South Africa is a land of great contrasts with big modern cities and dirt poor townships. Yet when people speak about the country it’s usually about the Big 5 animals like lions or a golden sunset on a wide open Savannah landscape dotted with Thorn trees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a fan of seeing elephants, lions etc as anyone but what also interests me about a country is its people and history.
I recently traveled through the Eastern Cape as a guest of South African Tourism and found that the Wild Coast Jikeleza Route from East London offers travellers a good mixture of experiencing culture, wildlife and landscapes.
There are far fewer other travelers in the Eastern Cape than more well known commercialised areas of South Africa like Johannesburg or Cape Town and it provides a chance to meet a wider variety of South African people.
Post Apartheid South Africa has 11 official languages and is known as the Rainbow Nation because of all the different tribes and cultures which are represented in it’s population. The names of towns and cities reflect the mixed nature of society with some names in Afrikaans, English names from Great Britain and traditional tribal Xhosa names. The Xhosa were the tribe that inhabited much of the Eastern Cape prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Although there is a vast difference in wealth between the rich and poor what struck me was how cheerful the people were. Even the poor people and children you drive past smile and wave and there seems to be a common enthusiasm for singing and playing music amongst South Africans of all colours.
Another thing that I noticed was it didn’t matter how poor the town we were driving through was. All the children were well dressed in school uniforms even if they were walking to school on a dirt road for quite a distance. Education is rightly seen as one of the most important ways to reduce poverty in the future.
I learnt a lot about the current state of affairs in South Africa and the history of the Eastern Cape from our tour guide and driver Rob Prentis from Edge World Tours. His stories about life pre and post Apartheid, battles between the Xhosa and white farmers long ago and the lives of famous politicians who came from the Eastern Cape like Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Steve Biko were enthralling and very honest.
After 20 years of ANC rule much has been achieved but much also remains to be done. Unemployment is a big problem. Not just because 1 in 4 South Africans are unemployed but because these people need lots of housing and social services to be provided by the government which in turn needs more tax revenues to pay for it’s expenditures.