I mentioned in my previous post how different South Africa is to the rest of the continent but I must amend this and say that ‘Southern Africa’ is unlike the rest of the continent. South Africa’s neighbours Namibia and Botswana are similarly fairly modern and lack the strife which many African nations suffer from. My recent stay in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek (pronounced Vind-hook), was a pleasant one and to me it seemed very much like a sleepier version of South Africa. The country is fairly new and only gained independence in 1990 from the then Apartheid-led South Africa. Apartheid was also a stain on the population of Namibia but, like its large neighbour, has moved on from those days.
During the days of colonialism the British, French, Belgians, Portuguese and Spanish all had a say in many parts of the continent but German influences are few and far between. This makes Windhoek a bit of an anomaly in this regard as the German mark is apparent all over town, from the German street names and supermarkets to some rather out of place architecture from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The land of Namibia was actually called German South-West Africa from 1884 until 1915, after which South Africa administered the territory. Namibia is also a very popular retirement place for Germans from Europe who want to swap freezing winters for hot sunny days in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a sparsely populated country just north of South Africa on the Atlantic coast and much of the territory is desert. It also hardly ever rains.
So it was much to my surprise that I found myself on my first evening in Windhoek leaving a supermarket to be confronted with torrential rain and flooding of biblical proportions. It was sunny and cloudless when I’d entered the shop and so, sans umbrella, I had to wait it out until it subsided. The city is a fairly small affair with a population just shy of 350,000 and although there is little of great interest in town it strikes me as a pleasant place to be on assignment, unless you’re a fan of the bright lights and all night partying. One interesting draw are the Gibeon Meteorites. Some 600 million years ago one of the world’s largest every meteor storms rained down rocks as heavy as half a ton on the Namibian landscape. 33 of these rocks, thought to be the largest collection in the world, can be seen on display in the pedestrianized Post Street Mall in central Windhoek.
Although there is a German influence in town, English is still very much the lingua franca and the only official language, even though it is the native language of less than 1% of the population. Although not on the same scale as South African malls there are a couple in Windhoek which cater to the needs of everyone. There is also presence from the major South African supermarket chains of Checkers, Spar, Pick N Pay and Shoprite meaning that everything you’ll ever want to cook for dinner is available, and not too costly either.
After Namibia I flew down south and back in to South Africa arriving at Cape Town International Airport. Cape Town has to be one of the most stunningly set urban areas in the world. Its position between the foot of the unbelievably flat-topped Table Mountain and the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean combine for a dramatic vista and a look around from pretty much any location in the city is sure to draw a sense of wonder to any visitor, and in the summer sun it really is a gorgeous place to be. Indeed, the New York Times has named the city as the world’s top place to visit in 2014.
Officially Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa and, with a population of almost 4 million is the second largest city. It is situated at the start of South Africa’s world-famed wine route and there are several leafy suburbs where expats reside, usually in highly secured properties, just as I witnessed in Joburg. Much of the city’s really violent crime occurs to the southeast of the centre in the Cape Flats – an area rarely visited by business travellers. And although I felt ok on my trip wandering through the city centre, during daylight, any visitor to South Africa in general, should be vigilant, particularly to the threat of mugging, pickpocketing and bag-snatching.
I got chatting to a few locals about the city and learned that the mayor, Patricia de Lille, was voted the best mayor in the world last year by City Mayors and was Nelson Mandela’s favourite opposition politician. Politics can be a divisive subject matter and it’s always interesting to hear the opinions of those who live under different governments around the world. The general consensus from those I spoke to seems to be that the way Cape Town is governed is the envy of South Africa and is considered a role model for other states in the nation to follow. Although the economy of Africa has been growing steadily in recent years the widespread problem of corruption in the continent will always be a huge hindrance to further growth but, apparently, Cape Town is corruption free! The negative reactions of passers-by when President Zuma whizzed passed me in Pretoria demonstrated how strong some feelings are about the way their country is run. South Africa has a general election coming up on May 7th and I hope that everything runs smoothly. I’m sure that’s what ‘Madiba’ would have wished for.
I said in my last post that I’d throw some more random facts your way so here are some more about South Africa:
- South Africa generates two thirds of Africa’s electricity and has the cheapest electricity in the world.
- Even though it accounts for only four percent of the land area and five percent of the population of Africa the country has over 80% of the continent’s railway infrastructure, some 19,000 miles.
- The nation is the world’s leader in mining and minerals. It has over 40% of global gold deposits and the world’s deepest mine at 3.5 kilometres below the surface.
Feel free to share any more you may have!