David Moseley

Are you South Africa-proud?

2013-05-07 14:03

David Moseley

I'm sitting now in Grahamstown, top on my list of favourite places in South Africa (pushed to round out a top three, I’d opt for the Grabouw/Elgin region of the Western Cape in second place while third goes to the Railway Stand at Newlands Cricket Ground during Test season. However, if Australia are playing and AB de Villiers is whacking a 160 to all parts, then Newlands jumps right up to number one).

Sadly, outside of the Rhodes University campus, the town appears to becoming somewhat derelict. Broken buildings, filth and unrepaired roads seem slightly more prominent than they did when I lived in town around 14 years ago.

Mentioned previously in this column, high walls and barbed-wire fences now skirt properties more frequently and aggressively than they did in the late 1990s. This is not a criticism, just a casual observation from an outsider, but also fan of the town.

While the university looks to be thriving, with its positive growth, smart buildings, clipped lawns and trimmed hedges, life outside the glass tower appears less glittery. There’s a level of grime and muck in the streets of town that’s jarringly absent from the Rhodes campus.

A mini-adventure

Anyway, I write this not to single out Grahamstown or Rhodes for unnecessary finger-wagging or to say that it’s in some kind of decline (it appears to be booming, judging by the number of KFC outlets), but rather by way of introduction to a lengthy road trip I just enjoyed.

Starting in Grahamstown, for it’s a very good place to start, my wife and I travelled to Nottingham Road in KwaZulu-Natal for a wedding.

On a whim, and thanks to the exorbitant, extortionate cost of flights to Durban, we thought a drive through the Eastern Cape and into KZN would not only help us save some cash, but also take us on a mini-adventure through parts of South Africa that neither of us had previously experienced.

Also, I’m a huge fan of driving around South Africa, even if only to witness different slices of local life for a fleeting instant. Just that tiny snapshot can make you feel more South African.

We drove towards Queenstown, then on to Kokstad via Maclear, Mount Fletcher and Matatiele. From Kokstad we drove via Underberg towards Howick then finally to Nottingham Road on a manic stretch of N3, complete with kamikaze lorries vying for every inch of highway space with each other – without a doubt the most hair-raising part of our 10-hour journey.

Each of these places vaguely struck a chord when I looked at the map while plotting the trip, though none were as I expected when passing through (though Underberg, with its show-jumping and polo event on the go as we whizzed past, was exactly as I imagined – whiteys swanning around on horseback while the bulk of town hangs around the petrol station).

A grand place

The towns, of course, are all blips on the map and the mind. But life goes on away from the fabulous delights of the V&A Waterfront.

The beauty of the drive, really, is in the staggering mountain passes you wind up and over, hints of the Drakensberg coming into view on your left (as you drive towards KZN), with wide open expanses of nothing on your right. It’s green, it’s hilly, it’s vast – and to me - utterly unheralded.

What a grand place. What a massive chunk of rarely eulogised landscape, certainly in a modern context.

Which, much like my trip, in a long-winded way, brings me to my point. Do we do enough as South Africans to appreciate South Africa? Are we encouraged enough to travel these roads to learn more, to experience more, to accept more that we are so different and so far apart sometimes.  

We’re quick to complain when something goes wrong, which is almost every day. But very slow to appreciate what we have around us. We’re quick to jump on a flight special to Turkey, but perhaps not so enticed by deals to the middle of nowhere in our own backyard.

Are we South African-proud?

Don’t get me wrong, I love an excursion to Europe as much as the next middle-class hobo, but how about some kind of national action to get us all to see what happens outside of Sun City?  

In a way, this brings me back to my observations of Grahamstown. How sad it would be if we simply spent all day tending to our new fences and plush lawns, while ignoring what happens on the outside.

We’re all very house proud and, to an extent, neighbourhood proud. But are we South African-proud?

If my long haul though the desolate, dirty, beautiful countryside taught me anything (other than always pack at least three packets of biltong for a 20-hour return drive), it’s that maybe we’re not.  

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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