Tag Archives: South Africa




As some of my readers already know, I’m a fan of Postcrossing, the international postcard exchange club. This week I was given an address for Lucy in Taiwan as my next card’s destination. On her profile, Lucy suggested members list 5 words to describe their country, assuming the prospective senders couldn’t think of anything else to write on the back of the card.

I thought this was a great idea, pondered for a day or two and this is my list to describe South Africa:


1. Beautiful
2. Complex
3. Frustrating
4. Warm hearted
5. Dangerous
Number 1 was easy: we have natural beauty in abundance. Great contrast too, from coastal to bushveld, to semi-desert. Magnificent mountains.

Number 2 – complex? We’re an uneasy mix of First and Third World Countries, which leads to a host of problems on every level – social, financial, educational, developmental, ecological – in fact any and all levels you can think of.

Number 3 – Frustrating? Very! Try getting anything done. Mundane stuff like repairs, or renewal of licences, or a visit to any public, government institution. Unnecessarily time consuming and un- productive. Maddening.

Number 4 – Warm hearted: is there a crisis? Another fire in a shack settlement? The public rallies round for water/food for the fire fighters , and shelter/food for the newly homeless.

Number 5 – Dangerous? For sure. We have one of the highest crime rates in the world, sorry to say. Let’s just leave it at that.

Which five words would you chose to describe your country?





Catching up on my WordPress Reader I found a number of Bloggers reviewing their 2017 blogging year. At one end of the spectrum was the unbelievably dedicated, productive Alec Nevala-Lee who revealed he has written a 1 000 word blog post every day of this year. Respect, Alec! How did he do it? We all know perfectly well how he did it. He single mindedly sat down and applied himself until his daily piece was written. This, mark you in addition to his work as a novelist and freelance writer.

At the other end of the spectrum I read a post by 746 Books in which Kathy confesses that 2017 was not a productive blogging year for her. She said it had been difficult to carve out time for writing on her blog, and that her reading (she’s a bookworm, like me) progress had been unsatisfactory. She wondered whether she should stop blogging altogether? These salutary thoughts on her 4th Blogoversary.

I know how she feels. Whilst I am not in her league when it comes to compulsive book buying, it is a factor in my life. Let’s face it, I’m more of a reader than I’m a writer. Then I read Ann V Klotz post titled Writing is Everything. Do I feel that way? No, I don’t, but part of me wishes I did. The title is a little misleading, in that she details the myriad events that keep her from the keyboard. I know the feeling well!

I am experiencing December fatigue after a busy year. The end of November and beginning of December are always hectic in South Africa. On 16 December the entire country pretty much shuts down – industry, the building trade, anything that is not retail or hospitality related. Try getting anything done between now and 08 January 2018. Fuggedabtoutit, as the Americans say. So the build up to 16 December is frantic. Everyone trying to get projects completed before shut-down. Social clubs and organisations cramming in their year-end staff parties/thank-you ceremonies/ etc. By December 16th the nation is in a soggy heap, ready to go on holiday and start (or continue) partying.

Do I feel like blogging? Not really. Hopefully by January 2018 I will have rested and recovered, enjoyed a relaxing Christmas Family Visit in Durban, and be ready to resume my blogging . Meanwhile: Wishing all a peaceful Festive Season with your families and friends, and a happy, healthy New Year.
Over and Out.

Oooops, no, not quite. My alter-ego and companion Chocolat has a few scornful final words to add to my post: She says: My Personal Assistant should do as I do . Life really is so simple : find a comfy, sandy spot under the shady karee tree, and relax. Saunter indoors for a cooling sip of water and then continue napping on the PA’s feather duvet. What’s all the fuss about?









One of the many recent political spats in South Africa, and trust me, these happen on a daily basis, is over our new Finance Minister taking his wife with him on an official visit to Paris. Questions are being asked: why was Mrs G in the official party? What did she contribute? Etc.

All good questions, seeing we are talking about apparently  (yet more) wasteful expenditure of our hard-earned taxes.

And somehow my aged brain dredged up the mischievous memory  of a married couple I knew way back in the mid-60s. He was a jockey, so naturally he was a very small man. His good wife was a very solidly built formidable Afrikaans lady, almost twice his size. My husband told me there was much mirth in the Jockeys’ Change-room, when the husband confessed that he never ever took a bath unless his wife bathed with him. Together in the bathtub, you must understand. Given his tiny size and her large size, I’m sure they both  fitted nicely into the bathtub. Despite my questioning I never discovered whether she washed his back? Massaged his aching muscles? Or maybe she saved his skinny little bod from vanishing down the plughole ? Who knows?

Now our new Finance Minister appears to be a very slender man, so maybe his good lady is a dab hand with the bath sponge?  We will never know, but maybe it’s a reasonable pretext for taking your wife with you to Paris on a business trip? Let’s face it, which woman doesn’t want to visit Paris?

But, and it’s a reasonable quibble,  preferably not at the South African Taxpayers’ expense.



Flash Fiction

This short flash-fiction piece needs an intro. The story is very South African and will probably not convey much to outsiders. ‘

MAKWEREKWERE is a (derogatory) term applied to all black foreigners. Xenophobia is alive and well in our complex country. 

Oddly enough all car guards are from the Congo. Also occasionally from Burundi. Why this should be, I don’t know. Speak to them in French, and they’re your pal for life.  Yes, we have Car Guards in all public parking spaces – to prevent theft and car-jacking. Like I said : a complex country. 

The reason Ouma (Grandma) Swart is scowling is because she’s from the bad old days, when no black man would put his arm around a white woman.

I hope this mini-story is now clearer to foreign readers. P.S. You learnt quite a bit about South Africa in this intro, didn’t you? Not much of it to our credit, sorry to say. 



“Calmez vous!”  begs Alphonse, the Congolese car guard, tentatively putting his arm around the raving woman’s rigid shoulder. Ouma Swart  scowls disapprovingly, from her car.  Bee-ba, bee-ba: The cops jump out of their van.  “Los haar!” yells the cop, hand on his weapon. “Non, Non!” squeaks Alphonse, hands raised, backing off rapidly. “You are mistake – I am help!”

“Ja,” confirms the burly man exiting Sportsman’s Warehouse “the lady ’s drunk; been shouting in the parking lot for the last ten minutes; car guard’s just trying to help”. Alphonse rolls a relieved eye.  Why, oh why, did he ever leave   Kinshasha?



THE ORCHID THIEF – Susan Orlean Book Review


For years I’ve been promising myself that when I’m in my dotage, housebound and no longer able to run around like I do now, I shall grow orchids. It’s something I’ve always fancied doing. However, I’m now having second thoughts, having read Susan Orlean’s account of all things orchid related in Florida, USA. Although, let’s face it, I don’t see orchid growing in Cape Town, South Africa, being one-hundredth as exciting as orchid growing in America.

It’s an extraordinary book.  No wonder it featured on the New York Times Bestseller list – I’ve never read anything like it in the non-fiction category. And by the way, difficult to believe it is non-fiction.  The book is hot, steamy,  lush  and colourful just like the Florida Keys where some of the events (I nearly said ‘action’) takes place. Throw in the  local Florida Seminole Indians who claim rights to anything on their tribal land i.e. the muddy, gator infested swamps, where orchids flourish. Add a band of orchid thieves, smugglers, growers and collectors, add a few adjectives like: manic , obsessive, passionate, and  conniving and you’ve got my  liveliest non-fiction read of 2015.

From early 1800s  to  the close of the 19th century, the heyday of orchid hunting and collecting, the chapter is titled “A Mortal Occupation”,  aptly titled, because the casualties were legion. Orchid hunting in the jungles of South America and Asia was perilous, ruthless, dangerous, life-threatening. If not from tropical disease, dangerous wildlife, hostile inhabitants then there were the  other orchid hunters to contend with. Many of the exploits of the orchid hunters read like episodes from an Indiana Jones adventures.

A Victorian orchid Grower, living in Britain  Frederick Sander, was ruthlessly competitive. He employed professional  orchid hunters who routinely gave up their lives to fuel his passion. His chief adversary was a German collector Carl Robelin, and these two Victorian orchid hunters went to extraordinary lengths to secure rare plants.

That old buccaneering, adventuring attitude to orchid collection appears to live on in the world of orchids.  The 21st century  orchid scene is rife with  burglaries, swindles, and  shenanigans  which would fit well into any of Carl Hiaasen’s Florida crime novels.

Who knew such beautiful flowers generated such passion, such criminality? Who knew that modern orchid shows attract orchid fanatics, some of whom are millionaires; some of whom bankrupt themselves in pursuit of their passion? At its height, in Europe, mid 1800s, the orchid craze surpassed the Dutch tulip craze of centuries ago.

Maybe I’d better start my orchid growing project now, whilst I’m still strong enough to fight off rival collectors?

Don’t miss this book: its hugely entertaining and informative. The book is not that recent, it was published in 1998, but it’s worth hunting down. (In the true spirit of orchid collecting!)




Filed under BOOK REVIEWS


Not being fond of Struggle Literature, I’ve avoided her books. I recall a huge hullabaloo over her novel The Innocence of Roast Chicken, (a best-seller in South Africa in 1996). I remember the PC brigade hated it. Quite why, I never discovered. But she has continued to write and this is her fourth novel . It’s a novel of great depth with an unusual format – quite a large part of the narrative – perhaps just under one-third – consists of letters written by Miranda to both Thomas (her first lover and fellow struggle comrade) and his sister, Lily (unwitting trigger of Tom’s discovery, arrest and 12 year jail sentence). The Book is in three parts : Pt 1 – Lily; Pt 2 – Thomas; Pt 3 – Bert (their father). The catalyst is the book which Thomas writes about The Struggle, which prompts Miranda to start writing letters to the pair of them, so there’s an oblique, third-person view and analysis of events already related by the other characters. It’s a complicated format, but it suits the novel about three complicated characters. Lily’s Pt 1 is about a nomadic childhood spent in the Eastern Cape with wonderful evocative sections on the landscape, the people, life as a child, with the shadow of apartheid restrictions on their friendship with the coloureds in the little towns. She adores her father (a complex mix of conman, drinker, trader & preacher), is brought up by her brother, but is much wilder and spontaneous than him. Ironically, towards the end of the book, their roles are reversed – she becomes the care-giver towards her step-brother Arnold and her father. Thomas’ Pt 2 takes us into his tortured soul – he’s tormented by his mother’s abandonment of their family, the fecklessness of his father, his responsibilities towards his kid sister and then her betrayal; his relationships with women, friends, God; his attempted career as a priest …. everything is deeply felt, unacknowledged, and the struggle has twisted him. How Louise, his girlfriend puts up with him, is a mystery. He’s remote, a workaholic, unforgiving, riven by anger that he claims he has left behind – he hasn’t of course, but can’t see it. And of course, despite his impeccable Struggle credentials, he’s abandoned by the New South Africa, when his life’s raison d’etre, an NGO, is swept from under him when the Board insists he be replaced by a Black. A White man, cannot in these new times, head such an organization …. it’s the ultimate cruel irony. Bart’s Pt 3 was quite difficult to read, he’s got Alzheimers and his view of events/people is all mixed up but it’s a short section only a few pages, from which it appears that Thomas manages to stay with Louise who has now borne his child; Miranda is on a visit from London; and brother and sister appear to have reconciled. I’m filled with admiration at the complex structure of the book, the depth of the characters, the subtlety of the book. I wonder why it hasn’t won a prize ? “Richards has an acute sense of place, in it’s small town and big city guises, and a wonderful ear for South African idiom. … Moving subtly between past and present, it casts a searing light on the way we reveal and conceal our truths in stories.” (Ivan Vladislavic) “Few South African writers can capture the complicated magic and cultural confusion of a constantly changing country like JR can … wry, moving and beautifully observed.” (Peter Godwin)


Filed under BOOK REVIEWS


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I virtuously stride out my permitted twenty minutes on the treadmill at the gym, I amuse myself by counting cars. You heard me: counting cars. Or, rather, the colour of the passing cars. Yes, I know. Small things amuse small minds – yeah, yeah. Other folk chat to friends, catch up with e-mails on their Blackberries, listen to their i-pods, etc , but I’m an  eccentric old bat, and I count cars.

Let me inform you, South Africa has finally overcome it’s love affair with the white vehicle. For years the vast majority of cars were white.  It was an official statistical fact that motor manufacturers issued at least three-quarters of a new range in white duco.  One theory being that white duco repels heat better than any other colour. South Africa is a hot country. On the downside, white shows up the dirt, but that’s a minor detail. Another handy fact is that statistically, white cars are less likely to be involved in vehicle accidents, because they’re more easily visible.  Which sounds reasonable, don’t you think?

But now, in 2012/13 I can report, after months of careful observation, the predominance of white is being whittled down by the emergence of the silver or grey vehicle.  Silver/grey vehicles, on most days, appear in almost the same number as white vehicles. Trust me, I have counted them. It helps that my gym has positioned the treadmills at a great height, upstairs, with a vast glass wall fronting the street. What could be easier?

And, this revolutionary move away from white duco does not stop at the silver. No, it does not. A close second contender is – wait for it – black!  I suppose with the majority of cars now offering air con as a standard feature, you can splash out and opt for black, and forget about  being cooked alive in your mobile oven. Clearly these drivers don’t give a hoot about potential fender-benders.

The next most common colour is … go on – guess!  Red. Followed by blue, and then on occasion – but only occasionally – by green, brown, and yellow.  Very very occasionally I spot a burnt orange vehicle, and maybe once every six months, a purple car. I’m still waiting to spot a pink vehicle.  I seem to remember that way back when one of the big-finned, long, American sedans came in pale pinks, pale blues, turquoise, and cream  but right now the ice-cream range of colours are not available for car finishes.

So there you have it folks. A completely arbitrary report on the most popular colours for cars in Cape Town. You must admit, my blog does offer you a little bit of everything.  Drive on, McDuff!




In August 2012 I went to Nieuwoudtville, on a Spring Flower Tour.

Vanrhynsdorp wild flowers

Vanrhynsdorp wild flowers (Photo credit: Martin_Heigan)

Nieuwoudtville is remote, an outpost in the vastness of the Northern Cape famed for its  annual Spring Flowers.  It’s isolated, although it does have small towns like Vanrhynsdorp   within a 100km radius, little dots of humanity dotted on the arid landscape.  The Northern Cape is the largest of the Provinces, it might appear to be a vast semi-desert but in fact it has 5  regions ranging from coast to desert to plains – see links.

We drove into the last town in the Western Cape: Vanrhynsdorp My first impression  wasn’t a good one. The sky was a lowering grey, a nippy wind swirled round the Caltex filling station where we stopped to refuel, only to discover the garage wouldn’t accept a fuel card – consternation all round. While our driver argued with the petrol attendant, we all drifted around the forecourt, saw a drunk lurching unsteadily towards us, ignored a woman sitting on the pavement huddled against the wind and puffing on a cigarette – how is it that poor people always seem to find enough money to buy cigarettes?  And booze. From my comfortable middle-class life, it seems incongruous, but as the saying goes walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before you criticise. My overall impression was of an ugly, impoverished small town but on the return journey, when the sun was shining, I noticed some trim and tidy buildings, no social derelicts, and the town looked altogether different. Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!

Leaving Vanrhynsdorp we crawl up the van Rhyns Pass 950m+  giving us aerial views over the veld and vlaktes almost to the ocean – it’s like flying!  How that road was constructed over the mountain in the early 1900’s beats me – what an engineering feat.

Northern Cape, South Africa

Northern Cape, South Africa (Photo credit: Sara&Joachim)

Once we reached the top of the Koue Bokkeveld Mountain we passed into the Northern Cape Province.  It’s vast, mostly arid and empty.  For instance, our guide at the Hantam Botannical Gardens told us that research shows there are 8 porcupines per square kilometre in the Northern Cape, outnumbering the number of humans per square kilometre!  The reason for the proliferation of porcupines is the abundance of bulbs that grow in the area.  Porcupines love to eat tubers, and the veld in the bulb areas was pitted with small holes dug out by hungry porcupines in search of dinner.  They’re nocturnal beasts, seldom seen during daytime, and famed for their strong, sharp black and white quills which now  appear in curio stores, decorating lampshades etc. etc.


Porcupine (Photo credit: Bryn Davies)

Quiver tree

Quiver tree (Photo credit: Gakige)

On the topic of sharp & prickly: we visited the Quiver Tree Forest, and as the pic shows, it’s an arid area, with endless vistas.


Filed under TRAVEL

Dogs *can* look up

Dogs *can* look up (Photo credit: caribbeanfreephoto)



I reflected  for a while  if I would? should? post my opinions on our President’s latest PR faux pas – my conscience was pricked by my local radio station, Cape Talk, speaking about their ‘Lead South Africa’ campaign, whereby we are constantly exhorted to lead our country, with  small acts on a personal level, or larger efforts on a civic and national level. The idea is we can all do our little bit, perhaps by starting a social upliftment programme, or paying our TV licence fees, obeying the rules of the road, or consciously try to no longer be racist. Despite 18 years of black/majority rule, South Africa is still a deeply divided country, divided by race. Sure, there has been progress and perhaps in another two generations we will be genuinely colour-blind, but we’re not there yet. So: does my article help or hinder?


If there was a prize for getting PR/communications wrong, our Presidency would earn a gold rosette with red ribbons.  But maybe I’m being naive. Maybe the President’s spokesman is using Machiavellian tactics, because the President’s recent statement about dog ownership being a White “thing” and not part of Black Culture has certainly distracted the nation from the ongoing enquiries into the wild excess of unauthorized spending on the President’s Inkandhla residence,at taxpayers’ expense. Nobody is talking about Inkhandlagate any more  – the airwaves and the front pages are seething with howls of protest about whether Whites do or do not  pamper their pet dogs and ignore the plight of their fellow humans – Black Culture, you see, espouses the worthy concept of Ubuntu (see definition below) whereas us Whities are too busy taking our dogs for walks, or dashing to the Vet with our ailing canines to worry about ailing humans. Yes, well – no, fine: as we say in South Africa.

So what is Black Culture about, in the year 2012? Does it mean being upwardly aspirational, driving top of the range 4×4, wearing designer clothes, living in multi-million rand mansions, flying business class and sporting a weave – is this behaviour compatible with the principle of Ubuntu?  Nobody says a word about the excesses of the black elite, nobody questions whether this zealous embrace of luxury and capitalism squares up with the tenets of Black Culture.  And if somebody does  – and here am I, an old white woman – how dare I comment on these issues?  Play the Race Card immediately! Do not collect R200, do not pass GO  ….  etc.

Or is Black Culture about being a traditionalist? Living a rural, patriarchial lifestyle, observing traditional ceremonies? Our President is a polygamist, with four wives. In his Zulu heartland he wears animal skin clothing when he participate in traditional ceremonies. Fine – he has every right to do so. But when ‘in town’ he’s in designer suits, and canny enough – at rallies and meetings –  to be up on the stage, dancing and singing traditional Struggle songs, to the delight of his followers. Our President is a Populist, and he knows what his constituency likes.

One gentleman waxed magisterial on the airwaves, telling us that dogs owned by blacks were purely regarded as hunting dogs, and not pets. Now this is true, if we are talking about dogs owned by rural black people. But what of the urban black people living in cities, in the townships, who own dogs – clearly, they are not owned for hunting purposes. And, as an aside, how many times do we not receive appeals from the SPCA/Animal Anti-cruelty/People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals begging us to donate money to ease the plight of the starving, diseased, neglected and abused township dogs?  Hmmm?

Then again, a black lady, living in a Joburg suburb indignantly phoned in to report that she loved her five dogs, walked them often, and that dogs as pets is indeed a Black Cultural “thing.”  Two sides of the same coin.

And let’s not even get onto the subject of farmers riding in their bakkies with the dog in the cab and their workers in the back. A farmer phoned in to say it was for the workers’ protection – a vicious guard dog would attack the workers, if loaded into the back with the men. Yet another listener sarcastically texted the radio station to say: six workers squashed into the cab, and one Pekingese in the back of the bakkie. I don’t think so. As I said, the debate rages on.

Amidst all the uproar, it has been suggested that what the President was trying to say was:we should care more for each other, according to the principal  of Ubuntu, and put people first. Fair enough. But if this is the case, why on earth did he not simply say so instead of playing the ugly and divisive Race Card?

Yet again, as in the case of The Spear of the Nation – remember that uproar in 2012? – it’s a case of  worlds colliding in a mammoth Culture Clash; never mind the Mayan end of the world, we have cataclysmic upheavals of comparable scale. Enough of all this unpleasantness, I must leave you now, to go and consult with my pampered cat as to what she would like for dinner.

  Thanks to Wikipedia:  Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:[5]

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.


Filed under POLITICS