It is hard to capture several weeks in South Africa in three minutes. We traversed several wildlife parks including Thula Thula, the park established by Lawrence Anthony the author of The Elephant Whisperer. In Pilanesberg (a self-driving park) armed with water, snacks, and our camera we spent the day maneuvering our compact rental car up dirt tracks and down dry river beds periodically passing signs that read, “Do not get out of your vehicle. Dangerous animals.” Within feet of elephants, lions, rhinos, water buffalo, warthogs and other animals we sat quietly in awe.
While in an open jeep tracking two young lionesses we realized that we had inserted ourselves between them and the prey they were stalking. The wild elephant matriarch and her herd at Thula Thula are described in detail in Anthony’s book. We were lucky enough to encounter her and her family on two different days. To meet her and look into the eyes of a 30-year-old elephant whose story we had read, as she considers you across a few feet of open space was incredible.
We spent two days and a night in Soweto with a family whose elders were forcibly moved to Soweto when the Apartheid government demolished Sophiatown, a thriving mixed race area in Johannesburg, in 1955. We toured Soweto with a woman who had been a student in the Soweto student uprisings of 1976 as a young girl. The youngest of the students marched in the front of the protest in hopes that police would not fire on them. Between 200 and 700 students were killed that day. Our guide was shot and subsequently arrested and interrogated.
And, we spent some time in a shantytown with a young man and his brother. They live in one of the hundreds of shacks; no plumbing, no heating, and one electric light run off of a hotwire that is tapped into a nearby electric pole. The government places portable toilets around the periphery of the town that are emptied twice a week. Drinking and cleaning water is drawn from communal taps.
In contrast to our time in Soweto, we spent two nights in an airbnb with an Afrikaner host, a semi-retired financial and political journalist who spent 30 years writing for an Afrikaans language daily paper, in one of the most affluent section of Johannesburg. He shared a direct and articulate critique of today’s ANC and its current leaders. A critique that aligned with what we heard in Soweto and elsewhere.
There is a sense that the ANC is living off of its legacy. One black activist we spent time with in Soweto argued that the racial apartheid of the past has morphed into an economic apartheid that benefits current corrupt political leaders, regardless of race.
Our adventures and experiences in South Africa rival anywhere else we have been.