km/h (100 mph).  I saw one driver hardly able to maintain half the posted speed limit.  The question is why his car is even road worthy enough to be on the freeway.  I always walk facing on-coming traffic.  One motorist was kind to honk his horn or toot his hooter as he barreled past three cars from behind me on my side of the road, and just in time for me to jump off the road’s narrow sidetrack onto the grass verge.  I did not appreciate on the outbound journey that I had the wind at my back.  That realization became apparent when I turned around.  The road runs along the base of a valley, so the Langeberg (long mountain) mountainous scenery, landscape, and plants are a joy to behold.  To spoil the view, lining the roadside, I saw:

  • aluminum/aluminium soda/cool drink cans,
  • beer bottles both intact and smashed,
  • plastic bottles,
  • tin cans,
  • cigarette packets,
  • Styrofoam boxes discarded from fast food restaurants,
  • plastic bags large and small,
  • corrugated boxes,
  • Six car tires/tyres,
  • a front end bumper from a car,
  • wooden planks,
  • several dead rodents,
  • and the list goes on. 

We are not a civil society, are we?  The fallout I had from family and friends was fascinating.  They all questioned my sanity to venture onto a road like this with little regard for my safety.

I found speed bumps/humps within the suburbs to be intrusive and dangerous.  I understand the purpose is to slow down motorists.  I was driving a white 2002 VW Golf with under 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles).  Roadside markers identified some bumps, others appeared out of nowhere, especially while driving in the shadows along tree-lined streets.  If not taken slowly, it felt as if your suspension was going to be ripped off your car, or maybe suffer a cracked or broken sump.  Many times, I found these humps to be a solution in search of a problem.  Troubling too was the number of bumps in relatively short distances.  Many parking areas, primarily shopping centers, business parks, elite residential areas, or medical facilities seem to favor this type of obstruction.

In the United States, the Uniform Plumbing Code specifies that faucets “shall be connected to the water distribution system so that hot water corresponds to the left side of the fittings.”  In our household kitchen, we have a single-handle hot and cold mixer water dispenser.  It is located on the far side of the sink and operates horizontally along the countertop.  To dispense hot water, you open the tap away from you, for the safety of young children.  We, therefore, have a standard that applies countrywide.  In South Africa, a country with a severe problem of water shortage, more often than not, you have a hot water faucet and separately a cold-water tap.  Frequently these taps do not have an indicator as to whether it will dispense hot or cold water.  Running water to test for temperature seems like excessive waste.  In one situation, I used a shower at a holiday cottage and determined that the hot water came from the right-hand tap.  The hand basin placed immediately outside the shower had the hot water on the left.  I could see the logic in that it made life easier for the plumber who routed the hot water closest to the respective taps.

We observed a troubling medical procedure.  It was evident that hygiene was not on the top of a nurses concern.  If you administer a drip into a patient at a hospital, why sterilize your hands before inserting the syringe, and why wear gloves?  My sister, who is a registered nurse, assured me that the gloves protect the nurse as much as it does the patient.  This cavalier attitude at a private hospital in affluent Constantia in South Africa was difficult to comprehend.

I found the absence of street names while driving a challenge.  Many roads exist without reflecting their names.  You get to an intersection and have no idea if this is where you should turn due to the street not being named.  I have often thought it must be a challenge for visitors knowing they need to turn left at Church Street, only to find Kerk Straat, the Afrikaans for Church Street.  South Africa has eleven official languages, the street naming possibilities are endless. I did see some street names placed between tree branches making them impossible to read unless you exited your car to take a closer look.  Even Google Maps is a challenge.  We were trying to find a specific retail store while driving in Worcester.  Being smart, we searched using Google.  Following directions, we ended up in a residential area far from the business district.

There are challenges to driving in South Africa.  I am behind a large truck/lorry that needed to make a tight left hand turn onto a narrow farm road.  All is well.  However, an impatient motorist behind me decides that high speed overtaking across double white lines is in order because he is in a hurry, and his time is critically important. I did take note of his license plate.

I was disappointed to find that some large corporations are nowhere near as efficient as I would have expected.  I started work in January 1968 for Mobil Oil in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town.  To open the Standard Bank checking the account for a direct deposit, I needed to provide an address and telephone number.  I was living at home, so I used my parent’s residential address in nearby Claremont, as well as providing the bank with my parent’s telephone number.  Each time we travel to South Africa we need to apply for a new debit (ATM) card to withdraw cash from our savings account.  For security reasons, the bank invalidates the ATM card if not used for six months.  The bank requires a local telephone number where they can send security code for verification, to obtain the new card.  Before approaching the bank, I bring with me from the US an old iPhone and get a South Africa sim card with a local telephone number.  I can now comply by supplying a local cell phone number for the bank to use to send a code to verify that the account belongs to me.  Soon after arriving in Cape Town, we applied for new cards in January 2019.  Bank fraud in South Africa is a severe problem, especially with so much theft occurring.  I was pick-pocked in March 2013 losing my US driver’s license, Standard Bank ATM card, US credit cards and a small amount of South African cash.  The day before our departure in late March 2019, I went to the bank to request they delete the temporary South African cell phone number from my account, and change it to my US cell phone number.  After standing in line for 40 minutes, not a record as I waited an hour on a previous visit, I handed the bank clerk a sheet of paper with my South African and US cell phone numbers requesting that she replace the South African number with the US number.  In looking at my account, she asked about other information such as email addresses.  I had her remove all the old emails and only kept my current email address.  Then she blew my mind by asking about telephone numbers.  She questioned the one that was my parent’s old number that had been in their system for 51 years.  I agreed it would be wise to eliminate that one.  On returning to the US and waiting a few days to get over jet lag, I tried to log in to the Standard Bank website to verify that there were no fraudulent transactions on my account since my departure.  To complete the login I had to enter a code sent to my now disused South African cell phone.  It took a few days and a few telephone calls to Standard Bank’s support center from the US to get everything changed to using my email address rather than a cell phone number.  I saw in the South African press that at Standard Bank Boksburg (near Johannesburg) branch; a woman was so frustrated by the lack of attention to her issue, she went outside and drove her car into the bank building.

May 2, 2019 update.  When we moved to the USA 32 years ago, we could not get life insurance from US insurers, (but could from Canadian companies).  We elected to keep paying for our insurance with Old Mutual in South Africa.  When we became US citizens 20 years ago, we bought life insurance in the US and had the Old Mutual policies “paid up.”  Since that time Old Mutual pay us monthly from investments, directly into our Standard Bank non-residential account.  This morning I get an email from Sipho Maci, a “Learner” in the Non Resident Support division of Standard Bank questioning these Old Mutual deposits with the threat that without documentation “will result in funds being transferred to a non-interest bearing suspense account held in our books.”  I decided to telephone to discuss but 20 minutes after listening to stupid music elected to hang up.  Answering an international call after pressing the compulsory 1, 2, 3, 4 is not part of customer service when calling the Standard Bank nonresident division.
May 3, 2019 update. Sipho emailed “Apologies for the message, it was sent in error.” Translation–I screwed up.

If this is appropriate, I want to put in a positive word for T-Mobile.  For decades, we were AT&T customers.  Each time we had to make a special arrangement to use our cell phones in South Africa and naturally pay a fee, and pay each time we used their service.  About a year ago, we changed carriers to T-Mobile.  We spend a flat monthly fee that includes unlimited data usage.  On our 16-day drive to Canada during September 2018, we asked T-Mobile what the conditions were to use the phone in Canada.  None.  Just use it as if you were still in the States.  For the trip to South Africa, they told us the same thing, except the calls would cost US$ 0.25 cents a minute.  Use it as if you were in the US.  It was a blessing for the many times we used Google Maps to find out of the way places—and not have any additional data charges.  None.

South African Post Office (SAPO) is the national postal service of South Africa and is a state-run enterprise.  The only shareholder is the South African government.  In terms of South African law, the Post Office is the single entity legally allowed to accept registered mail and as such operates a monopoly.  In 2018, they employed 18,119 people.  A good friend of mine required documents mailed from his bank a mile away, it took 12 days to arrive at his home.  If I need to send business documentation to my family in South Africa from the US, we only use FedEx, UPS, or DHL because that is the only way I have a guarantee it will arrive at its destination.  Many international family and friends have learned the hard way that if you mail packages to South Africa using SAPO, the likelihood of it arriving at its destination is slim to none.  The contents will be probably be stolen somewhere along the delivery route.  I was reading Facebook comments made by South African’s in the US, that chocolates and candy/sweets mailed from South Africa to the US never arrive, as these gifts are eaten somewhere in transit in South Africa.

What do South African’s do within the country?  Use private enterprise.  PostNet was founded in 1994 when there was an urgent need in South Africa for an operation that could deliver a range of efficient business solutions.  Today, PostNet is South Africa’s largest privately owned counter network in the document and parcel industry, trading across over 370 owner-managed retail stores.  PostNet serves more than 70,000 “walk-in” customers per day, countrywide.  There are five product types within PostNet: Courier, Copy & Print, Digital, Stationery, and Mailboxes.  The incompetence of the ANC government to operate anything professionally opens avenues for entrepreneurs to step in and provide effective solutions.

Driving is another challenge in South Africa, more especially when you are familiar with the United States driving on divided highways with multiple lanes in each direction.  Even in residential areas, we have broader roads, often divided with a median in the center.  The multi-billion Rand minibus taxi industry carries over 60% of South Africa’s commuters.  These passengers are from the lower economic class.  Wealthy residents drive their cars for safety and convenience.  The taxi industry is almost entirely made up of 16-seater minibusses, which are sometimes unsafe or not roadworthy.  Minibus taxi drivers are well known for their disregard for the road rules and their proclivity for dangerously overloading their vehicles with passengers.  Due to an effectively unregulated market and the fierceness of competition for passengers and lucrative routes, taxi operators’ band together to form local and national associations.  These associations soon exhibited mafia-like tactics, including the hiring of hit men and all-out gang warfare.  These associations also engaged in anti-competitive price fixing.

  • Traffic police appear to be afraid to issue citations to taxi drivers as many operate like criminal syndication.  Turf war killings of rival gangs are not uncommon 
  • Taxis use minivans that typically hold 12 to 16 passengers.  But they have been stopped with as many as 42 children in their vehicle
  • It is not unusual to read that 30 people are killed due to high-speed driving when two taxis collide head-on due to overloading and being un-roadworthy
  • I exited an interstate (national road) with two lanes feeding a T-junction and traffic light (robot in South Africa) at the bottom of the off-ramp.  The left lane had only one vehicle waiting for the light to turn green, and the right lane had traffic backed up to the exit ramp.  A taxi screams down the left lane and turns right forcing a motorist to stop suddenly to avoid an accident
  • The Thruway is backed up due to a severe accident a mile (kilometer) or two ahead.  The shoulder becomes the ideal race track for the taxis to get their fares to the destination quickly, while motorists are dumfounded
  • There is a turn lane for drivers and a flashing arrow to permit cars to clear the intersection.  A taxi blocks the drivers from proceeding, and a string of fellow taxis follow, all using the turn signal from the wrong lane to clear the intersection while the legitimate traffic is held up
  • A friend has a business operating out of a suburban home.  They have a dozen employees.  Each evening the employees are driven to the local taxi rank for their onward journey home.  A taxi operator stops the employee’s driver and threatens his life.  Offering a convenient transport service to the employees takes money out of the hands of the taxis according to the operator.  The employee is told to arrange for the taxi to come to the suburban home to collect the workers.   Due to the risk of having taxis in residential areas, posing the potential for additional crimes, the community will not tolerate this situation.  The police offered to intervene if this threat happened again
  • Picture a situation where I am driving in the affluent area of Constantia (a suburb of Cape Town) with narrow, winding, tree-lined, and hilly roads.  I get to a stop street and have difficulty seeing cross traffic due to the fences blocking my view.  Cross traffic is not required to stop.  High walls protecting the mansions reduce my visibility.  A taxi comes barreling over the hill from the left traveling at twice the posted speed limit.  Linda could have died with our vehicle getting t-boned.  I was able to stop in time
  • Taxis sometimes organize protests by blocking all traffic lanes or driving very slowly across all lanes on the main arterial roads, or interstates/national roads
  • The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith has recognized the recent taxi violence as the conflict between two taxi associations, saying the taxi industry has come to “heavily rely” on assassinations.  “There is almost no conviction rate for this, so people kill with impunity in the taxi industry.  Killing is a viable business practice sadly, and there’s never any consequences for it,” he said
  • Anything that I could wish?  In the US, we drive on the right, and we have a right turn on a red traffic light if there is no oncoming traffic.  It would be great to have a left turn on red in South Africa.  Then again, you have taxis that never wait for any color traffic light, or stop sign
  • Over the past decade, the price of fuel in South Africa has increased by a staggering 118%.  In the US the countrywide average fuel price during the same period: USA 2008 $3.61, 2018 $2.657, a 26% reduction
  • Cape Town was rated the most congested traffic city in South Africa for 2018.  It required motorists to sit in traffic for 170 hours that year.  That is the equivalent of almost 20 eight-hour days
  • I had to drive from Tokai, a suburb of Cape Town to the airport along the Simon van der Stel freeway, the M3 merging onto the N2.  It was 9:00 am and initially headed in the direction of the city of Cape Town together with office workers driving to work.  This 30-kilometer (19 miles) trip should not take more than 30 minutes according to Google maps in “normal driving conditions.”  (That averages 60 kilometers per hour, or 40 miles an hour for freeway driving).  Most of the M3 and some of the N2 carries a 100 Kph (60 mph) speed limit.  It took me an hour (30 kph, 19 mph average).  I drove most of the M3 in first gear in the VW Golf.  I noticed that several motorists were so frustrated that they crossed the center median to U-turn, attempting to avoid high-speed oncoming traffic, to find another way to their ultimate destination.

Motorcycles make up another class of traffic that are a law unto themselves.  It makes sense that bikes are a popular method of transport on these congested roads.  On any of the main arterial roads, when clogged, or slow-moving, you find motorcycles weaving between the two rows of vehicles at high speed.  If as a motorist, you wish to change lanes, checking your rear view, driver-side, or passenger-side mirror is essential, as is indicating your plan to change.  I find it amazing that many motorcyclists wear shorts, or t-shirts while riding.  Many do not wear helmets.  They have no protection should they come off their bikes.  On the interstates or national roads, it is common to see motorcycles traveling at speeds significantly above the maximum-posted speed limits.  I even saw a motorbike pop a wheelie!  A friend in Cape Town told me this week that he was driving in heavy traffic when he saw an obstruction ahead.  It was a young kid lying in the road next to his red motorcycle.  He read the following day that it was a 19-year old who was killed by a hit-and-run taxi driver.

Many motorists seem to have a death wish.  A solid no-overtaking line, or worse yet a double no overtaking line, represents a challenge to see how many vehicles you can overtake before the blind rise or bend disappearing to the left or right from the motorist’s view.  These maneuvers often executed at 160 km/h (100 mph).  I find this degree of lawlessness or recklessness in South Africa quite troubling.  Many country roads are a single lane in each direction with a “yellow path” on the side.  Legally this is not to be used for driving, but most motorists will pull over into the yellow lane to let a speeding motorist pass.  Trucks do this frequently especially if they are navigating an incline.  Then too if you have an oncoming motorist barreling towards you because they are busy overtaking across solid white lines, the yellow lane becomes a welcome safety lane.  Talk about Kamikaze drivers.  Some trucks have stickers at the rear stating, “Yellow lane driving is not permitted.”  The yellow lane has a practical purpose for emergency vehicles, especially when traffic backs up.

Seen on Facebook: RULES FOR DRIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA

  1. Never indicate – it gives away your next move. A real South African driver never uses indicators
  2. Under no circumstance should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, this space will be filled by at least two taxis and a BMW, putting you in an even more dangerous situation
  3. The faster you drive through a red light, the less chance you have of getting hit
  4. Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign.  No one expects it, and it will only result in you being rear-ended
  5. Braking should be as hard and late as possible to ensure your ABS kicks in, giving you a gentle, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates.  For those of you without ABS, it is a chance to stretch your legs.
  6. Never pass on the right (the fast lane) when you can overtake on the left (the slow lane).  It is an excellent way to check if the people entering the highway (from the left) are awake.
  7. Speed limits are arbitrary, given only as a guideline.  They are especially NOT applicable in South Africa during rush hour.  That is why it is called “rush hour.”
  8. Just because you are in the right (fast) lane and have no room to speed up or move over does not mean that the South African driver flashing his high beams behind you does not think he can go faster in your spot
  9. Always slow down and rubberneck when you see an accident or even someone changing a tire.  Never stop to help – you will be mugged
  10. Learn to swerve abruptly.  South Africa is the home of the high-speed slalom driver thanks to the government, placing holes in key locations to test drivers’ reflexes and keep them on their toes
  11. It is traditional to honk your horn at cars that do not move the instant the light turns green.  It prevents storks from building nests on top of the traffic light and birds from making deposits on your car
  12. Remember that the goal of every South African driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary

If Henry Ford looks down on South Africa, he must be turning in his grave.  By my unscientific estimates, more than 90% of vehicles on South African roads are white, and smaller sized vehicles than we drive in the US.  In the US white is most popular (23%), followed by black (19%), gray (17%), and silver (15%).  The 18-wheelers, many towing a trailer, are no smaller than their matching brands in the US.

 

We drove from Montagu to Barrydale, a 60 kilometer (40 miles) drive for lunch.  The busiest restaurant, by far, was Diesel Creme.  They have a selection of memorabilia that was more than entertaining.  It certainly takes one back in time.  Barrydale is named after Joseph Barry, a well-known merchant of the 19th century.  In fact, every town and village in the southwest Western Cape has a Barry street.  A few years ago I obsessively took my son-in-law to see Barry Streets in numerous places.

South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande says his department’s production team was “working overtime” to clear a backlog of close to 200,000 driver’s license cards.  It occurred after a 5-month long strike due to a labor dispute, and an upgrade to a new system in 2018.  My cousin explained that when you apply for a driver’s permit if they could not issue the license immediately, you get a card confirming your application stating that you will receive it in due course.  When traveling on the road and many miles from home, you may be stopped by the police to check for valid driver’s licenses.  You show the police the card, but the officer issues you a citation to appear before the magistrate several weeks from that day.  It necessitates another long-distant trip to this town.  The magistrate will throw the case out of court, but you have the inconvenience of taking time off work, traveling some distance to this town again, for what?  Only because the police will not accept as legitimate a card issued by another South Africa administrative department.  I was stopped four times in South Africa to have my driver’s license checked.  On three occasions, they waved me on after a cursory look.  The fourth time the police officer diligently entered all the details into a handheld device.  I use an international driver’s license, but none of the police was knowledgeable enough to know that it had no validity without simultaneously examining my US driver’s license.  I had no plans of handing that one over.  It is far too valuable as an identity document, and should they choose to confiscate it; I would have to go to extraordinary lengths to have a replacement driver’s license issued.

When roads are under repair, to facilitate workers, a single lane is blocked off with cones and barrels while being worked on, and traffic restricted to travel in one direction on the remaining path.  Control takes place at “stop and go” points.  Typically, motorists can expect a 10 to 20-minute delay for maintenance depending on the length of road repair.  I encountered road works on the drive from Robertson to Ashton and Montagu.  Between twenty to one hundred cars and trucks wait during this hold-up.  When released you have vehicles bunched like sausage links, as they proceed to their destination.  It must be a traffic engineer’s worst nightmare as the natural flow of traffic is disrupted.  You see this caravan of vehicles upsetting the normal flow of traffic as it moves through towns blocking intersections.

I was driving from Montagu to Cape Town.  With road works along the way, my sister recommended that I avoid the “stop and go” into Robertson with a 20-minute wait and a 50/50 chance that I may be held up.  There are five of these obstructions on the drive.  Some have a hold up that is generally under 10 minutes, with no detours available.  To avoid the Robertson stop, I needed to detour towards Bonnievale.  On the Bonnievale road turn back toward Robertson.  It might add 5 minutes of driving time but may save 20 minutes.  I thought the turnoff was near the Arabella Wine Farm.  Arabella had a sign in their vineyard not far from the road to turn to the left to get to their farm.  It was at that turn off that I saw this massive 18-wheeler blocking the sign to Bonnievale, and I saw the sign after I had already gone too far.  Who places a turnoff sign after the intersection?  Only in South Africa.

One way local unemployed people earn an income is to beg at the traffic lights (in South Africa, robots), or the “stop and go” roadblocks.  They use this restriction of traffic to sell their wares or plead for charity.  Traffic lights in town provide an additional opportunity.  Hawkers or beggars in the city take their lives in their own hands as the lights turn green and the vehicles reach maximum speed with these poor souls often caught in the middle of traffic. 

I stopped in a pharmacy/chemist in South Africa and was fascinated to see brand name products that sold in the US but in smaller pack sizes.  In the US, I might buy an over-the-counter multivitamin in a pack size of 250, but it is only available in 25s in South Africa.  I found this situation across the board including toothpaste, cosmetics, over-the-counter medication, toiletries, skin care, etc.  My breakfast cereal is sold in smaller portion sizes than I get in the US.  In discussing this with friends and family, many would not agree that with a high cost of living, and high inflation, smaller quantities at lower prices created a more affordable choice—especially among the poorer classes.  Besides, we know that packaging makes up a high percentage of a product cost and may not be that beneficial in the end.  According to Business Insider, gasoline/petrol prices in South Africa increased 200% over the past ten years, including a tax increase over that period of 165%.  Business Day reports that Eskom, South Africa’s electric utility company, increased rates 350% over the past ten years, with additional increases planned over the next quarter.  According to the OECD, South African’s average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is US$ 10,872 a year, compared to the United States’ US$44,049, and a global average of $30,563.

Constantia Uitsig (view) is a wine farm boasting a heritage dating from 1685.  They opened Heritage Market in December 2017 with five quaint cottages including Nest Deli where we dined twice.  In fairness, we spent money at neighbors Alexander Fine Chocolates and Kristen’s Ice Crème. 

Jakes in the Village, located in Tokai, features a local cuisine with vegan options.  It earned a 4 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and provided us with great food and service.

On driving back to Montagu from Knysna, we stopped over in Riversdale to eat at the Paddavlei (frog lake) Kunsgoete (art stuff).  An avant-garde establishment if ever there was one.  The woman who served us had spent a number of years in the US prior to moving to this tiny town from San Diego, California.  The food and service were great.

We had a family celebration at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa located above the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by the majestic Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain in Camps Bay, Cape Town.  You can eat from the buffet, or ala carte menu, all for one price in the Azure Restaurant.

We had a birthday celebration at the very highly rated The Table, De Meye Estate in Stellenbosch.  The bad news is that the chef couple Jessica Shepard and husband Luke Grant planned to make a change in their careers and seek another interest.  I am unsure of the status.

We all have our tastes; many developed over the years.  While in South Africa, we had our daily fill of Americano or Cappuccino coffee.  I had no plans to order a double-expresso.  Back home we are blessed with a full-bodied aroma coffee.  Hello Starbucks.  We use a coffee maker using pods that brews a stronger, tastier cup than I could get in South Africa.

Security in South Africa is like Chinese water torture, a process in which water slowly drips onto one’s scalp, allegedly making the restrained victim insane.  In the South African context, this process evolved over the decades.  Being controlled is the operative word, as in jailed within your own house.  In the 32 years since we left the country, homeowners and businesses to an alarming degree, have needed to tightened security on an ongoing basis further improving their safety annually.  I clearly understand that in a lawless society with minimal police presence, this is a necessity.  With a residence, the first requirement is to ensure every window and external door has burglar proofing to ensure no one can force entry.  Reinforced glass is helpful.  Divide the home into zones, separately protecting each area.  Say the living area versus the sleeping quarters, or garage.  Before setting the alarm, all windows and doors must be closed and locked.  If not securely closed, the homeowner will trigger the alarm.  The idea is that should there be a break in; the alarm system will identify which zone is compromised.  Naturally, the signal is linked to the security company by telephone who will send security personnel to provide help and assistance as soon as the alarm is triggered, when applicable apprehend the villains, generally with police help.

All entry doors must have a steel security entry operated with a key or remote lock to unlock from within the home.  Generally, the bedroom area will have another security gate in the passage to stop any potential intruders.  Next, secure the outer perimeter.  High precast or brick walls are a prerequisite.  Often residents add palisades, a steel stake with razor sharp points that might impale a burglar trying to gain entry to a property.  In turn, protect with razor-sharp coils of steel, and that topped with electric fencing.  Do not forget to add a closed circuit camera recording device to use as evidence in a court case, or to view what is taking place outside should you hear something.  If you have a driveway to your garage from the surrounding property fence, ensure that you have a retractable gate, remotely controlled.  Finally, add a few dogs.  It is imperative to have a small dog that is alert and sensitive to noises, and the dog’s bark will alert the big dogs who scare the daylights out of any potential burglar.  The dogs must be trained not to take food from a stranger.  Burglars might feed dogs poison to kill them.  As we walked in the suburbs to get exercise, we could have performed an audit to see which homes had the most alert and vicious animals.  The barking was often incessant as one set of dogs from one home would alert the neighbor’s dogs, and the cacophony continued down the street. 

What has led to a security industry in South Africa?

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is the national police force of the Republic of South Africa.  The provincial borders share 1,138 police stations in South Africa, with a Provincial Commissioner appointed in each of the nine provinces.  SAPS employs 193,692 people.  I attempted to use their services when I was pick pocked in March 2013.  The security offices in the shopping center had video footage of the theft and naturally the criminals.  Reporting the incident to the nearby police station was a waste of time.  For them to follow up would have entailed work.

Close and very long time friends of ours suffered deep emotional stress after their son’s demise.  The stolen cell phone was in use for several months after the incident.  The detective requested they continue paying the bill allowing for the interrogation of the current user.  That never happened.  The police chief got promoted to a new location.  The inspector in charge of the case reassigned.  The three witnesses identified had never been interrogated, and the case file is missing.  A year later, there is still no resolution to this tragedy.

Protests are a daily occurrence in South Africa.  “Service delivery” is an excuse.  If the locals don’t want to pay for schooling, then burn buildings within the schools or universities.  If the trains do not run on time, set the coaches alight, or steal the copper wiring.  South African’s observe the role of the police to protect the protesters—certainly not to stop the vandalism.

As I write, here is another incident I saw in the South African press.  “The latest burning of another eight train carriages in the Cape Town central train station is an indictment on those responsible for the management of our rail network, and they must account to the city’s public for the ongoing inaction to protect this essential public transport infrastructure,” Plato said in a statement.  He added that while the cause of the fire in the latest incident has not been determined, the reality is that more than 40 carriages have been burnt in arson attacks since 2017.  Plato said not a single person has been charged as being responsible for any of the more than ten incidents over the past two years.”

In the United States, there are over 18,000 Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country, and estimated between 750,000 and 850,000 sworn officers.  With a population of 327.2 million, this equates to 245 police officers per 100,000 people.  According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2008 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, the Wisconsin state had 529 law enforcement agencies employing 13,730 sworn police officers, with a population of 5.4 million, about 254 for every 100,000 residents.  South Africa’s total population in 2017 was 56.72 million.  With 193,692 police officers, that equates to 341 police for every 100,000 residents.  South Africa has an adequate police force, but not an effective one.

There are numerous studies in South Africa relating to the corruption within the South African Police Services (SAPS).  Here is an extract from one study.  “In recent years approaches to examining the subject of police corruption have shifted from asking whether or not corruption exists in any given police agency, to ask questions about the size, nature, and impact of the problem.  Decades of experience suggest that if you look for corruption in any police agency, you will find it.  Often likened to a disease, corruption can only be effectively addressed once its existence is recognized.  However, just as some diseases are considered taboo, so to is the topic of corruption in many police agencies.  Talk of it can make police officials, particularly at senior levels, visibly uncomfortable.  It is because it draws attention to the murkier areas of policing which are often out of the sight of the public.  It brings to the fore a critical tension between the functional requirements of police members to combat criminals and the organizational needs of the police agency to be accepted in the eyes of the public.  Police corruption lurks in the arena where a police member’s discretion starts and organizational control ends.”

With the SAPS being so inept, what are South African’s to do?  They have supported a booming security industry.

The Security Association of South Africa is a body representing private security companies.  There are, at present over 9,000 security companies rendering residential, commercial and industrial security services, which comprises of guarding, electronic monitoring, armed response, and asset in transit services.  There are currently more than 500,000 security officers in the employ of these companies.  Security companies exist because of the high level of crime and South Africa and the total ineptitude of SAPS.  The reality is that we saw more security vehicles parked alongside the roads, than police vehicles on the streets.  Therefore, we have 193,692 police that is mostly idle, some corrupt, and 500,000 security offices that are active.  A friend told me jokingly that when a police station is attacked, they call the services of Armed Response.  Besides, with all the looting that takes place in South Africa, the consensus is the police are called to protect the looters, and nothing is done to stop the crime.

Where does this leave South Africa today?  State-run enterprises include:

  • Transnet (freight logistics)
  • SAA (the South Africa Airways)
  • South African Express (airline)
  • Eskom (world’s eleventh-largest power utility in terms of generating capacity, ranks ninth in terms of sales, and boasts the world’s largest dry-cooling power station)
  • Denel (armaments and military equipment manufacturer)
  • SAFCOL (forestry)
  • Alexcor (diamond mining)

To illustrate one major South African government state-run enterprise Eskom.  Eskom operates in dire financial straits through a carefully orchestrated plundering of finances, mismanagement, and lack of maintenance, establishing fraudulent supplier contracts, and widespread corruption.  Eskom’s current debt is R600 billion (US$43 billion).  Eskom’s debt burden is much more significant than South Africa’s entire income from personal income tax (R556 billion).  Although Eskom incurred massive losses in its last financial year, it still managed to pay each employee an average bonus of R88 000 (US$6,000).  The total bonus paid of R4.2bn (US$ 300 million), (2016: R2.1bn), even though Eskom made a loss.  Eskom’s external auditors, SizweNtsalubaGobodo, found that Eskom had incurred R3bn (US$200 million) worth of irregular expenditure.

During our visit to South Africa, we had to adjust to a life with periods of no electricity, a concept that the electrical utility, Eskom, called “load shedding.”  Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza said the operational side of Eskom required “crisis reaction” as well as time and speed to fix the current load-shedding situation.  Mabuza said seven generating units were currently out of the system due to boiler tube leaks.  The number of power outage hours at thousands of locations across the country showed an increase of over 100% in power failures in 2018.  Eskom highlighted that power outage is mainly caused by the overloading of transformers – especially during cold spells – and this is often because of theft, vandalism, and illegal connections.  Electricity expert Chris Yelland, however, said the causes include planned load shedding, cable theft and vandalism, aging infrastructure, a lack of maintenance, and system overloading.  Networks are the responsibility of municipalities to which Eskom provides electricity, and aging infrastructure are behind many power outages.  Eskom’s Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer said the contract for early detection of faults in the extensive network of tubing inside boilers lapsed 18 months ago and had not yet been renewed.  There are currently seven generating units, which have broken down due to boiler tube leaks as Eskom struggles to maintain its aging power fleet.

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe said the power utility had burned between 20- 25 million liters of diesel by running the open cycle gas turbines as a last resort and there are no diesel stocks available in South Africa, except for cars and small utilities.  Adding to Eskom’s woes is the loss of 1,150 megawatts of power from the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric generation station, amid the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai.  (In fairness, this only accounts for less than 1% of South Africa’s electrical power needs).  Yelland said cable theft is an additional problem for both municipal networks and Eskom’s grid and causes a high percentage of outages.  In brief, South Africa’s power stations are capable of generating approximately 50,000 megawatts of electricity that feeds into the electrical grid.  Realistically with many of the maintenance issues, there is 40,000 MW available regularly.  The government introduced a process of “load shedding” to reduce the amount of power available due to supply or maintenance issues.  One to eight stages of load shedding is applied, with each representing 1,000 MW of unavailable electrical energy.  It is a complicated process as it varies by region and time.  Generally, consumers lose power for two and a half hours at a time from one to three times in a 24-hour a day.

Energy expert, Ted Bloem, explains the reason behind load shedding is that we don’t have proper coal, and we haven’t invested in coal mines, it will take at least five years to sort the coal mess out.  “We’re going to have load shedding of this level or worse for the next five years.  Rocks in the coal cause the current load shedding.  The corruption at Eskom continues.  A year later after the new board has come in, I have warned them for ten years that they were going to run out of coal,” says Bloem.

What is the impact of load shedding?  I was fortunate to have invested in an Apple Watch.  At night, I could use its flashlight to perambulate the dark bedrooms and hallways to find the bathroom.

  • Imagine sleeping in bed with your alarm clock next to you.  As the power trips, it starts flashing noon.  When you wake, you see 1:27.  What does that tell you?
  • Imagine being in a grocery store.  You get to the checkout with your trolley or hand basket, and the power goes out.  It did with us while in a national chain store.  Fortunately, they owned the liquor store next door, and those cash registers were still operational on batteries.  We were carefully chaperoned from one store to the other, verifying that we would not take a short cut to our vehicle with unpaid groceries.
  • You wake before 6:00 am to prepare for the next round of load shedding, but then you are unsure if we are at stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6?  Is the current stage scheduled to start at 6:00 am or 10:00 am, or 2:00 pm, or 6:00 pm? 
  • Stages are changed at short notice to accommodate the lack of available generating capacity or increased with new capability that has come on stream.
  • The government is considering adding stage 7 and 8 to its options to further cut the electricity supply.  South Africa has a theoretical capacity of 51,309 MW total power from all sources.
  • Fortunately, there are busy and confusing single page tables available where you can try to figure out the date, your electric grid area, the selection of stages—not knowing what is scheduled for disruption today, and then you recall that the internet is down.
  • Have you been to a restaurant where the servers give you a list of menu items not available because they do not have working ovens?  They have a few meals prepared before load shedding.  
  • You want to use your iPhone, but your Wi-Fi is not available.  You try to use data from your carrier, but that too is not available.  Their system is overloaded, and their battery backup has failed.
  • I went to bed at 8:00 pm because the load shedding had kicked in.  I knew at bedtime that the next round of load shedding was to take place at 4:00 am.  I woke just before that time, only to only find the schedule had changed.  Stage 2 replaced Stage 4.  The next load-shed now planned for 2:00 pm.
  • Picture trying to run your business, or organize your day with these erratic and somewhat schizophrenic changes.  The cost to the country’s economy is uncalculatable.
  • I have a family member with his own business.  Labor shows up at 7:00 am for the start of a shift, power goes down at 10:30 for two and a half hours and workers are standing around on the payroll, waiting for the next load shed at 4:00 pm.
  • Thanks to Eskom and load shedding, when power is restored, it triggers the residential security alarms.  The security company calls to verify if there was an incident.  Sadly, the call only came after 20 minutes or longer.  When chastising the security company representative for taking so long to call, the response was that they had so many customers to call.  Realize that power might have been restored at 2:00 am so the phone call would wake one in the early mornings.
  • The surge that comes on once power has been restored does significant damage to electronic appliances by frying printed circuit boards.  It has led to a boom in UPS (uninterruptable power supply), and surge protector sales.

The only thing worse than load shedding is being surprised by load shedding.  Herman Maritz and Dan Wells developed EskomSePush; a free web application that allows users to view what regions will be affected by power outages on any particular day.  During load shedding, or when there has been a change to the load-shedding schedule, the app will send users push notifications.  The app features timers are counting down the amount of time until load shedding starts.  It provides detailed information on over 50,000 locations in South Africa.  Sometimes the app does not respond because the hits to their servers with inquiries from all over South Africa crash their servers.  Sigh.

  • You drive along the main road, and the traffic lights are dead.  It is now the survival of the fittest.  Who can get through the congested intersection as quickly as possible, only to be stopped by the next traffic intersection without functioning traffic lights
  • Imagine driving on a local suburban road with several other cars during load shedding at night.  The collection of vehicles provides lighting the way.  You turn off onto a side street in the suburb, and all you find is pitch black darkness.  There are no streetlights, the houses are in darkness, and there is no full moon to light the way.  Visibility is negligible.  You know you need to turn into a street with an island at the intersection.  You are not driving a Subaru that casts a beam when you turn the steering wheel.  Will you make your turn safely, or hit the island?  No fun at all.
  • I spoke to a woman who was in an elevator/lift when the power went out.  Otis reported that they would get there as soon as possible, but they had many call-outs.  2-hours later, with limited fresh oxygen she was rescued. 

If you arrive in South Africa by plane, and you expect professional service from custom and immigration agents.  You discover that they resent the fact that you are intruding on their conversations that they are holding very loudly with comrades on the far side of the building.  Eye contact?  What is that?  Do not expect to be welcomed into the country.  Your passport is rubber stamped mechanically without so much interest as learning how long you plan to stay.  We previously entered South Africa in November 2017 through Johannesburg and received the same shoddy treatment as we did in Cape Town on this recent trip.  Nothing changed.  No improvement.

Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape on April 6, 1652, to establish a halfway station for ships traveling between the Netherlands and East Indies.  The goal was to provide fresh water, vegetables, and meat for passing ships on the month’s long voyage.  He was responsible for his employer’s directives, the Dutch East India Company.  Van Riebeeck found a phenomenal infrastructure of roads, rail, cities, power grids, farms, and a booming industry.  It is this message promoted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government.  Van Riebeeck then stole this infrastructure from the local blacks.  It is this rationale that the ANC uses for their policy of expropriating land without compensation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Kohisan are the traditional nomad non-Bantu indigenous population of southwestern Africa.  They were the inhabitants that van Riebeeck bartered with for animals; many years before the Bantu migrated south into what is today South Africa.  The “occupiers” built the infrastructure over four centuries, providing jobs and income for the locals.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Willian Shakespeare in Julius Caesar.  I have an undying love for the country of my birth.  I am completely mortified by what the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is doing to destroy the country through corruption and lawlessness to turn the country into another Venezuela.

One can argue that the ANC is not blameless, but looking for retribution after the way that white Nationalist Party government treated blacks under the apartheid regime.  South Africa legislated onerous and racist apartheid (separation) laws in 1950.  Marriages and sexual relations between Whites and other races were banned.  The Population Registration Act of 1950 introduced the government’s classifications of race: Bantu (Black Africans), Colored (mixed race), White, and Asian (Indian and Pakistani).  It is complicated.  At some period, the Chinese were treated as “honorary whites.”  This legislation could split families, as parents and children could potentially be registered as different races.  A series of Land Acts set aside over 80 percent of the country’s land to its White citizens.  The government required non-White citizens to carry passes (known as dompas—stupid passes) authorizing their presence in restricted areas; created separated facilities for Whites and non-Whites to limit their communication; limited the action of non-White labor unions and refused non-White participation in the national government.  Due to these apartheid laws, “over 17,745,000 Africans have been arrested or prosecuted” between 1916 and 1984.

Let us step back in time to understand how we got to this point.  The original inhabitants of South Africa were the nomad non-Bantu Khoi and San, or Kohisan people.  Bartolomeu Dais, a Portuguese mariner, was the first to explore the coastline in 1488.  Vasco da Gama with a fleet of Portuguese ships rounded the Cape in 1497.  The Dutch East India Company under Jan van Riebeeck established a settlement in 1652.  British sovereignty was established in 1815, paying the Dutch 6 million pounds for the colony, outlawing the Dutch language, and instilling English language and British culture.  In 1820 five thousand settlers migrated to the country.  1830 was the beginning of the Great Trek, as Dutch-speaking inhabitants moved north.  From 1852 to 1902 sometimes called the Republic of the Transvaal operated as a nation state.  In 1866 alluvial diamonds were discovered.  Between 1870 and 1880, mines at Kimberley produced 95% of the world’s diamonds.  The first Anglo-Boer (Afrikaans farmer) war broke out in 1880.  In 1886 gold was discovered — the Second Boer War 1899 to 1902 resulting in upwards of 30,000 lives lost.  In 1910 the Union of South Africa formed under the leadership of General Louis Botha, and Jan Smuts his deputy with the South African Party (SAP) following a pro-British white-unity line.  In 1922 the South African National Congress—the forerunner of the African National Congress (ANC) was formed to fight for voting rights for black and mix-raced people.  In 1914 General Barry Hertzog formed the National Party (NP) championing Afrikaner interests advocating separate development for the two white groups (English and Afrikaans).

In 1948 the National Party formalized and extended the existing system of racial discrimination and denial of human rights into the legal system of apartheid (separate development).  1960 heralded the establishment of the Republic of South Africa, withdrawing from the British Commonwealth.  Homeland Citizens Act of 1970 authorized the forced evictions of thousands of black people from urban centers into “homelands” or “Bantustans.”  In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly identified Apartheid as a “crime against humanity” resulting in 91 member states voting for, 26 abstentions, with Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, voting against the measure.  The Africa National Congress (ANC) took control of the country in 1994 with a one-person, one-vote mandate and after national elections voted out the apartheid Nationalist Party white government.  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, with a law degree and who had spent 27 years in prison, was elected the first president and served for a single 5-year term.  Thabo Mbeki, a British educated economist, followed next as president and was ousted by Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma with a grade two education.  Zuma perfected how to siphon funds from government-run enterprises to share with selected family members and comrades.  Zuma was ousted in 2018 after several terms to be followed by Cyril Ramaphosa, a lawyer by profession, reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in South Africa.

More than anyone, Jacob Zuma proved to be a highly corrupt politician.  Zuma initially indicted in 2007 on 18 charges of corruption, fraud, and racketeering, including accepting bribes from a military contractor.  The arms deal, made by the government of Nelson Mandela in the mid to late 1990s, involved the purchase of naval vessels, submarines, fighter jets and other equipment from European nations including Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, France, and South Africa. The deal totaled 30 billion rand, or between US$3 billion to US$5 billion at the time.  Zuma alleged to have sought bribes from Thales to support his extravagant lifestyle.  French arms supplier Thales may still face charges.  South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog alleged that the billionaire Gupta family had exploited their ties with Zuma to win state contracts.  Schabir Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of trying to solicit a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of French arms firm Thales, on behalf of Zuma.  Zuma had extensive state-funded upgrades to his rural homestead at Nkandla.  Zuma’s rule is estimated to have cost the South African economy R1 trillion (approximately US$83 Billion).  Zuma is married to six wives with an estimated 20 children.

What is the responsibility of a government?

  • a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and foreign foes
  • The government as protector requires taxes to fund, train and equip an army and a police force; to build courts and jails, and to elect or appoint the officials to pass and implement the laws citizens must not break
  • Using the United States as an example, a political structure comprising the President, Congress, Supreme Court and departments of Treasury, War, State, and Justice.  Critically the three branches of government; the Senate, The House of Representatives, and the Office of the President are co-partners where one does not have jurisdiction over the other.  A system that calls for compromise to meet the will of the people
  • The government as the provider of goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves, including the means of physical travel, such as roads, bridges, and ports of all kinds, and increasingly the means of virtual travel, such as broadband. This infrastructure can be, and typically initially is, provided by private entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to build a road, say, and charge users a toll, but the capital necessary is so significant and the public benefit so apparent that ultimately the government takes over
  • The government can cushion the inability of citizens to provide for themselves, particularly in the vulnerable conditions of youth, old age, sickness, disability and unemployment due to economic forces beyond their control.  Providing social security that enables citizens to create their financial security
  • The government to heavily fund education, encourage more active citizenship, pursue binding international trade alliances and open borders to all immigrants
  • The most important priority of the government as investor is to provide education from cradle-to-grave, and schools, roads, medical care, firefighters, etc.
  • Governments need to be concerned about monopoly enterprises that block innovative entrepreneurs from getting a foothold in the market and moving technology forward
  • To establish a “social contract” with the people who trade some independence for protections and other services, and usually granted through a constitution
  • The most basic duty of a government is to protect its people from violence.  It may include the military, police who enforce laws, and organizations to ensure the health and safety of the environment and food chain
  • A capitalist market economy controlled by buyers and sellers where the government verifies the fairness
  • Citizens on their own without orders will create problems.  Businesses without controls may harm the population

It is worth reflecting where South Africa succeeds or has failed.  South Africa is the only country in the world where they have enacted laws to protect the majority from the minority.  One such act that has backfired is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), and its derivatives such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE).  BEE is a racially inclusive program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving black people (African, Coloreds, and Indians) South African citizen’s economic privileges that are already available to Whites.  It is a form of Affirmative action.  Let me illustrate where this does not work.  A government entity will release a tender offer for software development.  A BEE registered company will win the tender with an inflated bid to grease the palms of its management cohorts.  After a couple of years, the BEE appointed company cannot deliver the solution, and a tender is awarded again without the stipulation of BEE qualifications.  A white-owned and white run company with highly qualified technical people is now assigned the project and completed in a few months.  It turns out to be their most profitable assignment because they priced it higher than the previous BEE contact.  The BEE or BBBEE stipulation is responsible for more whites parting for countries outside of South Africa, than any other.  BEE does not create a level playing field.

What I find troubling is that when the ANC took control of the country, many of my family and friends were terminated from their jobs. Positions that had to be filled by blacks. In some situations, whites were forced to train their replacements, taking as long as a year to attempt to get the new hires up to speed. Many remain in South Africa today, and several of those struggling to make ends meet without government financial support.

An attitude exists in South Africa among the majority population group.  If you are unhappy with your circumstances, take action to destroy things.  School and university fees are not free, so burn down the schools and universities.  That solves the problem, does it not?  Trains do not run on time.  Set the coaches alight, and steel the copper wire driving the trains—again proving what?  I will not get into the fact that petty crime is a way of life.  Then again when you have a government that is corrupt and siphons off as much as it can for their own pockets from the State Run Enterprises, it becomes a free for all in a lawless society.

We brought back souvenirs, including these placemats. I am very partial to all things protea (the national flower of South Africa).

On returning home and reflecting on our time in South Africa, it is a joy to live in open spaces.  As we drive in our suburbs, we notice the absence of high walls, with barb wired tops and electrical fences crowning that.  Security gates that do not block access to driveways.  We live in freedom with our broader roads and the absence of drivers maniacally driving at any speed to get nowhere in a hurry.  We live in a sane society.

We arrived home near midnight to find a strange electrical fault.  The power in our bedroom and bathroom was out, while the rest of the condominium was working correctly.  In checking our condominium passages I found the same anomaly, most lights were working, but some sections were without power.  When we woke up, everything was working correctly.  Later in the morning, we received a phone call from Wisconsin Electric to apologize for the outage that affected 1,000 homes in our area.  I do not recall Eskom called their customers apologizing for ongoing and repetitive load shedding.  But then again their customers are a general nuisance and inconveniencing them is inconsequential.

In my opinion, much of South Africa’s mess traces to the Nationalist government’s apartheid policy.  They did not see the need for effective black education because they were the laborers who did not need knowledge.  The ANC came to power a generation ago, and did not provide an adequate education for their people because their only purpose was to vote ANC!  Now the country sits with generations of uneducated people, uneducable, unemployable, with a government not competent enough to create permanent jobs, with financial shortages due to corruption.  The pass rate for final-year students at state schools in South Africa rose to the highest level since 2013, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said.  Of the approximately 800,800 students sitting for the exams late last year, 78.2 percent passed, Motshekga said.  About 312,700 people (39%) are eligible to study at higher-education facilities such as universities, she said.  Almost half of the children who enrolled in the first year of schooling in 2007 did not write the full-time tests.  South Africa’s Department of Basic Education lowered the pass rate for mathematics to just 20% to keep children moving through the country’s struggling school system.  The World Economic Forum ranked South Africa’s quality of the education system 138 out of 140 countries.  Of the 12,372 students at 249 private schools and testing centers who wrote papers set by the Independent Examination Board, 98.9 percent passed.  About 90.7 percent achieved a mark high enough to enter university.

Cyril Ramaphosa has appealed to the million whites to return to South Africa.  Why?  South Africa ranked the unhealthiest country on earth.  The ten measures were healthy life expectancy, blood pressure, blood glucose (diabetes risk), obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, inactivity (too little exercise), and government spending on healthcare.

On May 8, 2019, South Africa will hold elections.  I will stick my neck out and bet that the ANC will win the polls again, albeit with a reduced majority.  The status quo will remain.  Corruption and lawlessness will be intact.  The white flight will continue, the currency will weaken, and inflation will continue its upward trend.  I am not confident about the countries future having read two books by investigative journalists:

  • Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State: Unraveling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture
  • Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers: Those keeping Zuma in power and out of prison

I follow South African news sites daily.

As I ponder a quarter century of ANC rule, I question what exactly have they contributed to South African society? I think in terms of any field of endeavor: medicine, science, engineering, literature, music, military, political, sport, education–or any other that you can offer. I would love to stand corrected.

As you read blogs on this website that I established in September 2016, it has cost me under US$1,000 for hosting costs, bearing in mind that I did not add in my time for writing blogs.  In Myburgh’s book, he references a similar technical website  (WordPress) developed for the province of Free State under Magashule’s control that cost R95 million (US$ 7 million) but not sure how many websites this entailed, or was it just one.  More corruption anyone?  The potential in South Africa is unlimited, but it will require robust, honest and ethical political leadership, without all the racism calling for the killing of whites. I appreciate Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane’s rhetoric, but sadly a message that will not be heard by all South Africans.

If you know what an idyllic location to live might be, nothing beats the Cape Town and its environs, or many spots in the Western Cape. The scenery, the weather, the people. It competes with the Carribean and other scenic spots in the world. If only the politicians did not set out to destroy the country.

Naturally, many local friends ask us if they recommend visiting South Africa.  I always respond with a resounding yes, with one stipulation.  Only travel with a reputable tour company who provides a fully guided, well chaperoned, and safe, escorted service.  With a high unemployment rate of 27.5% or 6.2 million people without jobs, this has resulted in high crime rates and affected by a general lawless society due to government corruption.

Comments Off on Western Cape, South Africa. Impressions from my 75-day visit during Q1 2019.

Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa

Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings.


Linda and I married in February 1971.  For our honeymoon, we elected to stay in Franschhoek.  Linda and I recall the honeymoon suite at our hotel differently.  I remember that they only provided a single bed; Linda says there were two single beds.  No matter, a honeymoon suite with only single beds is a travesty.  We have no idea where we stayed, so 48 years later we were unable to re-visit the old haunt.  Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings.  Art, crafts, and bead shops are very popular.  I have another family tie to Franschhoek.  My mother’s maiden name is Maris and traces her arrival in South Africa to the French Huguenots.

The first Huguenots arrived as early as 1671, when the first Huguenot refugee, Francois Villion (later Viljoen), arrived at the Cape.  By 1692, a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

The Huguenots were French Protestants who were members of the Calvinist Reformed Church established in 1550.  From the mid-1500s through mid-1600s, Huguenots were persecuted in France for their religious beliefs.  Therefore, thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries where they could enjoy religious freedom, including South Africa.  Simon van der Stel (Governor of the Cape) set aside land for Huguenot settlement in Franschhoek (‘French corner’) and Drakenstein (present-day Paarl) and gave orders for the French to be interspersed with the other burghers (Afrikaans citizens).  His reasoning for this integration was “that they could learn our language and morals, and be integrated with the Dutch nation”.  Today, many farms in these areas retain their French names.

In 1688 French Huguenot refugees began populating the valley establishing farms and businesses bringing with them their experience in agriculture. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came.  La Motte, Champagne, La Cotte, Cabrière, La Provence, Bourgogne, La Terra de Luc, and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original Cape Dutch farmhouses today. These farms have grown into renowned wineries. Many of the surnames in the area are of French origin, e.g. Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis, Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.

Not your grandfathers tractor ride. This, fortunately was only a short transfer ride. Enjoy the noise and shakes.

Our specific wine tour featured five vineyards, transported by bus and tram, depending on the wine farm’s location.  We used the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a hop-on-hop-off tour. It is one of the best ways to discover the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley – picturesque vineyards, breath-taking scenery, warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, fine wines, and a 300-year history.  Passengers experience a unique and leisurely way to see the Franschhoek Valley as they journey through rolling vineyards in a vintage style railway tram and open-air tram-bus stopping in at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates.  A combination of tram and tram-bus transports passengers around a loop of stops allowing them to hop-off at each stop and experience the activities on offer, be it wine tasting, a cellar tour, lunch or simply a stroll through the vineyards and when they are ready, hop-on to continue the tour.

Linda and I decided prior to visiting the first wine farm that we would not feel good at the end of the day tasting four wines from each of five farms for twenty samplings.  We agreed that we would buy a single tasting to be shared at each farm.  When there was coupling with biltong (jerky), a cheese board, chocolate, or any other treat, that too would be shared.  The alternative was that we would gorge ourselves.  As it was, we were meeting my cousin for dinner at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. Tuk Tuk, a craft beer microbrewery serving bespoke brews and Mexican-inspired food.

La Bourgogne

We visited Franschhoek for two nights in early March 2019 staying at the Riverside Cottages on the Le Bourgogne Farm in the loft, a very spacious accommodation.  La Bourgogne is a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne that was among the first Huguenot farms proclaimed in 1694.  Simon van der Stel granted the farm to Pierre de Villiers.  However, 1800 saw the first involvement of the Le Roux family, a relationship that endures to this day, with neighbor Gappie Le Roux managing the farming operations.

On our wine farm tour, we elected to taste wines from La Bourgogne to learn more about their products.  That morning we enjoyed breakfast in their restaurant.

When the late George Mayer bought the farm, it was his aim to make olive oil, notwithstanding the lack of olive trees on the farm. Today the farm has approximately 2500 olive trees, which were planted in May 2008, bar about 220 which went in May 2005. The majority of the trees planted are Frantoio, with liberal sprinklings of Corantino, Lecchino, and Mission. The oil produced to date has been of excellent quality. La Bourgogne started with their own olive pressing on the farm. The 2011 harvest won a Silver award with the South African Olive association.

La Bri

The original grant of La Bri is one of the oldest Huguenot-allocated farms in the Franschhoek Valley.  The farm is situated in the valley previously known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner).  The name La Bri is probably derived from the outlying town of Brie, which was the stomping grounds of the de Villiers family in the early 13th century.  L’ Abri is also French for “the refuge or Haven”, a perfect name for this property, as it is safely nestled in the imposing amphitheaters of the Franschhoek valley.  La Bri featured Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Holden Manz

Located in the top, southern-most corner of the Franschhoek Valley, in the embrace of its spectacular mountains, the 22 hectares Holden Manz Wine Estate is situated between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook at 300 meters above sea level.  An exclusive grower of red grapes, the Estate only cultivates its top 16 hectares under vineyards, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.  Long, cold and wet winters allow the vines to rest well, while hot dry summers and gentle autumn allows for slow ripening.  Featuring a rich and diverse terroir influenced by its unique natural surroundings, with three different soil types and a marked seasonal climate, the estate’s vineyards are perfectly suited to its intention – the production of ultra-premium wines made for the discerning wine connoisseur.

GlenWood

GlenWood is a family owned boutique winery located in an area of outstanding natural beauty very close to Franschhoek.  GlenWood has been developed from scratch over the last thirty-three years to become a leading South African wine producer and wine exporter to 12 countries.  With only one exception, all wines are made from grapes produced on the farm, thereby reflecting the unique terroir of our small valley.  The wines are uniformly and consistently highly rated by wine judges and have received numerous awards and prestigious listings.  GlenWood features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Noblesse.

Grande Provence

Grande Provence Estate wears her 300-year history with dignity.  Her lush vines spread across 47-acres with gentle vistas over the valley floor, with the rugged mountains beyond. This is heartland South African wine country at its very finest.  Grande Provence features Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz.

As part of their social responsibility programs, Grande Provence supports a number of causes. We were impressed with the cheetah program. Cheetah Outreach has two facilities in the Western Cape, Somerset West, and Franschhoek. Here they offer cheetah encounters. The primary goal is to promote the survival of the free-ranging, South African, cheetah. From an estimated 100,000 cheetahs at the turn of the 20th century, the population is currently estimated to be 7,100. Shrinking habitat, dwindling of natural prey, and conflict with human activities are the primary causes of this critical situation. There are about 1,326 cheetahs in South Africa of which approximately 500 free-ranging cheetahs live on unprotected farmlands in the northern part of the country.  This population is the focus of the work


The Gallery at Grande Provence is considered to be one of the most highly regarded galleries in the Cape, with a reputation for showcasing some of South Africa’s finest established and emerging artists. Regular exhibitions are held with the major disciplines being shown throughout the year. The Gallery exhibits a carefully selected group of artists from South Africa, Europe and America. The Sculpture Garden has a continually evolving collection of monumental works in a variety of media.

Driving to Franschhoek from Montagu was a treat.  It is evident with my blogs and videos showing mountain passes, that I am enamored with the scenery as we crest the hills, and descend the dales.  In Wisconsin, from where we live, we need to travel long distances to see similar beauty along the Mississippi River. 

Franschhoek Pass is located in the Western Cape, Province of South Africa on the Regional road R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp.  The pass was formally constructed in 1822, by a group of soldiers under command of Major Holloway, under orders from Lord Charles Somerset.  Jan Joubertsgat bridge was part of the construction.  It is still in evidence today, as one of South Africa’s oldest bridges.

Franschhoek Pass (R45) is also called Lambrechts Road, though – more poetically – a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner) after the now mythical herds of elephant, which once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa’s first properly engineered road. During weekends, city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, and vehicles to enjoy its sheer magnificence.  Sadly, fire devastated the pass two weeks prior to our visit—and this is evident along our journey.  Where we stopped, we looked down on the town from on high.  The town becomes visible as we descend on the winding road complete with hairpin bends.  Our good fortune is that we did not have vehicles in front of us to impede the view. 

We highly recommend Franschhoek as a great place to visit.  We had dinner with a family who moved to Franschhoek two decades ago as their ideal retirement community.

PS. This was a cold day and a few days later I had a cold. My fault for not bringing anything warm on this trip.

On June 21, 2019, the Western Cape was hit with very strong storms. After rock falls, the Franschhoek Pass was closed. My sister sent me these photographs published in the media.

A motorist escaped serious injury on Saturday morning after a rockslide at Franschhoek Pass during rainy weather. Marc Thackwray, 28, suffered a few bumps and scratches but was otherwise uninjured after massive boulders rained down on his car.  Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said the pass was closed because rocks had fallen on to the road. Authorities had to turn motorists away from both sides of the pass.

An additional rockfall took place on July 3, 2019.

Comments Off on Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa

Paternoster, West Coast, Western Province, South Africa

Paternoster is a fishing village set on the Atlantic seashore


Paternoster is a fishing village set on the Atlantic seashore, with whitewashed homes in the mold of southern Spain, but without the mountainous backdrop.  With a population of under 2,000 featuring a foodies delight at a variety of restaurants, art studios for aficionados, bed and breakfast accommodation, self-catering apartments, guest houses, and several hotels.  This seaside resort count swells with numerous tourists to this quaint region year round.  Sadly, on the drive from Cape Town along the coast, we saw that recent droughts had ravaged this region.  The environment provides magnificent walks along the beach and shopping experiences through the town.

Three hundred years ago, Paternoster was known as St Martin’s Bay.  The area was rich in wildlife including hippo and leopard on the land, and the marshes to the east that stretched for miles.  The rocks and offshore islands were rich in guano.  Penguin colonies thrived.

The ancestors of the coastline were the Strandlopers (beach walkers) who roamed the shores and gathered food from the sea to sustain themselves.  The Strandlopers are a Khoikhoi-derived people who lived by hunting and gathering food along the beaches of southwestern Africa, originally from the Cape Colony to the Skeleton Coast.  When the Dutch settled the Cape in 1652, they met these nomads.

Many people believe Paternoster means “Our Father” in Latin.  It refers to prayers by Catholic Portuguese seamen when they were shipwrecked.  Others believe it refers to the beads that the Khoi tribe wore that were called Paternosters.

Paternoster is a sought after tourist destination and is known for lobster and the whitewashed anglers’ cottages. The remarkable coastline of jagged cliffs and white boulders makes this one of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast of South Africa.

The area is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. The town itself has a lobster factory and a newly erected Kabeljou (one of the most targeted edible saltwater fish off South Africa’s coastline) farm, whilst the local people catch and sell herring, or draw mussels from the rocks. In the greater area are several more commercial activities, including deep sea fishing, snoek catching, abalone farming, oyster farming, canning of pilchards and mussel farming. The oyster farm in the lagoon of the neighboring town of Langebaan is currently the largest in South Africa. The first Portuguese navigators (1497-1502) enjoyed the West Coast rock lobster (Jasus lalandii).  By 1902 a full-blown lobster industry was in operation, canning and exporting lobster to France in particular. The West Coast lobster industry generates millions each year and employs large numbers of the local people.

In the 1930s the first Redro factory was erected in Paternoster.  Redro fish paste was developed by the Stephan family in an effort to compete with the already popular Peck’s Anchovette of Britain.  It flew off the shelves when first released and enjoyed nearly three decades of uncompromising sole monopoly in the savory spread market and is now owned by Pioneer Food Group.

The Cape Bokkoms (dried, salted and small whole fish) has been well known in this region and has been a cheap and practical source of protein for centuries. The unique method of preparing and drying fish has grown with leaps and bounds, often for export, in response to the growing demand for the product from South Africa.

When you travel in South Africa, everyone seems to be imprisoned by living in homes with high walls, topped with razor wire, electric fences with an armed response on call.  Paternoster is the exception to this rule.  Not a burglar bar in sight, and total absence of security without the obsession to keep everything locked.  Even the retail stores and restaurants did not have security gates.  We were assured that this is a crime free community.

We were fortunate to get accommodation at Gaby Carstens Dunn’s self-catering “Karibu in Paternoster“, located on Mosselbank Street.  Her Facebook page is here.  We had our own room with bathroom, and a shared lounge with utensils to prepare and enjoy meals.  In fairness, we did not cook but enjoyed the many available restaurants.

Our first-night outing was to Leeto Restaurant by Chef Proprietor Garth Almazan.  Authenticity and local specialties merge with sophistication in both the menu and restaurant design.  Leeto (Khoi language: ‘journey’) stays true to its unique beach location, capturing local flavors whilst at the same time boasting spectacular views.  I ordered a steak and was horrified that I was not offered a steak knife.  When the meal arrived, I was amazed to discover that a regular knife managed to cut the tender and delicious meat with ease.  If I had any complaint, it was that the restaurant was so noisy with the multiple diners participating in animated discussions that I could hear the magnificent classical music playing in the background.

The restaurant at Paternoster Lodge presents a magnificent view of the ocean.  Dealing in crayfish is illegal in Paternoster, especially if you purchase the fish from independent tradesmen who roam the streets.  We witnessed a police raid from our lofty view of the ocean and seeing the illegal traders scattering at the site of police vehicles.  The food was a treat.  Our server mentioned that she was born in the town of Worcester, a 2-hour drive from this village.  Unable to find suitable employment, she enjoys her job and the quieter community of Paternoster.

The Voorstrandt (beachfront) Restaurant is located in a 114-year-old quaint red and green tin house, right on the white sandy beach with panoramic views of the sand, sea, and sky, overlooking the bay.  Seafood was a natural selection for our dinner.  We had the opportunity of taking photographs of the beautiful seashore and sunset from our table.

We used our visit to drive to the lighthouse at nearby Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, in Tietiesbaai (breasts bay).  Tietiesbaai got its name from two large rocks that indeed look somewhat like a pair of boobs.  Those familiar with the Pennsylvania Amish would know they have a town named Intercourse, the junction of two roads.  What is in a name?  Cape Columbine originates from the name of the last manually controlled lighthouse built in South Africa.  This lighthouse, in turn, got its name from the British wooden ship ‘Columbine’, which was wrecked 1,5km (1 mile) north of the lighthouse in 1829.  Built-in 1936 on Castle Rock, it is usually the first South African lighthouse seen by ships sailing from Europe. Its light stands 80m (260 feet) above sea level and casts a beam visible for about 50km (30 miles).  We had two surprises.  Getting into the reserve required an entrance fee.  Getting into the lighthouse to climb the four flights, 98 steps required an additional fee.  The way down requires that you slowly reverse on the narrow staircase.  The view from the top makes the venture worthwhile.

This area is windswept and we were delighted to see a local wind farm.

In a small fishing village, Paternoster on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.  He recently got back from Paris, where his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.  The restaurant is named after the nearby Wolfgat cave – an archaeological wonder containing remnants of an ancient culture, and rumored gateway to underground passages.  Says Kobus: “There is a rich history of early civilization on this coastline, which we find very inspiring.


One disappointment.  On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, I sent an email to Kobus requesting a reservation for lunch on Thursday, February 21st at 12:30 pm.  I instantly received an automated response that read in part “All reservations for Wolfgat are taken online, please visit our website to view available dates and to reserve your table.  Lunch is served Wednesday to Sunday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, by appointment only.”  The restaurant was fully booked through the end of April 2019.  Subsequently, I learned it was fully booked through June 2019.  The 7-course meal costs R850 (US$60) per head and R1,400 ($100) including drinks, with payment at time of reservation.  So yes, I was disappointed I could not experience this wonderful restaurant and chef who operates with a team of eight helpers.

Comments Off on Paternoster, West Coast, Western Province, South Africa

Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa

The Norval Foundation is home to one of the largest privately owned collections of South African modern art in the world.


The Norval Foundation opened to the public on Saturday, April 28 2018.  It is located at 4 Steenberg Road, Steenberg Estate, Cape Town.  Property mogul Louis Norval funded the foundation.  The Foundation’s architecture is as beautiful as the artwork inside.  It is home to one of the largest privately owned collections of South African modern art in the world.  The Norval Foundation houses the Norval family collection, which counts among its archive the works of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, Edoardo Villa Estate Collection and the Alexis Preller Archive, all to be found between the sprawling sculpture garden, outdoor amphitheater, multiple exhibition spaces, research library, restaurant, bar, shop and children’s playground.

We ate at the restaurant twice .  And recommend it highly.  The Skotnes Restaurant is the culinary arm of the Norval Foundation.  Named after legendary South African artist and teacher Cecil Skotnes, the restaurant is naturally at home in the world of art.

To fully appreciate the Norval Foundation, we need to understand the driving force and motivation of Louis Norval, his successes and achievements leading to this welcome addition to Cape Town’s culture.

Louis Norval accomplishments include:

  • educated at Lyttelton Hoerskool (high school), Centurion (near Pretoria, in Gauteng, South Africa)
  • graduated with a BSc (QS) (with distinction) from the University of Pretoria in 1979
  • co-founder, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive of Attfund Limited (one of the largest private property investment companies in South Africa) until the company sold to Hyprop Investments Limited (a REIT listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange) in 2011
  • Managing Director of the Parkdev Asset Managers/Parkdev Group of Companies
  • Executive Chairman of Homestead Group Holdings Limited
  • serves on the board of a number of other companies including:
    • Hyprop Investments Limited
    • a founding member and Senior Partner of Noval Wentzel Steinberg Quantity Surveyors
    • serves as a Director of Stenham European Shopping Centre Fund
    • a Non-Executive Director at Capital & Regional plc since September 15, 2009
    • a Non-Executive Director of Hyprop Investments Limited since September 1, 2011
    • served as an Executive Director of Sycom Property Fund Managers Limited from June 30, 2006 to August 2010
    • served as an Executive Director of Baker Street Associates Holdings (Pty) Ltd
    • served as a Director of Stenham European Shopping Centre Fund from July 3, 2007 to August 16, 2010
    • served as a Director of Baker Street Association Holdings (Pty) Ltd
  • Chairman of Pretoria Country Club
  • represented South Africa in golf in 1979

On a personal note, one of the exhibitions was from David Goldblatt.  David was born 29 November 1930, in Randfontein, and died 25 June 2018, in Johannesburg.  The Norval Foundation featured an hour plus movie of David’s life, his disagreement with the apartheid policies of the white Nationalist government, and his complete disappointment with the corruption that has wracked the African National Congress (ANC), the current black ruling party in South Africa.  Growing up in South Africa, David was a celebrity that we admired.

Click here for more information on the Norval Foundation

Comments Off on Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa

Boyes Drive, Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is not short of scenic drives as you might have seen from the Chapman’s Peak Drive post.  This YouTube video starts on the main or beach road and…

Cape Town is not short of scenic drives as you might have seen from the Chapman’s Peak Drive post.  This YouTube video starts on the main or beach road and exists onto Boyes Drive for a beautiful view as we crest the mountain and descend the other side to provide views that are even more breathtaking.  This 7 km (4 miles) fabulously scenic drive along the mountainside above Muizenberg and Kalk Bay completed in 1920.  (If you watched the Chapman’s Peak video, you will hear the same music.  I did not wish to keep spending money on fresh renditions to support my videos).  Enjoy.

Boyes Drive, Cape Town, South Africa
Comments Off on Boyes Drive, Cape Town, South Africa

Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa

The magnificent Chapman’s Peak Drive

I was born in Cape Town.  There are many sights that are the pride and joy of the Mother City, and its environs.  Linda and I drove the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive today.  I planned to do research but found this perfect website below.  I copied and pasted its content below.  The editing was to Americanize the spelling and insert comments to clarify terms from Afrikaans and to update currency to today’s figures.  The video is 15 minutes in length.  Near the halfway mark, you will see the major engineering work that added safety to the road.  Along the drive observe the fencing used to catch rocks that may fall from above.  Linda and I have driven portions of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California, yet the much shorter Chapman’s Peak Drive has a beauty of its own.  As you read the detail below, it is fascinating to understand the number of challenges that needed addressing over the years prior to taking this leisurely drive..

htmlhttps://www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za/the-drive/history.html

The website linked above provides traveler information such as current weather and road conditions, toll rates, and status if the drive is open, etc. Its historical content is published below with minor editing.

!5 minutes of scenic beauty and an engineering marvel.
As you watch, imagine the feat of creating a road out of the side of a mountain.

Chapman’s Peak is named after John Chapman, the Captain’s mate of an English ship, the Consent. The peak, which looms overhead, was not named after a governor or brave mountaineer, but a lowly ship’s pilot. In 1607 the skipper of the British ship Contest found his vessel becalmed in what is now Hout Bay (wood bay) and sent his pilot, John Chapman, to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions. The pilot later recorded the bay as Chapman’s Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck, becoming official on all East India charts.

In the early 1920’s Sir Nicolas Fredrick de Waal, first administrator of the Cape Province, ordered the construction of a high-level road linking Cape Town with the Southern Suburbs. The roadway (De Waal Drive) was extremely well received. Enthused with the success he called for another road linking Hout Bay to Noordhoek (north corner). Two possible routes were under consideration in 1910. The route over the low neck between the Chapman’s and Noordhoek Peaks was second to the more spectacular route along the vertical sea cliffs.

In 1914 preliminary surveys on the road got underway. Surveying the route was a scary business. The cliffs and ravines were steep, rotten and unstable, and at times the surveying party was on all fours as they investigated the perpendicular terrain. The route over the neck appeared to be no better, and the project appeared to be expensive and a ‘mission impossible’. De Waal however, would not take no for an answer and eventually he ordered the ‘go ahead’ for along the cliffs which appeared, at the time to be the better option.

The road was cleverly planned with the road surface based on the solid and conveniently located 630 million-year-old Cape Granite contour, while the many roadside cuttings would be carved out of the more workable Malmesbury series sediments.

In 1915, with the use of convict labor supplied by the newly formed Union Government, construction began from the Hout Bay end, and in the following year, work began from Noordhoek. The first portion of the road to the Lookout was opened in 1919.

This spectacular roadway took seven years to complete, at a cost of ₤20 000. (₤100 million in today’s currency, or US$130 million).  The Hout Bay – Noordhoek Road ‘hewn out of the stone face of Sheer Mountain’ was opened to traffic on Saturday 6 May 1922 by the Governor of the Union of South Africa, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught.

In 1962 a section of the road was widened, and in 1977 a portion of road was washed away, and subsequently the road was closed on 14 May, after a large section was washed away and the damaged section was replaced by a bridge at a cost of R150 000 (R5.5 million in today’s money or US$ 400,000).

Road Closure in 2000

In 1994, Noel Graham was injured and partially paralyzed in a landslide incident on Chapman’s Peak Drive, which resulted in a court case against the Cape Metropolitan Council who was the road management agent at the time of the incident. In February 1999, a High Court judgment was given against CMC for negligence in the management of the road. The matter was appealed by the CMC but the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in November 2000, thus reaffirming the Cape High Court’s decision, and CMC was ordered to pay all claims and costs.

Amidst increasing concern for public safety and legal liability, the South Peninsula Municipality (SPM) – the new road management agent appointed in 1997, established a sub-committee of officials from the local, metropolitan and provincial authorities to guide the management of Chapman’s Peak Drive, who instigated high visibility rock fall warning signs to be erected on Chapman’s Peak Drive during 1999. The sub-committee also adopted a specific Chapman’s Peak Drive closure policy which inter alia stipulated that the road had to be closed to traffic in rainy weather (very light drizzle excluded) and remain closed for a number of hours after cessation of any rainfall and until deemed safe by SPM’s road management staff. This closure policy/procedure was implemented by SPM’s road management staff with lockable booms put in place to prevent unauthorized entry.

On 29 December 1999 however, a falling rock caused the unfortunate death of a Noordhoek resident. In early January 2000, Ms. Lara Callige was killed, and a passenger in the same car seriously injured in a rock fall incident on Chapman’s Peak Drive in good weather conditions when the rock fall risk on the road was not considered to be high. This was of serious concern to the local and provincial authorities alike and emergency meetings to discuss the closure of Chapman’s Peak Drive were held between the relevant political bodies. Before a decision could be taken on the matter, and still in January 2000, the worst mountain fires in many decades raged in the Cape Peninsula, including in the mountains above Chapman’s Peak Drive, causing numerous rock falls onto the road and effectively rendering the road impassable.

Because of these incidents, Chapman’s Peak Drive was officially closed to traffic indefinitely by the Provincial Minister of Transport in January 2000.

Development 2000 – 2003

Based on the recommendations of geotechnical specialists, the Provincial Administration’s Transport Branch made available funding for “rock barring” (a term used for removing loose or dangerous rocks) of the mountain slopes above the road to make them safer. Contracts for this work were awarded in March 2000 by the SPM.

It soon became apparent that the rock barring process deemed would take substantially longer than originally anticipated and cost commensurately more. The work was thus stopped in May 2000 and an integrated environmental management process (IEM) was put in place with the goal of producing an agreed management plan for Chapman’s Peak Drive by mid-2001. The IEM process brief required management to include:

  1. the improvements deemed necessary to make the road safe for users,
  2. a strategy for managing/operating the road,
  3. recommendations on funding sources for capital improvements as well as the continuing operational needs.

At the end of April 2001 the IEM process had included:

  1. A review of the initial “rock barring” work which concluded that some rock barring may be necessary for the final upgrading process, but the “clean sweep” approach could not be condoned and the selective rock barring also would have to be accompanied by various engineered rock fall protective measures in order to make the road safe for users.
  2. A comprehensive stakeholder workshop in September 2000, which identified and agreed to various improvements and protective measures, which needed to be implemented on Chapman’s Peak Drive with the overriding and urgent requirement to re-open the road to traffic as soon as possible being supported by all participants.
  3. A detailed site survey of the road itself and mountainside above and below the road to facilitate a concept design proposal (areas covered by rock and the time had to be omitted).
  4. Completion of various concept design proposals incorporating some or all of the following elements: rock barring, catch fences, rock gallery protection, concrete roof protection, existing structure repair, road surface, and layer work repair, slope stabilization work above and below the road, etc.
  5. Public meetings were held in late November 2000 to present the status of the project to the general public in the Hout Bay and Noordhoek Valley areas and obtain relevant feedback from interested and affected parties, and further meetings in March 2001 presented the progress on the project.

The IEM process was guided by a project management team consisting of officials from the Provincial Administration, Western Cape, and officials from the City of Cape Town’s South Peninsula and CMC administrations.

Public-Private Partnership (PPP)

The legal road authority for Chapman’s Peak Drive is the Provincial Administration Western Cape (PAWC) realized early on in 2000 that financial limitations would be the single biggest stumbling block to the safe re-opening of Chapman’s Peak Drive to traffic. To solve these financial problems the plan was to implement a public-private partnership and proclaim the route a Toll Road under the Western Cape Provincial Toll Road Act. The feasibility study concluded that the majority of the costs attached to the Chapman’s Peak Drive reopening and operation could be obtained through tolling the road and that a public-private partnership with a concessionaire demonstrated value for money in terms of the risks transferred to the private sector.

The Chapman’s Peak Engineering Group Joint Venture was awarded the tender after being shortlisted and the project was overseen by Entilini concessions – the special-purpose company established by the consortium of Concor Holdings, Haw & Inglis and Marib Holdings.

The Joint Venture included Vela VKE Consulting Engineers, Meli & Du Plessis Geotechnical Engineers, Stewart Scott International, Zietsman Lloyd Hemsted and assisted by Megan Anderson Landscape Architect (environmentalist); OvP& Associates (landscape architect); Dr. Ross Party-Davies (geotechnical specialist) and Prof Rolf Kratz (structural design specialist).

Due to its sensitive location within the Table Mountain National Park, an integrated environmental approach to the rehabilitation and upgrading of Chapman’s Peak Drive was required. See details on the engineering page of work that was undertaken to ensure that rock fall protection measures were put in place along with an advanced traffic management system.

2003 – Present

After intensive design and reconstruction, Chapman’s Peak Drive was re-opened to traffic as a toll road on 20 December 2003. The opening was a welcome return for the drive as an “international tourist destination” complementing other tourist destinations in the Western Cape. Local businesses also welcomed the re-opening.

The new rock fall measures were however put to the test, and during July and August of 2004, three rainfall incidents occurred of extremely high intensity. A total of 396mm was recorded in the 2 months, compared to the mean annual precipitation for the area of 740mm! Shortly thereafter several debris slides and rock fall incidents occurred, resulting in damage to the catch fences and Chapman’s Peak Drive was closed for 55 days to clear the debris and replace the 4 catch fences.

The much-loved road was back in the news when Chapman’s Peak Drive was once again declared unsafe for road users in June 2008 and the drive was closed for major upgrades and repairs. The construction work took over a year and was eventually re-opened on the 9th of October 2009. Chapman’s Peak Drive has remained open since then, albeit with temporary closures for routine maintenance and during dangerous weather conditions.

Comments Off on Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa

Arabian Horses

The photographs represent 10 of a heard of Arabian endurance horses on my brother-in-law and sisters farm Areli Arabians, a stud farm situated among the majestic Langeburg (long mountain) near…

The photographs represent 10 of a heard of Arabian endurance horses on my brother-in-law and sisters farm Areli Arabians, a stud farm situated among the majestic Langeburg (long mountain) near Montagu, Western Cape, South Africa.

For more information go to Facebook: Areli Arabians.

The poem below, is by the late South African, Roy Campbell.  Naturally there is no relation between the Arabian and Camargue breeds.

Horses on the Camargue

by Roy Campbell

In the grey wastes of dread,
The haunt of shattered gulls where nothing moves
But in a shroud of silence like the dead,
I heard a sudden harmony of hooves,
And, turning, saw afar
A hundred snowy horses unconfined,
The silver runaways of Neptune’s car
Racing, spray-curled, like waves before the wind.
Sons of the Mistral, fleet
As him with whose strong gusts they love to flee,
Who shod the flying thunders on their feet
And plumed them with the snortings of the sea;
Theirs is no earthly breed
Who only haunts the verges of the earth
And only on the sea’s salt herbage feed-
Surely the great white breakers gave them birth.
For when for years a slave,
A horse of the Camargue, in alien lands,
Should catch some far-off fragrance of the wave
Carried far inland from this native sands,
Many have told the tale
Of how in fury, foaming at the rein,
He hurls his rider; and with lifted tail,
With coal-red eyes and cataracting mane,
Heading his course for home,
Though sixty foreign leagues before him sweep,
Will never rest until he breathes the foam
And hears the native thunder of the deep.
And when the great gusts rise
And lash their anger on these arid coasts,
When the scared gulls career with mournful cries
And whirl across the waste like driven ghosts;
When hail and fire converge,
The only souls to which they strike no pain
Are the white crested fillies of the surge
And the white horses of the windy plain.
Then in their strength and pride
The stallions of the wilderness rejoice;
They feel their Master’s trident in their side,
And high and shrill they answer to his voice.
With white tails smoking free,
Long streaming manes, and arching necks, they show
Their kinship to their sisters of the sea-
And forward hurl their thunderbolts of snow.
Still out of hardship bred,
Spirits of power and beauty and delight
Have ever on such frugal pasture fed
And loved to course with tempests through the night.

Ignatius Royston Dunnachie Campbell, better known as Roy Campbell, (2 October 1901 – 23 April 1957) was a South African poet and satirist. He was considered by T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Edith Sitwell to have been one of the best poets of the period between the First and Second World Wars.

 

Comments Off on Arabian Horses

My School Days

Rondebosch Boys High School 2013 50th Class Reunion. My rugby photographs with coaches, left to right: youthful me, Mr. Laidlaw U10A,  Mr. (Mousy) Clive Young U15C, Prof. Tinkie Heyns U15C, Mr….

Rondebosch Boys High School 2013 50th Class Reunion.

My rugby photographs with coaches, left to right: youthful me, Mr. Laidlaw U10A,  Mr. (Mousy) Clive Young U15C, Prof. Tinkie Heyns U15C, Mr. Sam Wiggett U16B, Mr. Willem Dieperveen U19. 

Laidlaw (U10A) Back: Peter Barrett, Chris Munday, Hugh Hodge, Fred Versveld, Owen Ashley, Malcolm McCrosty, Center: Frank Einhorn, John Barry, Derek Van Den Berg, Mr. Laidlaw, Richard Morris, David Taylor, Roydon Wood, Front: Bruce Ferguson, Lindsay Kennedy, Payne, Crisp

Young (U15C) Back: Morris, Swart, Duckitt, Versveld, Owen Fletcher, Clive Downton, Chris Buyskes, Mark Swift, Center: Block, Russel, Eric Wells, Jeff Leeuwenburg, Tony Monk, Sapieka, Barber, Front: Richard Frantz, Chris Matchett, John Barry, Mr. Clive Young, Johan Walters, David Cohen

Heyns (U15C) Back: Richard Frantz, Chris Matchett, GC Botha, Alex Cohen, Clive Downton, Center: C Latham, Owen Fletcher, Bruce Ferguson, Andrew Joubert, JAM Garisch, Fred Versveld, Front: MJ Russell, John Barry, Prof Tinkie Heyns, Hugh Hodge, Neil Tuchten

Wiggett (U16B) Back: De Wet, Stephens, Fred Versveld, Botha, Swart, Neil Robinson, Chris Buyskes, Center: Frank Einhorn, John Barry, Keith Payne, John Dew, Cramton, Anton Starke, Johann Mostert, Front: Peter De Villers, Owen Ashley, Mr. Ron Wiggett, Chris Steyn, Rousseau

Diepeveen (U19?) Back: Murcott, Geffen, Versfeld, Steyn, Block, Kyle, Brinkworth, Bernard, Hayden, Schrire, Middle: Barry, Edwards, Fletcher, Niehaus, Stanton, Meyer, Pocock, Russell, Lisegang, Front: Rossiter, Sapieka, Van Boxel, Theron, Frantz, Garrish, Monk, Mr. Willem Diepeveen

In March 2013 we celebrated our 50th high school class reunion.  Neil Veitch, a class mate, recommended that we publish a book “In a Class of Our Own”.  His rationale was simply that as we assemble class friends from all over the world for a day or two of celebrating and socializing, we really don’t spend sufficient one-on-one time to get updates from everyone.  The book addresses that situation and provides recollections of life at Rondebosch Boys Preparatory and Rondebosch Boys High School.  We canvassed our cohorts and about 80, or half, responded with copy for the book.  Neil, an English teacher, provided the final edit, and working together with recently deceased friend John Hill we assembled the book and had it published and printed in Cape Town.  The text below was my contribution, now 4 years old since 2013.  I made a few minor updates, (usually bracketed) to allow this recollection to remain current.  I made some annotations to make the text understandable for American friends.  One quick comment about the way our classes were arranged throughout school.  We stared school in Sub A followed by Sub B.  Those were the “pre-standard” classes.  Grade 1 and 2.  Junior school then ran from Standard 1 through Standard 5 (grades 3 through 7), and high school Standard 6 through Standard 10 (grades 8 through 12).  To complicating matters, Standards 6 through 10 were represented alphabetically by classes A, B, C, D, and E.  So our senior year was Standard 10, or E, and appended with the year.  So our cohorts were E63 since 1963 was our graduation, senior, or matric year.  I thought clarifying some of these cultural differences may benefit readers.  Happy reading.

My twelve years at Rondebosch were a stable and happy time in my formative years.  It had its ups and downs, but when I reflect on those times I rate them positively.  Getting into Rondebosch was in itself a story.  My parents were both raised in Afrikaans homes.  My initial home language was Afrikaans until at about the age of 4, when my parents decided that I would have a better future in the country (South Africa) if I was raised English.  My dad liked to joke that the only two English words he knew were “yes” and “no” and he frequently confused them!  Our home language remains English to this day.  I clearly remember the day that my mom put on her best dress and took me to meet Mr. Roche Enslin, the principal of the Preparatory School, (or Prep school as we called it).  He had a colorful carpet in his office and asked me to point out the lilac color, which I did, passed the test, and was accepted into Rondebosch.  My mom was particularly proud because we had a neighbor who could not get her boys into Rondebosch.

My bilingual background did benefit me; I think it was about Standard 3 (grade 5) that I won the class prize for Afrikaans.  I recall one prize that I could not win in the lower grades.  Some boys were rewarded because they stopped biting their nails.  I could never qualify because I was not a nail-biter.

Life was not always easy at Rondebosch.  Neither of my parents completed high school, both came from humble backgrounds.  We lived poor until I was in Standard 8 (grade 10), when my parents moved from a rented house to our own newly-built home.  My dad (who passed away at 93 in November 2013) worked extremely hard putting in significant overtime to provide for us.  When my two younger sisters were old enough, my mom went to work to supplement the household income, and that helped save money for our new residence.  I never had excess clothing.  In fact, I never had anything but black school shoes to wear part of the strict school uniform—a single pair at a time, which was only replaced when I outgrew or wore them out.  I remember all too clearly walking in Claremont Main Road (a suburb of Cape Town) and seeing Martin Furman walking along, wearing brown shoes and I was amazed that he had anything other than black shoes!  (Martin later explained to me that his brown shoes were part of his dress code required for his instructions at his synagogue).  I was good friends with Jack Garlick.  His parents had a chauffeur Cornelius.  My mother would die a thousand deaths when Cornelius showed up to drop Jack to play at our humble abode.  Cornelius would fetch me sometimes to play at Jack’s home.  I remember attending a birthday party for Gregory Coplans.  They served Coke for refreshments.  I drank so much of it that I could barely eat any of the food served.  Fizzy drinks were not a normal part of my diet.  I took part in athletics and fancied myself as a runner.  My dad borrowed a pair of running spikes hoping to give me the edge I needed.  I practiced diligently the night before the race on the Ackerman’s Sports Field off Keurboom Road.  The next day I was too stiff to run a good race.  While at High School, my mother bought me a Barathea blazer.  I was very proud of my expensive possession.  I was sitting on the wall across the river near the swimming pool one lunchtime with my hands in the side pockets when a friend (a medical doctor today and I’ll protect his identity) pretended to push me.  I ripped my hands out the pocket to steady myself and tore a gaping hole across the jackets back from one pocket.  My mother had it invisibly mended—but it was never the same again.

I think back about two teachers.  One, an English teacher who will remain anonymous, requested us to write a creative essay for homework.  I clearly remember the effort I put into that piece of prose, handing it in with much pride.  A day later the teacher asked me to read my work aloud in class because he had never read such rubbish in his life.  Without exaggeration, that incident affects my confidence to write good English to this day.  My job requires that I write extensively.  I am currently writing specifications for a new software system and have already produced 800 pages with an equal amount to go.  Then too, I (no longer) write a monthly blog for my business website.  The other teacher was Willem Diepeveen, our geography teacher.  I was blessed with the name Johannes Christoffel Barry, a family name passed down from my grandfather, uncle and numerous cousins who are similarly named.  I always thought it a bit dumb because all my family members went by John, JC, or Jan (pronounced yun).  We had to provide Willem with our full names and I was reluctant to blurt out mine.  He told me to stop being stupid because he too had an Afrikaans name.  However, there was a second and more important event.  Our knowledge was tested and I did not do too well.  In class, Willem said to me “John, you are capable of doing so much better.”  That was my wake-up call, and a comment that I respected so much that I made contact with Willem and his wife Yvonne a few years ago to say thank you.  I don’t believe teachers fully appreciate the influence, for better or worse, they have on their students.  By the way, when you arrive in the US, you can take any name you want without any questions asked.  I am now officially John Christopher Barry.

My dad was about as mild-mannered a man as you will find anywhere.  He did not ask too much of me other than I should never take up boxing.  My dad was a boxer in his day and although he was good he also learned to hate the sport.  He was a taller and a bigger build than me.  At 93 he shrank a bit and was quite thin.  I rarely saw him get angry.  I was in Standard 9 (grade 11) when our gymnastics teacher and rugby coach decided that a number of us needed to be taught a lesson.  I was captain of his rugby team, and we were in for a caning.  I cannot remember what we had done wrong.  While hitting me the coach made some stupid remark about promoting me from captain to corporal.  When I got home that night, my dad had to help me get my underpants off because the blood had congealed into the fabric and was even more painful to remove than getting the cuts had been.  The anger in my dad swelled up, and he was ready to go to school and beat the living daylights out the coach.  The only way I could stop my dad was to warn him that the Standard 9 (grade 11) tests were more important at Rondebosch than the matric (grade 12) results.  If I did not score well I would not be promoted to Standard 10 (grade 12).  Allowing the situation to escalate may have been reason for the teachers to make me repeat the year.  With that, he let the matter rest.  My Standard 9 results were of the best of all my school years.  I do remember studying hard and taking those tests seriously.

Attending a boys’ only school had it disadvantages.  I was deathly afraid of girls and never dated any until after High School.  The matric (senior) dance was a problem for me, who would I ask?  Jennifer Flowers lived a few doors from us.  She was a very attractive girl and I plucked up the courage to ask her.  She accepted.  My dad borrowed a tuxedo from his brother and, though it was an ill-fitting garment to say the least, it had to do for one night.  As much as I liked her, I never dated Jennifer again.  A similarly named Gennifer Flower claimed to have had an affair with Bill Clinton, and during that 1992 scandal, it brought back High School memories.

I was friends with Leon Boonzaier and in Standard 8 (grade 10) I visited him at his house when he had distant relatives staying from Pietersburg (now Polokwane in Limpopo).  Rina Lister was there with daughter Linda.  I recall sitting on a lounge chair opposite Linda and at 16 was quite smitten.  I met Linda again through Leon when I was 21.  Linda had moved to Cape Town to be in a bigger city and to be watched over by her aunt.  I asked her out the instant we met up again, and our first date was to the opera Carmen at the Alhambra Theater in Cape Town (no longer in existence).  After the performance, we drove to Muizenburg to walk on the beach.  It was a late night, or early morning for us.  Linda was working as a conveyancing secretary for Balsillie’s law firm in Cape Town.  I was at the head office with Mobil Oil in the computer department as a programmer.  We dated for 4 years, and after 41 (now 46) years of wedded bliss (?), somehow stayed together.

At some point during Standard 6 (grade 8), Ernest De Wet encouraged us to take woodwork and metal work if we planned to go on to university to study engineering.  This class covered engineering drawings.  Since engineering was my likely path, I followed his recommendation.  Once I got to varsity I learned that Richard Franz (if I remember correctly) was headed to study engineering but his parents had advised him to take pure physics and chemistry at school as that was a better track for engineering.  I learned a valuable lesson 5 years too late.

When I see what is going on in schools in the US today, I can only look back in gratitude at the opportunities we were given.  Today in America, it is all about budget cuts, no money for physical education or other lessons or activities deemed unnecessary.  Most sports are after-school community affairs if the parents are interested in getting their kids involved.  Many parents try to make ends meet by both working with little opportunity to run junior around.  I have spent most of my 43 (now 48) years in the computer field, love technology like iPhones and iPads, and am quite amazed to see how even my granddaughters proficiently operate iPads.  I clearly understand the dangers of kids getting home and playing computer games and not socializing or exercising, so adding to the obesity crisis facing our kids today.  I believe it is up to the parent to keep moderation in the lives of their offspring, but too many attempt to sub-contract these responsibilities and blame the schools and teachers for all their issues.  I see with my four granddaughters how my son and daughter work to keep a healthy balance, but parents too are in pressurized jobs calling for long hours on the job and turn to us grandparents for support.  We are blessed.

The concept of uniforms came home to me recently while in Bangalore, India.  My (then) business partner is Hindu, but his 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter attend private Catholic schools.  We were talking education and cost for their kids’ education is not cheap, but includes the school uniform.  They are each at single sex schools, and made clear to me that the students are from all social strata; rich and poor alike.  I was shocked to learn that the son is one of 66 children in his class with a single teacher.  In my case, I was in class with Peter Goble whose father was an executive at an oil company, while my dad was a supervisor in one of the operations.  What a contrast.  I also remember an incident where one of the principals was called to ask how many Jewish boys attended Rondebosch, only to be told “they are all Rondebosch Boys.”  The diversity there was another great big plus for the school.

One talking-point in America is the cost of a university education.  Many leave university with a significant debt burden.  Linda and I are from the old school.  Our daughter Robyn earned a double major in International Business and Spanish graduating cum laude.  Our son Sean graduated in computer engineering summa cum laude.  Both attended expensive private universities, and left without debt.  Both married spouses with university debt.  We are proud of being able to provide our kids with a great education, and their contribution was to take their studies seriously.

I set a goal at 21 to have my own business.  I knew the constraint would be that it would have to be brainwork because I did not have a nest-egg I could draw on.  That became a reality when I turned 36.  My first consulting company in South Africa was my springboard to getting a position in the US in 1986.  I started business number two in the US in 1988, closed it in 2005 when I ran out of money.  I started my current venture in 2009, but now only operate as a one-man band.  I no longer need the responsibility of employees or worrying about people issues and making payroll.

In reality, I have given my family a torrid time with constant moves.  We have had apartments and homes in South Africa: Claremont, Sea Point, Johannesburg, Germiston, Pietersburg, Rondebosch, Tokai, and Edenvale.  In the United States: Brookfield, Wisconsin where we lived in 3 different homes, and finally to nearby New Berlin where we are in a condominium.  At least I can attest to the fact that we are adaptable!

Linda and I have a daughter, Robyn, married with identical 5-year old (now 10) twin girls, and a son, Sean with two girls aged 3 and 6 (now 11 and 8).  I remain motivated to succeed in business (or to move into the next chapter of retirement).  My inspiration is to design a new computer system being developed in India at present.  (That task was completed and I had the pleasure to help sell it).  My area of specialization is supply chain management inventory systems for manufacturing, wholesale, distribution, and retail companies, the highest investment for these companies.  My functional role includes: education, training, consulting, project management, business process re-engineering, software architect, and sales.  Rondebosch Boy’s was my springboard to lifetime success.

Comments Off on My School Days

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search