This trip was the result of an urge to get away and think about the future following the worst episode that I have experienced since being in South Africa. Zuma was jailed and the Zulu people decided to go on the rampage. They looted stores, burnt down warehouses, destroyed trucks, schools and clinics in an orgy of destruction whilst the police stood by dumbstruck. For a number of days, I was confined to my apartment, men took to the streets armed to patrol and defend their families and properties. Shops were closed, then opened with a minimum of stock and people queued for hours to get basic foodstuffs. Some farmers made deliveries of basics. Eventually things returned to a semblance of order but there is always the lingering thought that this can reoccur.
So, Patrick and Carol intend to have a look at Spain and Portugal to live in 2022 and I have decided to go with them. This trip was to discuss and plan as well as seeing some more of South Africa.
I first had to drive 700 kilometers through the Transkei to Port Alfred with snow on the distant peaks; as always in South African towns lines of people were queuing trying to access their benefit money from post offices and banks. The ANC is now talking about a Universal Grant as currently we have thirty five percent of the working population unemployed. Of a population of 60 million, 18 million receive social grants, almost a third. There is a declining base of taxpayers, 1.6 million are shouldering the bulk of all the income tax paid. This is no way to run a country.
The approach to Cape St Francis is via a squatter camp, shanty settlements with long drop toilets next to the road and pigs ferreting amongst the rubbish. This is in contrast to the splendid houses built next to the sea many of which are empty as holiday homes for people in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The village is clustered around the lighthouse and walking paths either along the beach or in the fynbos with the rocky headland giving us sights of breaching whales and dolphins swimming through the breakers. We climbed up the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse and needed a strong coffee in the pleasant restaurant after the vertigo inducing views at the top.
Nearby is a development built around canals and we visited friends doing a complete refurbishment of their house. Building activity was going strongly as people move from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to quieter towns having discovered during Covid that they can carry out their business remotely.
Nearby St Francis Port is a pleasant mixture of apartments and working harbor leisure craft and fishing boats catching squid, hake and pilchard. We had a cup of tea with friends who told us that Cape clawless otters are seen regularly together with good bird watching.
Jeffries Bays is made famous by Super Tubes, a world-famous surfing break and is now a straggling town with plenty of surf shops. It’s unrecognizable from the village that I last visited thirty years ago on a surfing safari with my sons.
Rain was forecasted for the next so we decided to change our plans and move inland to the dry Karoo until it cleared.
We drove through the Langkloof valley with orchards of apples and pears below the high mountains and stopped for a coffee at the “Sweaty Dutchman café” in Kareedouw, a small picturesque village. He was sweating inside together with his clientele and greeted us all with a handshake. Carol, as per normal, engaged the locals in a discussion about the state of the nation. We eventually carried on the 300 kms to Oudtshoorn along often dead straight deserted roads past orchards and vineyards. On passing from the Eastern to the Western Cape it’s immediately noticeable that the road surface improves and the lay byes are neat and clean.
Oudtshoorn is a town built around ostrich farming and its history. We’ve all seen the sights before so this was more or less a stopover. We stayed in a beautiful renovated cottage and the owner told us that she had taken a leap of faith after the death of her husband and moved here from Cape Town and derived her income from a number of sources as well as the rental from her cottage.
We carried on to Beaufort West through the spectacular Meiringspoort , a winding 16 km pass through the soaring Swartberg mountains. In this area the mountains are” folded “; you can see the volcanic plate movements in layers. Once again it was evident to see the neat well-kept parking with braii areas and toilets.
The N1 highway from Cape Town goes smack through the middle of Beaufort West; at first, we thought our apartment was in the middle of some warehouses but in fact we found it down a small lane directly off the main road; an old Cape Dutch cottage with a garden like an oasis from the growling trucks passing by. The owner and his wife are sheep farmers in the Northern Cape; drought has made farming difficult so they are investing in property, renovating the old historic buildings and letting them out for travelers.
The Karoo National Park is an arid but beautiful mountainous reserve; we didn’t see many animals but that’s not surprising as the grassland is so sparse. We climbed up the Klipspringer Pass and talked to a family who had been photobombed the previous day by a black rhino. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a 4×4 because the trails must be awesome.
We travelled on to Prince Albert; a small village in the middle of nowhere with beautifully renovated Cape Dutch houses. The owner of our cottage told us that the property market has taken off during the Covid 19 epidemic as people from the cities realize that they can carry out their business from anywhere. Her husband is a builder and their large garden had lemon and olive trees and veggies grown with hydroponics. The town is fed from an aquifer system from the river running from the Swartberg mountains.
We travelled up the Swartberg pass, a 24kilometer gravel road built by Thomas Baines which at times reaches 1 in 8 with hairpins and passing points for on coming traffic. At the bottom I looked up and saw retaining walls up the hill; I thought these were to stop avalanches until I saw a car driving next to one. I didn’t think we would make it but a steady pace in 1st gear was fine. At the top the we were in the clouds and the wind was howling.
We descended down through Oudtshoorn and George and stayed two nights in Knysna. This is a well-known South African resort with a small rough passage of sea water between two towering headlands. The inland lake and environment are beautiful but the town has lost character with the building of a shopping mall destroying the quaint old shops. Likewise, Plettenberg Bay is a soulless resort, lots of empty upmarket houses next to wonderful sandy beaches and an iconic hotel.
We drove back along the N2 through the Garden Route to Cape St Francis again and stayed a further three nights. This is the windiest area of South Africa, whilst we were there it blew non stop either from the East or West with gusts up to 75Kms/hour, perfect for the wind farms in the area. This is a big retirement area with lots of grey heads in the Spar.
We drove on to Port Alfred, an affordable small town and another enclave for retirees.
Finally, I had a ten-hour drive through the Transkei once more, dodging horses, cows, goats and sheep along the way. I counted five dead dogs by the road.
Covid 19 has changed South Africa; those that can afford it have moved to coastal towns and carry their business on line, whilst unemployment has increased to unsustainable levels and poor people spend their lives queuing for the Government handouts.