The first interracial killing in South Africa

It was late afternoon and as I travel back from Mossel Bay to the guesthouse, a strange mist unravels. This dirty grey haze is fed from the mountain overlooking the harbour and stretches far out into the beyond. About 20km eastwards, the same eerie grey mist kisses the foot of the Outeniquas as the Groot Brak Rivier guides it onto the Atlantic. In the distance, these two snakes meet and intermingle presenting me with a spooky yet stunning scene.

Racism is an inbred characteristic in South Africa. In no ways am I saying that we are the “world champions” of it. I would actually go out on a limb and call us the least racist country in the world. However, our colourful history bares testament to the want of a privileged few wanting to oppress others based solely on skin colour. Yes, this was legislative for the best part of the 20th century but this extends further right down to personal interactions you have with the general public. It all started in Mossel Bay.

My arrival into Mossel Bay was pretty eventful. These eventful endeavours tend to cause hunger. My quest for food landed me in a rather large pub just down the road from the guesthouse. I walk in. Intimidation engulfs me. I order what turns out to be a damn good vegetarian lasagne. My wait in the bar shows me the source of this intimidation. It’s an Afrikaner bar with clientele encompassing all the important demographics and stereotypes. Everyone in the bar is white (with the exception of the people behind the counter.) I gaze upon rugby jerseys, beer boeps and bad 80s hairdos. The intimidation weakens me. I finally get my food and leave.

None of the people in the bar actually stared at me disapprovingly. They merrily enjoyed the good beer and good food that flowed all night. That was it.

Bartholomew Diaz is credited with being the first European to set foot on South African soil. After his ship was ravaged along the shoreline of the Cape of Storms, on 3 February 1488, his ship landed at Aguada de Sao Bras which was later named Mossel Bay. For this, they named a museum here after him. A really cool exhibit in the museum is the life size replica of a giant squid caught in the area. The tales of the Kraken from myth weren’t totally unfounded. Outside the museum sits the Posboom or The Post Office Tree. Mossel Bay in past years was an important oasis for weary travellers on their way to procure spices from the East or one’s returning with these procured spices. Letters were left under the tree in a boot to relay news to other travellers. This tradition became a rather great quirk and nowadays you can send a postcard to a loved one by posting it into the (concrete) boot sitting under the tree.

The date 3 February 1488 also goes down as the day the first interracial killing occurred on South African soil. When Diaz and his fellow Portuguese brethren landed at Mossel Bay, the native Gourikwa were naturally scared of these alien persons. When they returned to their ships, the tale goes that the Gourikwa proceeded to throw stones at the ships that were docked. Being the 15th century, the only way to deal with this is to arm your crossbow and make it a permanent fixture to the sternum of aforementioned, stone throwing Gourikwa.

After the visit to this museum, I went off to the mall to find some breakfast. I happened across a home industry shop. This is where I purchased some, “Nikkerbols.” So I was wrong all my life. Great…

I’ve been a beach person for the bulk of my life. Living on the other type of reef has not diluted my love of the ocean. I’ve seen many a seaside town with either its quaintness or the splendour of beach side mansions. The Mossel Bay precinct stretching from Glentana all the way to the town is littered with immense houses. Kilometre upon kilometre is strewn with endless villas each trying to outdo the next in terms of size. Many dwarf the best that Umhlanga can throw at you. The architectural style is 70s and 80s. Being mid-June, many of these dwellings are asleep – biding their time till their occupants embark on their long journey to the coast to fulfil the annual pilgrimage that they’ve undertaken since their childhood with new additions that are now of age to start this tradition with a generation that is yet to set eyes on this wonderful coastline.

Driving back that night, I missed a turn and drove down a dark service road. In my headlights I glimpse a black family walking, in great summer clothing, hand-in-hand. A dog barks at them as they disappear into a greater darkness.

Did I mention it is June? I feel bad.

This road trip of mine was done to expose myself to the beauty of South Africa. Instead, just like my contemporaries that traversed the N9 in their VW Fox, I’m here on a hedonistic trip down a foreign path into a land that I shall now exploit. Some say I am here to support an economy that shall feed the locals that toil on these lands. These locals aren’t locals anymore. My contribution to this economy builds and grows this land into an ever expanding balloon. The land I now walk on is a Protea Hotel that once belonged to the family that now travel into a land far off that is foreign to them. They don’t live in Mossel Bay or Glentana or Fraai Uitsig. Just like Hoopstad in the Free State, the twin town is their home. They have been banished – expelled from this prime real estate because they have committed the crime of poverty. Poverty is dealt with in amazing ways – when someone is robbed of water, electricity, sanitation, a roof over their head and/or comfort and warmth, we fix this by taking away their dignity as well. Or at least, our pets do this as it is beneath us…

The blood that dripped from the Diaz arrow left a stain of fear on our land. From the outset, we have lived in a nation filled with fear. Racial fear has been entrenched into our psyche. It is part of us – an evolutionary dead end kept alive because there is no way to get rid of it.

Society has tried to change over the last few years of democracy. Our kids don’t see colour anymore. Your eight year old son will bring home his “girlfriend” one day to play in the garden. This act alone will cause your great grandparents to turn in their graves. It might make their corpses explode when said son, now being 25 years old, brings home this same girl but this time, as his fiancé.

Instead of getting rid of this racism, we, instead, have fed it and made it grow into something larger than it was. Ye olde nemesis – money – is now an integral part of the racism that infects society. As the race groups of our country slowly (an emphasis on slowly) reach an economic equilibrium, we have found new ways to segregate people.

Just like the apartheid government created the Bantustan homelands, we too create pockets of wealth that exclude those that don’t have a Platinum Credit Card. We boom off these suburbs and construct shrines of consumerism equipped with the obligatory Woolworths Foods. Outside these islands, we segregate the ones outside. We move away infrastructure from them or put infrastructure in-between that increases the cost of living. And seeing that this is not enough, we build low-cost houses ensures that we have several generations of workers being bred to serve and enrich our greed.

Maybe it is because we all live in fear. Maybe it’s this fear has allowed us to embrace incredible progress. Maybe out of fear of not having water to drink that we built the Gariep Dam. Maybe the fear of not being able to cross the dam made us build Bethulie Bridge. Maybe the fear of losing contact with Cape Town that we built the N1. Maybe it is out of fear of being poor that we dug a kilometre into the ground to find diamonds.

But it may be this fear that made me feel uncomfortable in the pub. It made Diaz shoot the Gourikwa. It made us ensure that there is a world where another human family has to walk at night, in the cold whilst our pets ensure there miseries are amplified.

I wish it could be different. I really do…

Blue Crane

My parents always used to love the sunrise. During winter (and partly because my siblings and I were too lazy to wake up so early in summer) my parents used to wake us up at around 5h30 on a Saturday and we used to take a drive down to North Beach in Durban. Armed with the Skottel braai and an extremely excessive amount of clothes, we set off to the beach. As the sun rose, the smell of eggs and bacon being lovingly prepared on an open braai wafted through the promenade enticing the early morning joggers as they scuttled along. I find it quite funny that kids always complain to their parents about experiences like these but when we are all grown up, they actually want to do exactly that.

I remember the first time I was in Cape Town during summer. As it was a family holiday, my siblings and I were lazily messing about when we looked at the time and compared it to what we believe the sky should look like. The whole thing where it’s 8pm and it’s still as bright as the afternoon gives you quite a shock. This whole messed up time zone issue has the opposite effect in summer. My yearning for this sunrise experience means I wake up pretty early to catch the sunrise. My guess of 5h30 was a bit off. I reawaken at 6h30 and well, it’s still pitch black! I finally get out of bed at just after 7h00 and only then does first light creep through the cracks of cloud to adorn the sky with its faint twilight

Okay enough about this romanticised sunrise, the geographical location of Mossel Bay means that unlike Durban, the sun rises from a point above some hill perpendicular to the sea. It was very much a non-event and I did some mental swearing (okay, it was verbal) when I realised that I had woken up so damn early for nothing. The sun was actually supremely lazy and actually appeared not to rise! Nevertheless, even though Mossel Bay would be the most westward sleepover, my travelling spirit coerced me to soldier on. It knew that there was something special coming along today…

I have love for industry and how humanity has used their ingenuity and intelligence to extract so much from the earth and make such amazing use of these raw materials. Take the computer you are staring at right now – most of the insides are made from sand that went through a complicated process that extracted the silicone in order to provide the chips sitting under your fingers. Mossel Bay is home to PetroSA. They are responsible for most of the petrol that you use in your car. A rather large refinery is stationed at Mossel Bay with some of the crude being provided by the offshore drilling outside Mossel Bay. I’m not entirely sure if drilling still takes place. The actual refinery is one of pure industrial beauty. Behemoths in the distance cloaked in the morning haze whilst the towering flares pierce through the fog, proclaiming their power through the clouds.

Just next door to PetroSA is the Gourikwa Power Station. Named after the inhabitants of the area when the Portuguese discovered Mossel Bay, it’s one of the newest power stations in South Africa and is a gas-fired Station. Unlike the coal and nuclear stations, this one works on the exhaust gasses of diesel (or a similar gas.) These types of power stations give us some of the highest efficiencies for fossil fuel power stations and are pretty common in Texas and the Middle East. This is simply because diesel there is abundant and cheap. This is exactly why South Africa has coal-fired stations – we have one of the biggest coal seams in the world so we use it for our power generation. Anyway, this station and its sibling, Ankerlig Power Station in Atlantis, are used as Peaking Stations – when the demand for electricity cannot be met by the base load coal stations, these stations fire up. They can start generating in just a few minutes and are great at supplying immediate electricity. The downside is that the running cost of these stations is exorbitant. These stations were built for several billion Rands but the hope is that the stations will never be used. This might not make sense to you but when you’re working with this much of electricity and money, having an expensive but reliable back up plan is a GREAT idea.

Anyway, a traveller can only marvel at the man-made world for a limited time. As I head westward, I take a dirt road down to Vleesbaai and Fransmanshoek. I’m assuming some French dude did something important (or not) at this point. That’s just a hunch…

The waves down at Fransmanshoek had the echo of traffic on a freeway. The sound was so much purer and in this pureness, came a brilliant tranquillity. There is such a sense of serenity and solitude here. I decided I want a house here.

The dirt road down to Fransmanshoek is littered with various ostrich farms. I’m assuming a lot of these birds are destined for the Global Wrapps menu. However, a strange site catches my eye whilst driving past one of these farms. On an open field, a flock of around 50 of these strange, wild and blue creatures merrily strut their stuff like models down a runway. On closer inspection, this is none other than our national bird, the blue crane. A weird feeling of pride engulfs my innards as I see them in all their natural glory. These birds are truly majestic. As i get off the car, they sense me and as I walk, they threaten flight until they have a 50 or so metre barrier between them and I. They truly are national VIPs complete with this eloquent, regal persona.

The bird is now classified as vulnerable with an estimated 27000 remaining in the wild. Compare that to the 6 billion people on Earth and you will figure out that is a rather small number. The reason is pretty much the same as for most other animals – human encroachment onto their territory. Being such an amazing national symbol, there is heavy government protection afforded to this animal and hopefully this shall help this bird thrive.

These seriously are such beautiful creatures. I sat on my car just watching them for several minutes before they decided that their present location wasn’t suitable and they flew off, again with the grace of royalty. The sense of pride and joy that these birds brought to me lingered within me. We can only hope that these birds can continue giving this feeling to many, many future generations…