Elephant meets dinosaur

2009-05-11 00:00

There’s nothing like travel to broaden the mind, and Wimpy’s Cheesy Chutney burgers to broaden the backside.

On a recent journey around South Africa, I drove through a bunch of odd towns, from the very small to the pretty large. And many of them I’ve never heard of.

Lykso in the North West Province, for example, although that might be a farm. For non-Afrikaans speakers, that’s translated as “Looks Like This”. Now in a country that has indulged in incredibly literal naming of things, this is the absolute quintessence of that impulse.

So we’ve got rivers called the Mountain River, the Wide River, the Big River, the Dry River, the River That Doesn’t End, and probably one called the Wet River. But with Lykso, or Looks Like This, we have a place that allows you to fill in your own description. You actually have to go there to understand the name. This is either a philosophical statement of the highest order, or insanity.

And close to Lykso, we have Reivilo, which was apparently named after the Reverend A. J. Olivier in 1918, with his surname reversed. Could this be the first example of Satanist backmasking in South Africa, if not the world? Why on Earth would you honour a reverend by naming a town after him, but reverse his name? Christian humility? Backhanded insult?

The Limpopo Province also has its fair share of crazily named things. There’s a hotel called Multiracial Happy Homes Hotel Cheapside, which I guess is spot-on branding for the parsimonious rainbow nation, but a little clumsy when you’re answering the phone.

The For A Change Hotel is also very new South Africa, with just a hint of Dr Phil McGraw.

The main reason for my journey around our beautiful and bizarre country was to visit the north of the Kruger National Park, and take a post-election break from politics, scandal, gerrymandering (which we don’t actually do in South African politics any more I think, but I’ve always wanted to use the word), and basic bullshit.

But you know what — you can’t ever get away from politics. So even though I’ve asked readers the question on Twitter and Facebook: “Should I write about politics or lions this week?” and the overwhelming response was “lions” (well, it was actually warthogs, but any animal will do), I’m still going to have to write something political. Elephantine and political.

So I’m sitting at a waterhole, watching an elephant drink. It’s no ordinary elephant — half its trunk has been severed, so it looks kind of sad and weird. That must knock a good few years off its life expectancy. But it’s surviving, and living its life as best it can. A bakkie pulls up next to me as I’m filming the elephant.

I’m focused in on the jumbo, and then I pan back to follow it as it leaves the waterhole. Next thing I know, there’s an old South African flag in my viewfinder. It’s on a shirt worn by the bakkie driver, and it’s one of those De la Rey tees, asking the question: “Who will come liberate the boere?” Funny, I thought Nelson Mandela had already done that, but I guess we’re talking a different oppression now.

So it’s a one-minute video about how an elephant with a crippled future meets a man with a crippled past. That might be a bit simplistic, though. The De la Rey cry is probably because he feels he has a crippled present. Or he could just be an arsehole who likes to wear the old South African flag.

Either way, it’s a useful little allegory, about survival, about life, and about how there’s suffering wherever you look. Which I’ll leave to others to pontificate about. Why should I do all the work?

Oddly enough, driving back to Cape Town along the N14, I pass through Delareyville, and find I’ve missed the Generaal De la Rey Fees — starring the evergreen Bok van Blerk — by two days.

Delareyville was formed in 1913, so that local farmers wouldn’t have to travel for five days (exactly the number of days I spent driving on this trip) to attend church. I’m sure General Koos would have been proud of their ingenuity, but perhaps less proud of South Africans who flaunt the flag of our racist past.

— News 24.

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