Animal farms of South Africa


The cable car winds its way to the top of Table Mountain which sits beside Cape Town. The year is 1977 and we are close to the southern tip of the African continent. As we glide towards the table-top there appears to be a shimmering movement in the rocky side of the mountain. It cannot be the different light projection as there are no clouds and the skies are blue and clear. We have to wait till we get off the cable car and search the ground and there it is – small animal barely 50 cm long. By asking around we find out that these are the Dassie (Rock Hyrax), which remind me of the quakkas inhabiting Rottnest Island off the coast of Fremantle WA, which have about the same clearance between the ground and their bellies and the same length. Because of my height I command a much larger vista than those small creatures and what a view it is: a large expanse of the Indian Ocean, the whole layout of the city with the suburbia spreading from the flat below and up, as a sort of a necklace around the hills. Beyond, we have the African continent, the home of some 50 nation states, reaching into the distance. Kaapstad – the Afrikaans version of Cape Town is a delightful town, with multiculturalism at its highest. A US and an English newspapers describe it as ‘the best place in the world to visit’. The town also lies on the same latitude as Sydney – hence a warm climate.


The Cape Coloured people are the most distinctive ones in the Western Cape Province. They are a mixture of whites and all kinds of non-whites and include former slaves. When the whites dispensed with racial democracy the coloureds still retained partial representation in parliament for a short time, but they, the Indians and the Blacks had to wait till 1990/1994, to have the suffrage granted when apartheid was abolished. The coloureds constitute about a third of the population of Western Cape and a little over 8% of the total of the South African Republic.



I came mainly to see some animals – rather larger than the dassie – and I armed myself with a number of books written by both Boer and English scribes and I detected a tension between those two. No wonder, they had wars starting in 1795 and culminating in an English victory in 1902. The second major war created several new expressions: One - Concentration camps (the herding of Boar families into compounds– so that they could not supply food and weapons to the roaming Boer fighters; and Secondly - the commencement of guerrilla warfare, by swiftly moving Boers who knew their terrain well and bothered the British no end. Lord Baden-Powell a military officer gathered a group of boys, trained them as forward scouts for reconnaissance. This group relieved the siege of a town named Mafeking. Lord Baden-Powell wrote “Scouting for boys” and this book was later used to start a world-wide movement – The Boy Scouts.


The country is modelled very much after Eric Blair’s (sorry George Orwell’s) Animal Farm, where the species of Homo sapiens of different hues and colours certainly have unequal rights and powers. Or, in other words - all humans are equal but some are very much more equal than others. That same principle applies to the Animal’s Animal Farm. My observations relate to two Animal Farms. One called Homo sapiens and the other to all the other living creatures.


Our trip to South Africa starts with a visit to Cape Town, which coincidentally celebrates its 325th anniversary whilst we are there. It was in the year 1652 that the Dutch settled here and created a victualing station for the Dutch East India Company. It became a stopover and “way station” for all traders and many of the ships of other colonial nations and soon many more. It started to supply water, vegetables, meat to all and sundry as well as giving a welcome break to weary sailors.


  Afrikaans history maintains that there were no other nations or tribes present and it would appear that only a small numbers of Bushman were within cooee of Cape Town. There were also some Khoisan living there. The whole western world took a liking to the small Bushmen, thanks to a very natural and tolerant movie made by the South Africans entitled The Gods must be crazy’). The Zulu, Xhosa and other Bantu tribes were on the march from the North East and when they reached Cape Town they managed to maintain a population ratio of five Bantus to one Boer for many centuries. Some authorities claim that the Boers liked this idea as it meant that they did not have to toil so hard in the fields. The Boers, who prefer to be called Afrikaners, are a combination of Dutch, Germans and French Protestants (Huguenots). The Afrikaans language sounds very Germanic. 61% of the white population speak Afrikaans and 36% speak English.


A short drive from Cape Town takes us to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. We leave our car on what appears to be a sloping and undulating meadow leading to the Cape and proceed to walk. We come to a slight rise which shelters a little depression with about 15 head of animals unknown to me. They are slightly smaller than cattle and 3 of them seem to be larger, they are bulls, and obviously guarding the rest of the herd. Not having seen any springboks before I (wrongly) assume that they are springboks and only decades later when I looked at pictures of animals did I discover that they were Cape Buffalos, supposedly quite cranky and dangerous. Phew!!! What danger did I inflict on my Loyal Spouse when I took her for a walk in this unknown wilderness of Cape of Good Hope? (Which actually looked so innocent and peaceful). As it happened the head buffalo just appeared to blink at us, wiggled his tail and continued to munch the plentiful supply of grass around. We just took a slight detour and continued, unmolested and quite ignorantly unafraid. Mama Mia! Yes, we did get to the Cape of Good Hope, which is not quite the southern-most point of Africa, but very close.


It is time to say good-bye to Cape Town, we do have some 3000 km to cover and the next trip is via a Garden (pronounced Gordon) Route, which will end for us in Elizabeth, where we hop on an aeroplane to fly over an area named Transkei and land at Durban. The first stop is Stellenbosch, which stands for University with 25.000 students, good wine and for me some very nice coloured prints. On all my travels I look for local art – of the tourist variety -  and this town is the only one that I found to have some good quality prints) I bought four depicting the Cape Dutch architectural style, which I found most  attractive. It has white, ornate, rounded gables, usually two perpendicular wings and a thatched roof. The Governor who built this town named it after himself – Stel.


The next point of call includes The Bontebok National Park. It is the smallest of National Parks and has only 20 Bontebok out of a total population of some 1500 antelopes in the country. They are of many unusual but very pleasing colours and it was a worthwhile stop. There are many kinds of antelopes or gazelles (or Boks) very similar to the European deer, including springboks, impalas and kudus. The country we drive in belongs to the low-lands or Lowveld. In the inland where the elevation rises to 1500 m to 2100 m we are on a plateau called Highveld and we need to watch the octane level of the petrol we have in our car.


Approaching the Little Karoo region we branch off to an ostrich farm. These farms used to supply feathers for fashionable clothing, hats, decoration and of course the Folie Berger outfits. Nowadays, ostriches are of greater use for meat and skins. The other farm income comes from tourists, who would attempt to ride them, having previously ridden other exotic animals like horses, donkeys, mules, elephants and camels. We are invited to stand on top of an ostrich egg but are warned about what smelly experience we may be inviting if the egg is bad.



     Further down the road we come across an area which grows a type of wood suitable for furniture. It      is a stinkwood also known as Cape Walnut and it has indeed an unpleasant odour. Regardless, we        were tempted – but we resisted - bravely. We pass Knysna and George and finally reach Port                Elizabeth, where we board a plane

    For Durban. As the apartheid government created a region called Transkei, an “independent” Bantu (     black) state within South Africa, tourism was discouraged and

    We were asked to fly to Natal, a city on a latitude similar to Brisbane, lying well in the sub-tropics. It     was only a through-town – and in fact we should not have entered it, except for my poor navigational     skills. We asked some locals how to get out of town and were told to go to the next robot and turn         left. That created a momentary bout of panic until I realised that the traffic light we were approaching       must in fact be the robot (and it was).

The next chapter will talk about the Province of Natal, national parks including Kruger), Victoria Falls and Johannesburg and comments about racial relations comparing the South African Republic to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).



Copyright © Henry Zehr 2013