Some impressions of South Africa after 8 weeks and 5,000kms (and 3 visits over the last decade)
- The countryside is beautiful and ever changing -from the green wine growing areas of the Cape to the subtropics of Kwa Zulu Natal to magnificent Drakensberg mountains of Lesotho, the arid areas of the Free State and Northern Cape. It is a big country, but not as vast as Australia of course and like a microcosm of Australia scenery wise. The two countries are oh so similar in many respects….
- Whilst the main roads are generally pretty good, some things are very modern and progressive and shopping malls impressive, it is not quite “1st World” any longer. Not 3rd World. More like 2 ½ World? There is a sense of gradual deterioration of infrastructure about the place.
- Although we were cautious in the big cities (like Durban) and in the large towns, we never once felt threatened or hassled in any material way and mixed with the locals and camped out freely (but always in camping grounds, never “bush camping”).
- Most South Africans we met, both black and white were very friendly and most helpful in general. Of course the occasional surly face, but not often. The friendly waves of the children, especially in the Transkei and Lesotho made us feel good. It almost became tiresome answering questions about our trip when people saw the strange number plate on Tin Can, but not quite. We loved it! We made quite a few good South African friends from the Land Rover masochists we met in the camping grounds.
- Although large sums of money seem to be spent on sizeable projects and facilities and the world-class tourist areas like the National Parks, little seems to be spent on day-to-day maintenance of many ordinary things. Suburban streets and buildings in country towns that were once obviously well kept now have an air of gradual decay and neglect about them? Potholes in the streets and weeds in crumbling gutters. It’s like “don’t fix it until it’s totally broken”.
- The bigger cities have become very “African” in the city centres – with the middle class moving to the outer suburbs and living in high class “malls” and housing estates. Strip shopping has all but disappeared. City centres have become run down and grubby.
- Whilst the middle class is certainly growing, there is still a huge wealth gap between rich and poor. It is hard to correlate the Kyalitsha shantytowns with the Sandtons and Camps Bay of the country -and the well off ANC/government officials riding around in their black BMW’s with the crowded public transport?
- Population growth must be the scourge of Africa (if not the Planet)? The Transkei particularly seemed to be a sea of little huts and shanty’s compared to memories of years ago? The cities and towns all seem to now have large shantytown areas attached and wandering masses. The Government might build 5,000 new houses a year for the poor, but 20,000 new babies are born? There seems no hope of ever catching up?
- Don’t try and do things in too much of a hurry. The country is definitely moving to “Africa time”. Patience is needed.
- It’s still a great country to visit and to camp out in, with some of the world’s most magnificent scenery and well organised caravan/camping parks! The wildlife and the National Parks make the place!