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The extremes of the ‘Cape to Cairo route’

SOUTH AFRICA | Saturday, 22 October 2011 | Views [670]

South Africa displays the extremes between the pleasures of its beauty and the misery of its lowly in a way that makes one believe that the universe is as it should be. Otherwise how could magnanimous stretches of bare lands framed by infinite mountains, cheerful skies over congested shanty towns, and laid back Dutch towns overlooking warm sea waters all be a destination to be probed and enjoyed?

It is a vibrant and beautiful country that still writhes from the throbbing scars of its past. Sprawling shanty towns and squatters inhabited by the poor black populace litter the peripheries of every town. The locations of these areas excluded the blacks from partaking in the continued civilization of their native country during apartheid and still do so. Good Sanitation, good schools, electricity, good housing and clean water are often hard to come by. 

Soweto is however one of shanty towns (KASI in township Slang) that has managed to shed off its old skin and has over the years metamorphosed into a vibrant city. Located just outside Johannesburg, it is the most populated township in South Africa, and its growth is connected to the discovery of Gold in 1885. The inhabitants of Soweto pride themselves on being urbane and streetwise and are precisely so. Travelling in this part of South Africa should thus be done with the help of a guide.  Most residents here are rooted in the metropolis and are detribalized, speaking a mix of all the 11 South African official languages. It is a ‘location’ like any other in Africa and bears no special way of living that is peculiar only to a place of its kind. It is however a special township for it is in Soweto that the first democratic president of South Africa and Nobel peace Laureate Nelson Mandela lived. His house has been turned into a museum and filled with collectables from the man himself. Those who are inspired by Mandela would thus find this township exciting.

The zigzag of shacks and chatter of children, chickens, women and blaring taxis in the main road of the ‘dark side’ of Soweto could be to a person who has never been exposed to such, an interesting place. Poverty is a tragic, but to those that live in it, it seems but a normal way of life. I guess it is true that contrasts are essential to teach us life. The people have never known any other better life, now how can they know and appreciate any other life? To them burglary, killing to get what one wants is acceptable and customary.

Discarding civilization or a lack of it, a ride along the N1 reveals treasures and wonders of nature at every glance. Shanty towns and the buzz of Johannesburg are left behind as one travels south of the country. The N1 road is a partial realization of the Cape-to-Cairo dream route and joins Polokwane: a city where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Botswana and runs all the way to the coast of Cape Town. Expect to experience four seasons as your travel down this road. Temperatures vary between 35 degrees Celsius and 9 in summer and from 30 degrees to ‘snowy temperatures’ in winter. The scenery changes as does the temperature. A green mat of earth and green mountains around the greater Johannesburg area changes into red dust of earth and bare mountains as you go down the road towards the Karoo. The name Karoo originates from the Khoisan who inhabited this area before the arrival of white settlers and means ‘dry land’. The Khoi left behind their striking and defined rock paintings in Beaufort West and Nelspoort along the N1 and they truly are admirable. Some Stone Age sites are also to be enjoyed around these areas. The dramatic Karoo villages and towns show the amazing laid back and pristine life of this part of South Africa. Here one experiences blazing summers and icy winters. The area is said to have over 9000 plant species. The ground periodically becomes covered by yellow flowers as far as the eyes can see as one continues along this road. Yellow vibrant flowers, which I long to lie on and breath in.

The amazing and dreamy Karoo National Park is situated right in the middle of this expanse of land and is said to have a part of 9000 plant species and the endangered black rhinoceros.

Tags: cape town, karoo, soweto

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