South Africa, the Rainbow Nation, has everything a traveler’s heart could wish for. Natural beauty and diverse sceneries ranging from desert to rainforest, together with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant international society make South Africa a destination that meets any expectation.
The Bushveld and rippling savanna provide daring and adventurous safaris akin to anything more typical destinations, like East Africa, can provide. Fruit plantations, wine groves, countless vineyards and excellent guesthouses lure the visitor south to the Winelands.
The history of modern South Africa dates to 1652 and to where Cape Town now lies. The Dutch East India Trade Company established a victualing station here to replenish the supplies of its ships on long voyages around the Cape of Good Hope, en route to the Far East. In the years that followed thousands of Protestant peasants arrived from the Netherlands, France and Germany to settle on Africa’s most southerly point, from where they gradually spread to occupy the entire country.
In 1806 Great Britain annexed the Cape Colony forcing the Afrikaans speaking farmers further inland. These people, who came to be known as the Trek Boers, founded three independent Boer republics (Orange Free State, Transvaal and Natal). Great Britain invaded Natal in 1842 and declared South Africa’s eastern coastline a British colony.
The discovery of large quantities of diamonds and gold in the second half of the 19th century gave tremendous impetus to immigration and economic development. But subsequent tension between the various interests in the area eventually led to first the Anglo-Zulu wars and then what is commonly referred to as the Great Boer Wars (1880-1881 and 1899-1902), between the colonists and Great Britain. The British won the day and the country was united in 1910 as The Union of South Africa and granted home rule under the British Commonwealth.
South Africa participated in both world wars on the side of the allies and enjoyed high standing internationally until 1948 when the Prime Minister of the day, the legendary general Jan Smuts, surprisingly lost parliamentary elections that year to the Nationalist Party, which introduced the Apartheid system.
After more than four decades of severe race segregation and human rights violations against the black and coloured majority the struggle finally came to an end in 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk lifted restrictions against the African National Congress (ANC) and released Nelson Mandela from 27 years imprisonment.
Following lengthy negotiations and much discord a provisional constitution was agreed in the same year and the first democratic elections with the participation of all South Africa’s people were held 27 April 1994. Nelson Mandela, whose name is indelibly linked with South Africa’s history, was elected the first President of the New South Africa.
A land of contrasts
South Africa is a huge country with an amazing natural and cultural diversity. South Africa is home to the last remaining vast expanse of unspoiled virgin territory on earth, pristine wilderness where animals still roam free. Along side are numerous examples of the latest advances in modern technology.
Waving, windswept savanna, inaccessible mountains and deep ravines meet model agriculture, gold mining and big industry. Only a few kilometres separate towering glass skyscrapers and humble mud huts, and this sense of contrast we see repeated over and over. South Africa’s population is composed of people with hugely different ways of life, religion and skin colour. Cultural, social, economic and political differences go far deeper here than anywhere else. The transformation process from a society segregated along racial lines, the Apartheid System, to democracy has proved a major challenge for the country, and continues to stimulate much international interest.
South Africa’s cities are an experience apart; from Johannesburg’s pulsating rhythms and Pretoria’s dignified ease to Cape Town’s vivacity. A visit to South Africa is kaleidoscopic. Safari and the city break, golf and the beach, commingled in any number of combinations.
Johannesburg, which also goes under the name of Egoli or The Golden City, was founded as a mining settlement in the 1880s, when rich reserves of gold were discovered on Witwatersrand. The town grew swiftly to become South Africa’s commercial heart with imposing skyscrapers, banks, retail outlets, commerce and industry, and a population today in excess of five millions. It is also the capital of the small but economically vital and populous Gauteng Province.
Johannesburg is hectically cosmopolitan with a wide variety of hotels, restaurants, theatres, nightclubs, discotheques, museums and galleries to choose from. Many relics remain of those feral days during the world’s first gold rush, to which the names of the city’s streets — Claim, Quartz, Nugget and Main Reef — and the palaces built by the mining magnates, bear witness. Descending 3,000 metres into old mineshafts and looking on as gold is smelted into bars are now major tourist attractions. At the edge of town are the townships where the ‘non-white’ population were confined during the Apartheid regime, under the precepts of the now revoked race segregation laws, including Soweto with its over three million inhabitants.
Cape Town, regarded as South Africa’s mother city, must be the most dramatically located city on earth. Surrounded by mighty and impressive Table Mountain, Devil’s Peaks and Lion’s Heads, it has traditionally been a place of refuge for seafarers and today is without doubt the most cosmopolitan city in Africa.
The population and ambience Cape Town brings together an amalgam of cultures, races and cuisines from all corners of the earth imbuing them with the vitality of Africa. Her many facetted and yet harmonious characteristics entice visitors to the city where they quickly feel most warmly welcome. A must when in Cape Town is a drive along the Cape Peninsula which stretches all the way down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, Africa’s most south western extremity.
The difficulty and dangers of navigating the rock strewn waters here has become the stuff of myth, but still dazzlingly beautiful to observe as the boulders protrude in lonely ignorance of their fearsome reputation. In Cape Town there are excursions that will bring you past Simonstown, home to the South African navy, and charming Kalk Bay, an area particularly popular with artists and antique dealers.
The wine country
The lush landscape of the wine country invites exploration. South Africa’s orchard, it is called, producing bumper crops each year of apricots and grapes. Since German and French viticulturists planted the first vineyards here back in the 1600s, South Africa has developed an exciting range of grape varieties and produced some great wines, of which you will hear much more on a guided tour of the vineyards.
You cross this landscape winding your way through imposing mountain passes and lively villages, one of which is Stellenbosch, a quaint, 300 year old university town, noted for its well conserved buildings typical of various directions in South African architecture. Locally the town is referred to as Eikestadt because of the many oaks that line its wide boulevards and smaller streets.