October 30, 2011

Liliesleaf Farm and the Rivonia Trial

A place I had been dying to see, but knew I’d have a hard time convincing the rest of my family to visit, was Liliesleaf Farm. So when my sister in law, who is always interested in such things, was recently visiting, we took the opportunity to go check it out.

By the way, I always thought it was spelled Lilieslief, which somehow seems more Afrikaans, but I have since seen that it is spelled both ways. I'll go with the spelling used by Wikipedia and the Liliesleaf Trust.

Liliesleaf Farm Museum today

Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s

Liliesleaf Farm was where Nelson Mandela, after the founding of the militant arm of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also called MK), was hiding and plotting for a time before being captured. It is not a far drive from where we live, located in the suburb of Rivonia, which back then was more on the outskirts of town but of course now is surrounded by the city. It was only recently restored and made into a museum, in fact, I think it might still be in the finishing stages as some exhibits weren’t open yet. Therefore, it is one of Joburg’s lesser-known tourist attractions and we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

The Thatched Cottage where most of the arrests during the Liliesleaf raid were made

I’ve lately been laboring through Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I say laboring because it is a long book, and a bit dry to read, what with all the people involved in “the struggle” that he mentions at one point or another and all the twists and turns of his personal story. It’s really another one on the South African must-read list, but I admit that I haven’t been making great progress. Going to Liliesleaf Farm gave me a good jolt and I’ve now resumed with more vigor, because it brought the story to life so well and provided me with the faces and life stories of the collaborators described in the book.

The faces of some of those involved with Umkhonto we Sizwe
and its secret operation at Liliesleaf Farm

There is Bram Fischer, whose name I’ve been intrigued with since we moved here because I kept driving along Bram Fischer Drive in Randburg on my various errands.He was a lawyer of Afrikaner descent who pretty much gave up his heritage and allegiance to fight alongside Nelson Mandela and others against the apartheid regime. Then there is Arthur Goldreich, who was instrumental in providing the cover for MK at Liliesleaf by posing as the white farmer overseeing black laborers, while in secret plotting with these very laborers how to commit acts of sabotage against the government. And there are all the other men who were arrested during the infamous raid at Liliesleaf Farm on July 11th, 1963. Goldreich, along with Harold Wolpe, another member of the South African Communist Party, managed to escape from custody, and I think one was acquitted, but the others were accused of treason at the so-called Rivonia Trial and sentenced to life in prison. The rest of the story, of course, is well known. Nelson Mandela was finally released in 1990 and was elected the first president of a free South Africa in 1994. To learn what became of all the others, visit Liliesleaf Farm!

Truck used to smuggle weapons into South Africa through Africa Hinterland Safaris

One entirely new piece of history I learned at Liliesleaf was the story of the Secret Safari (a documentary film telling this story, "The Secret Safari," was made in 2001, directed by Tom Zubrycki). An actual truck is tucked away in a corner of the estate, which you can climb atop to watch movies about its history. It is the very same truck used by Africa Hinterland, a decoy safari company used to smuggle arms into South Africa to assist the armed struggle. The drivers, who were recruited from various countries, were in on the plot, but the participating tourists had no idea that the whole thing was just a charade, probably having the adventure of a lifetime. 

You can watch the story of the Secret Safari unfold here...

...and see where the weapons were hidden below.

It's easy to forget that South Africa’s amazing history is so very recent. The trips of Africa Hinterland didn't stop until late 1993, when it became clear that elections would soon be held, giving hope to a peaceful resolution to the conflict that ravaged South Africa in the years after Mandela's release. In fact, if you watched the recent movie "Bang Bang Club," you will get a good understanding of the violence of those years. The drivers, or rather arms smugglers involved in the Secret Safari were my age, or even younger, when they undertook this risky business. Yet I had no idea this was happening in another part of the world.

Visit Liliesleaf Farm Museum - two hours is ample time to watch the short movie and visit all the sites, unless you want to relax on the beautiful patio afterwards for a cup of cappuccino - and you will go home with new appreciation of South Africa's intriguing history.

This article is part of Joburg Expat's What To Do in Joburg series. 

October 27, 2011

I've Fallen in Love

Everything about my new object of desire is perfect. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm already scheming to spend time together again.

No, this is not a marital crisis. In fact, Noisette is equally smitten. We've both fallen in love with Franschhoek.

Typical wine estate in Franschhoek

October 25, 2011

Der Schwabenbutcher in Südafrika

Sorry, but this post can only be written in German (a first on this blog!), as it is about sausages, sweet mustard, and Southern German culture, so my English readers will have to take a (well-deserved) break.

Da wir gerade wieder einmal unser jährliches Oktoberfest hinter uns haben, ist das eine gute Gelegenheit, euch den Schwabenbutcher vorzustellen. Ja, das ist richtig, es ist nicht nur ein Name, den ich mir ausgedacht habe, sondern dieses Geschäft heisst wirklich so. Das muss man geradezu erst mal auf sich einwirken lassen,  nicht wahr? Hier in Johannesburg, umgeben von Townships, der Busch mit Löwen und den restlichen Big Five nicht weit entfernt, kann man zum Schwabenbutcher gehen und Brezeln einkaufen.

October 24, 2011

Living Under the $#!&pipe

I'm only so wholesome as to disguise my spelling because I can't remember if I signed away my rights to foul language under whatever agreement I must have entered with Blogger, and I don't want to be reprimanded. I hate to be reprimanded. Or banned, that would be even worse, as my blog has become slightly addictive.

In any case, my topic today is exactly that, $#!&. I smell it when I wake up in the morning. I smell it when I take a break (from writing these posts) on my patio with a cup of cappuccino, and I smell it at night before I go to bed. At first we suspected our cat, who lately has taken to doing her business in the flowerbed rather than her litter box. Noisette in particular was quick to suspect her, which would give him another reason to dislike pets. Okay, her confusion during a recent thunderstorm and subsequent usage of Jabulani's bed for her business might have given him a tad more reason for dislike.

October 22, 2011

The Gods of Bureaucracy

I think the gods of bureaucracy must have sensed that Joburg Expat's material of "what-a-hassle-stories" is starting to dry up, what with Eskom so unceremoniously leaving the stage (once again, I can highly recommend calling in your own meter readings around the 12th of the month as it makes everything so much easier).

So I almost - can you believe this? - welcomed the opportunity to pay a visit to the Douglasdale police station with Noisette this morning, in order to start our visa renewal process. This has sort of snuck up on us and I still find it hard to comprehend that we will have been here for two years in just a few short months.

We were told by whatever consulting firm was hired by Noisette's company that our visa renewals would start with us obtaining a South African police clearance certificate. I am praying hard - I hope those same gods are listening - that we won't have to go get all those certificates from our other three countries again. It might have made for a good story the first time around but it's a giant pain in the butt.

However, the Douglasdale police station I can handle, which is why we obediently went there this morning, passports in hand. I've previously commented on how post offices look the same all over the world, and I would say the same about police stations, though this one reminded me a bit of an American elementary school, as it had mobile trailers with additional offices scattered around it willy-nilly. We waited briefly at a window to pay the fees (R59 per person seemed reasonable) and were sent to take the receipt to "the last trailer in the back" for fingerprints. Of course there were plenty of trailers in the back and the one we eventually picked turned out to be wrong. When we finally found the right one, it was locked. Back at the first window to ask renewed guidance, we were told that the guy in that trailer was missing, with the keys, and no one knew where he was.

At this point I was already expecting to settle down and wait, at best, or to have to come back another time. But when you actually expect these things (and, to be honest, might even look forward to taking an undisturbed peek at the New York Times on your Kindle), they don't happen. We were politely sent off to yet another office and given forms to fill in, then escorted to be fingerprinted. To get there, we had to pass through this courtyard of holding cells, accessed with a giant key:

Then we were fingerprinted, just like in the olden days, using a giant inkpad. I didn't take pictures of that part, not wanting to offend the sensitivities of the South African police, but from this next picture of Noisette washing his hands afterwards you can get an idea what a messy affair this was.

We were told to take the forms with our fingerprints, our receipt, and our passport copies to 271 Schoeman Street in Pretoria, where everything apparently will be processed into a police certificate within four weeks. It all sounded too straightforward to be true, so we will be checking some other sources (always a good idea in South Africa) just to make sure. This website looks like a good place for more information on police clearance certificates.

I'm now positively disappointed that this wasn't a more interesting story. Am I losing my grip?

October 20, 2011

Beware of the Horn-Pod Tree

“Every time I came across this tree as a child, my blood would run cold.”

It is a bright and cool morning and we’re glad to have stopped, a beautiful silence replacing the rumbling of the diesel engine and the sun warm on our skin. We’ve been driving through Welgevonden Game Reserve for what seems like hours, lumbering up steep hills and down into ravines again, not seeing much of anything other than the occasional zebra, which is why our guide Justinus has decided to give us a botany lesson.

October 17, 2011

In the Footsteps of Paul Kruger and the Voortrekkers

I have a confession to make: We’ve lived in South Africa for almost two years, and until last week I had never set foot in Pretoria, its administrative capital, even though it is only 40 minutes from where we live. But two things conspired to make us finally explore it – a visitor from Germany interested in new sights, and the fact that the Jacarandas are beginning to bloom. It was a very educational trip, so much so that I feel like my head is going to explode if I don’t write it all down.

The first bit of learning occurred before we had even left the garage. I wanted to read up on the history and locales before we got there, and searched our travel guide’s index for Pretoria – in vain. It was not to be found. I finally stumbled across it under “Tshwane,” to which Pretoria apparently had been rechristened in 2002. Really? I had no idea! It’s still known and talked about as Pretoria by everybody I’ve ever come across, and incidentally our NAVI also knows it as Pretoria. So that’s what I will keep calling it for the purpose of this post.

We – Zax, Noisette, my sister-in-law, and myself – started our day at Church Square. It’s a beautiful spot, for the very reason that one doesn’t find that type of square here in Joburg (I now imagine loud protests from the people who have ventured into Joburg more than I have). Pretoria strikes you more like a European city, with older buildings, wide tree-lined avenues, monuments galore. In fact, I pointed out the trash-littered sidewalks to Zax and remarked “just like Paris,” at which he was aghast and insisted that Paris (which he has never been to), being a “proper” European city surely must be absolutely clean and orderly. Ha!

The Jacaranda City
It's hard to do Pretoria's spectacular jacarandas justice in pictures; they are much
more impressive in real life, but coming about a week later and capturing the early
morning or late afternoon late would have yielded better pictures than these

With my new friend Photoshop (and thanks to some awesome tutorials on a friend's 
blog here), I was able to improve it a bit. When I have time, 
I'll figure out how to remove the lamp post!

Around Church Square you will find the Ou Raadsaal, the Palace of Justice (where I thought the Rivonia Trial took place*, an event I’ll get to in my post about Lilieslief Farm), the Main Post Office, and in the middle a giant monument of Paul Kruger, if you can see it amongst all the pigeons.

Paul Kruger's statue on Church Square with Ou Raadsaal in the background to the right

Before I go on, I should try to briefly summarize South Africa’s history (its white history, for Pretoria is very much a monument to its Afrikaans heritage – I will have to get to all the other fascinating history elsewhere on this blog).

Europeans first settled in South Africa in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope, establishing an outpost of the Dutch East India Company under Jan van Riebeeck. This colony subsequently changed hands several times between the Dutch and the British, and after the abolition of slavery in 1834 a number of discontented Afrikaner farmers or Boers set out in what is called the Great Trek, angered by the British declaration of race equality, and searching for new land to settle in the interior. These so-called Voortrekkers initially believed to have found the promised land of abundant pastures for their cattle, but this land had only been abandoned due to a destructive war, also called mfecane, between the aggressively expanding Zulu kingdom led by the legendary king Shaka, and other black tribes. New conflicts arose, one of which was the infamous Battle of Blood River in Natal (today’s Kwa-Zulu Natal), where the Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army far superior in numbers. While Natal was soon annexed by the British, the other two Boer republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal (literally “across the Vaal” meaning to the North of the Vaal River, also called Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or ZAR) remained in Afrikaner hands, with the latter becoming more or less independent in 1884 under the leadership of Paul Kruger, who is revered as the father of South Africa. The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand shortly thereafter reignited the simmering conflict between British and Afrikaner rule, eventually leading to the Anglo-Boer war in 1899. Kruger fled to Europe, guerilla tactics were adopted by the Boer general Jan Smuts, the British retaliated with a scorched-earth policy and the use of concentration camps in which many civilians died, and by 1902 the Boers were defeated and the peace of Vereeniging was signed. It led to the incorporation of the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal into the Union of South Africa in 1909, which remained a British territory but gave home-rule to the Afrikaners. Under this Union and the leadership of Jan Smuts, South Africans fought alongside the British in both World Wars, although some Afrikaner nationalist elements sympathized with the Nazis, and it is in part from these elements that the National Party eventually rose to establish the system of apartheid.

Kruger House Museum in Pretoria

Did I thoroughly confuse you?  There is so much more to tell but it will have to wait until another time. All I wanted to really get into your head is the name of Paul Kruger and the historical significance of the Voortrekkers, who in many ways were similar to the pioneers setting out for the American West in their wagon trains. A short distance from Church Square you will find Kruger House Museum, which is where we headed next. It is the house Paul Kruger lived in as president of the South African Republic until he went into exile in 1901, and I would say it’s definitely worth a visit. It will not only give you a chance to see this historic residence but also what life in this particular era was like, what with all the artifacts exhibited there. Zax – who had not been particularly keen to join us, in fact it is still a bit of a mystery to me why he did although of course I was very pleased – immediately perked up and entertained himself trying to translate everything from Afrikaans. I don’t know if this is because we are German, but we can amuse ourselves endlessly with words like slaapkamer (bedroom) and motorhuis (garage), trying to best each other with our pronunciation (which Zax, having recently switched his language from Zulu to Afrikaans, won hands-down). 

Old light switch in Kruger House, one of the first buildings with electricity in Pretoria

The whole place actually reminded me of my grandparents’ house in Southern Germany, even though that wasn’t built until the 1930s, and I was hopping from room to room like a little child, excitedly pointing at things like an old coffee mill, a food processor (the kind you strap to the edge of the kitchen table and crank), a washing tin, a rolling pin – all of which I could swear were identical to those living in my childhood memories. There is a pretty garden in the back, a separate “saal” exhibiting all the presents and honors Paul Kruger received from other countries over the years, and an entire railway (“spoorweg” – do you know what I mean?) car that was used as a state carriage and later housed Kruger’s government-in-exile before he fled across the border into present-day Mozambique to embark for Europe. In short, lots and lots of history to soak up (and breathe in, literally, as you can’t escape that distinctive old house smell throughout those rooms).

Paul Kruger's presidential railway car in which he left Pretoria to go into exile

Back at Church Square, we needed a break and settled for Cokes and sandwiches at Café Riche, which apparently is another well-known fixture in Pretoria. The food was okay, not great, but the location on the corner of Church Square with a view of the Palace of Justice and the big lawn with its pigeons in front can’t be beat.

Cafe Riche on Church Square

Our next stop, after we felt sufficiently refreshed, was the hill with the Union Buildings. Those were built in when the South African Union came into existence and the two lovely towers are meant to symbolize the two cultures or rather languages this union was built upon (the existence of the black tribes and multitude of languages was conveniently left out at that time). It is here where Nelson Mandela was sworn in and gave his historical inauguration speech as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994. You can go crazy here with your camera – there is so much beautiful architecture, the gardens below are a spectacle of color to behold, and the view of Pretoria down below is breathtaking. One interesting tidbit: The statue of Nelson Mandela that now graces Mandela Square in Sandton was originally meant to stand in the courtyard of the Union Buildings. I'm not sure why the location was changed. Another fact I found interesting is that Pretoria boasts the second largest number of foreign embassies in the world, after Washington DC, and many of those can be found in the vicinity of the Union Buildings.

Lovely view of Pretoria from the site of the Union Buildings
The Union Buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, are the
official seat of South African government

I couldn't get enough of the Union Buildings from every single angle

Our final destination of the day could not have stood in more contrast to the graceful architecture of the Union Buildings. The Voortrekkermonument is probably one of the ugliest structures ever built, but nonetheless imposing with its own strange beauty. In fact, those two architectural opposites in many ways represent the divide still present to this day between the Afrikaans- and English speaking population of South Africa. People with English heritage are often considered more refined, educated, and cosmopolitan, whereas one associates Afrikaners with the land, the old days, farming, and a disdain for the outside world (boy am I getting into hot water with that comment!).

Voortrekker Monument

But look at the pictures for yourself and you'll understand what I mean. There is a lot of symbolism built into the Voortrekker monument that glorifies not only their quest but Afrikaner supremacy, which I, given my German heritage, cannot help but feel very uncomfortable with, as it cuts very close to the symbols of our own dirty past. I have much admiration for the new South African government for having left this monument intact and open for future generations to visit and admire, but I suspect tearing it down might simply have been an insurmountable task, what with all this solid granite! I'm glad it's there, as all history is worth revisiting.

One of the Afrikaner symbols is the covered wagon (conveniently housing the toilet here)

Lots and lots of covered wagons surrounding the Voortrekker Monument

This marble shrine can be viewed from a balcony above. Every year on December 16th,
the date of the Battle of Blood River, a shard of light shines on it from the top of the
monument. One cannot help but think of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" when being
inundated with such symbolism. By the way, the 16th of December is now a public
holiday called "Day of Reconciliation" to promote unity between the races [this is
a correction from an earlier version].

View down from the top of Voortrekker monument; I hope you appreciate the fact that I
went up there, despite my phobia of heights, to take pictures for this blog; in fact, not only
did I GO up there, I RAN up there, challenged by Zax, who once raced me to the 21st story
of a hotel in Manhattan. I lost, then and now.

One of the Voortrekkers

We actually met up with fellow blogger Bing that day, who you can see here with her husband waving from the top of the monument:

Visit Bing's blog for her version and beautiful pictures of the Voortrekker monument, as well as this great story by 2Summers, who is also a fellow Joburg blogger.

* Thank you to Andrew, a reader of Joburg Expat, to make this correction: 
"Your remark on Pretoria (Palace of Justice where the Rivonia Trial took place,) is not correct. The trial took place at the Old Synagogue on the east side of Paul Kruger Street, in the third block, North of Church Square. Many articles on the web make this mistake. Look up the 'Old Synagogue Pretoria' on the web. The synagogue was refurbished as a court."

This post is part of the What To Do In Joburg series. You might also like:

October 14, 2011

Jamila Lodge

In my recent post about how to pick a safari, I promised I’d tell you about Jamila Lodge in Welgevonden Game Reserve as soon as I’d seen it, and now I have.

The food at Jamila Lodge was excellent

Midday bliss between game drives

As I’ve said before, you really can’t do much wrong when picking a game lodge, so if you find a fairly decent deal for one, grab it. Jamila was recently renamed (from Martial Heights, which our host told us sounds like a row of flats and therefore didn’t attract a high enough number of guests in the past) and was offering a limited time special to promote its rebirth, so to speak. It has everything you could ask from a luxury lodge. It’s situated on top of a hill with stunning views all around and a cool breeze wafting up from the valley, the service and food are excellent, and we particularly enjoyed the hot tub right on our own private deck. 

Reminds me of the platform to get on an elephant's back

A special touch is the ramp for easy access to the game drive vehicle and the hot towels and welcome drink upon your return to the lodge. In case you can’t bear to be cut off from the world for a few days, there is WiFi in the main lodge. And Jamila welcomes families travelling with children, even small children, something you won’t find often in Welgevonden, which in general seems to cater more to the honeymoon and luxury safari crowds.

As for the reserve itself: Having been to Madikwe twice, I was eager to see something else. Welgevonden, at least on paper, is a bit closer to Joburg and has the same advantage of being malaria-free and home to the Big Five. In reality however, a series of road construction projects between Modimolle and Vaalwater (“Attention: Road construction for the next 48 km”), where the road becomes a one-laned pot-holed dirt path, makes your drive from Joburg to the West gate a four-hour affair. It’s a bit more hilly than Madikwe and the scenery is much more varied. You could be going up a rocky hill one minute and down into a lush valley with a river meandering through the next. But I have to say missed Madikwe’s packs of wild dogs and the fact that you almost cannot help yourself from stumbling over a pride of lions. I was also worried that the abundance of water in this area might have the effect of spreading out the animals too much, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem – our first game drive yielded a wonderful viewing of elephants wallowing and playing in a mud hole.

It's not that easy to get such an open shot at elephants

One thing about elephants: In my imagination, before moving to South Africa, I always pictured elephants walking across a wide open plain of dry grass, single file, to be seen from miles and miles away. Well, it's not quite like that. Elephants, you see, eat trees. So where do they like to be? In between the trees, that's right! They are usually so quiet and well hidden that you might pass them by at less than ten meters away without having any inkling that they're there. They usually leave a pretty wide path of destruction so it's easy to see where they've been, but not so easy to actually find them.

Our second evening's game drive didn't yield very much at all, at least initially, but it didn't bother me. I could amuse myself endlessly watching our guide Justinus in the rear-view mirror because he resembled Barack Obama (I love being able to work our president into my blog posts).

Justinus resembled President Obama in other ways too. Here we were ambling along, not seeing much of anything, with the collective truckload of guests getting more antsy by the minute, and he was as calm as can be without any discernible sense of urgency, stopping occasionally and lecturing us about the wildlife (like the story about the black rhino always keeping its baby behind, much like black mothers carry their babies on their backs, and the white rhino keeping its baby in front, much like white mothers push their babies in a stroller in front of them - getting me to finally remember which rhino does what!). But then a radio message came in from another guide who had spotted lions, and it was as if someone had flipped a switch on Barack aka Justinus, giving him a sense of urgency we hadn't suspected he was capable of. He calmly informed us that our sundowner drinks would maybe have to wait a bit, and to please hold on. Then he took off at breakneck speed, flying over those bumps in the road that he had previously so carefully circumnavigated for our comfort, racing against time and the setting sun, so that he could deliver the elusive goods at the eleventh hour, successfully I might add. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Maybe it was the roller-coaster ride, or maybe it was just my usual ineptitude with night photography, but the fact is that I struggled to get one single good lion picture. First I was shooting on AV when P with the flash is better at night, then I finally remembered the flash and  managed to change the settings using the light from my phone (all while trying to catch a glimpse of the lions), but then it turned out the external flash was out of charge. When I finally had all the right settings, the lions were gone. I really need to get my act together sorting out my camera while it's still light, and make sure everything is charged. Or maybe I just need to let it go and savor the moment by actually observing. It was a great viewing with several young and very playful lions.

Overall, Jamila Lodge is another safari option I can highly recommend. I'm still chasing that leopard and have high hopes for the Kruger Park this coming Christmas, but other than that Welgevonden Game Reserve was well worth the visit. If you'd like to see more of the pictures I took, take a look at the slide show below.

October 11, 2011

Diving in Mauritius

I like to think that we've had our fair share of adventures here in Africa, and that I personally have been fairly adventurous, but there is a line I won't cross. Bungy jumping was the one thing I skipped (even the canopy tour was a stretch), and diving so far has been the other. I don't like heights, and I don't like depths, it's that simple.

But looking at the beautiful pictures Noisette took on the boys' most recent diving trip in Mauritius, I have to say that I'm tempted, at least a little bit. I tried the scuba equipment in the pool and admit that it's much easier to breathe than I thought. Much easier in fact that snorkeling, where you always end up getting water into your snorkel, no matter how you approach it. If I could always stay very near the surface, I might be persuaded to go diving, though that seems to be a waste of compressed air. Plus everyone else would be frolicking somewhere deep below me, leaving me as much behind as if I was still sitting in my sunny beach chair with a good book, so I might as well be doing that in the first place.

Anyway, I thought I'd share Noisette's pictures here with you, without any further words, because I wasn't there to experience any of it.

Sunshine begged to be allowed a trial dive with the instructor

Impatience begged not to have to do a trial dive but then liked it anyway

There was no escaping the round of trial dives for me and I have to admit it was pretty cool

So don't be surprised if I do end up writing a first-hand diving account on this blog at some point in time, but for now it feels like I can't possibly add another interest to my life.