Thursday, September 1, 2016

Capital crime

With thanks to Adventure World for this tailor-made holiday.
There’s nothing quite like being picked up in a BMW with leather seats and being chauffeured to a Tuscan mansion. Slightly dislocating for this all to be happening between Johannesburg and Pretoria, but I’m not arguing, even if the contrast between yesterday’s brutal and horrifying Soweto tour and today’s high-end luxury is somewhat guilt-inducing.

It’s actually a pretty typical South African vibe, as our driver was describing, same as our guide did yesterday. Extremes of rich and poor, it’s the African way, so far, it seems – and Zuma has done nothing but perpetuate it for his own benefit. I realise Nelson Mandela is a hard act to follow, but still…
Taking a private tour with Johan, politics were unavoidable. They are in any capital city, of course, but even more so here, where they impact so much on everyday life. To begin with, though, there were beautiful, if razor-wired, leafy mansions; an unseasonably dry nature reserve complete with blue wildebeest, zebra and a mongoose; and long views over the even leafier city with its universities, government buildings and monuments. The Voortrekker Monument is pre-eminent on its hill, literally (for a long time, no building was allowed to be higher) and tells an exhausting story of effort, struggle and battle. The Great Trek it commemorates, of the Dutch away from British colonisation, is aptly named.
The downtown area is full of lovely Victorian stately buildings heavy on the turrets and pillars, but also of loiterers who make wandering around with cameras a bit of a dodgy undertaking, so we didn’t. We drove instead up to the Presidential offices on their hill, surrounded by neat gardens and overlooking the 9m high Nelson Mandela statue, arms widespread and friendly grin on his face. It seemed a shame that the conversation with Johan begun at his feet was all about how difficult life is in South Africa, especially from the downtrodden white person’s angle. The pendulum has swung too far, and the country truly is the worse for it. It’s such a shame.

And then we drove away, past black men pushing a trolley full of spinach, and awkwardly carrying three wooden ironing boards, back to Waterkloof Ridge with its elegant high-walled mansions, to the Castello di Monte’s echoing halls and antique furniture. South Africa is full of ironies.

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