Southern Africa 2004 - South Africa
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  I spent about one week in South Africa before and after the safari trip to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Four days in Johannesburg and three days in Pretoria. South Africa, with its special history, is of course an interesting country. My general impression, however, was mixed, due to racial problems and a rather tense atmosphere. Ten years after the end of the Apartheid era, white people fence themselves in behind barbed and electrified wire. Crime is everywhere, corruption thrive, HIV/aids is on the rise and the unemployment level is said to be somewhere around 30%. The government claim that the economy is growing, but, in my opinion, this country is going to face obstacles in the years to come.

Aloe trees in South Africa

 

Street corner, Johannesburg

Shacks in Soweto

 

Soweto

Soweto

 

In a "voodoo" shop in Joburg. Strong smoke - strong medicine

Drinking local beer in a smoky shack in Soweto. It tasted like "sats" (for the Norwegians!)

 

Animal remains sold in a voodoo-shop in Joburg

Living in the past. This is where local witch-doctors gather their remedies in Joburg

Johannesburg and Soweto

Yes, I managed to get robbed in Johannesburg, like so many other. Lost a camera and a cell phone, after being robbed by 5-6 blacks with knives. Even though I was told the area next to the Carlton Center was relatively safe to visit at daytime. It turned out not so, because I was mugged at 11 AM, in the middle of a crowded street. And nobody lifted a finger to help. And why should they? I was jus another stupid white tourist venturing into this metropol. Joburg, as they call it, is of course a very dangerous city, and one of the murder capitals of the world. Stay away, don't visit downtown of this city, it is as simple as that. It is very little to see there, anyway.

I stayed in a guesthouse next to the airport during these days, but wanted to see the city and also the famous township of Soweto. The best and safest way to do this is to hire a local guide. I bought a Johannesburg/Soweto half day trip from a company called Take a break Tours, and was very happy with the guiding. The guide Ken (a 76 years old chap!) showed me one of Witwatersrand's first gold mines, the Ferreira mine, today situated below the Standard Bank on Simmonds Street. He then took me to Soweto, the black township just outside of Joburg with approximately 3.5 million citizens. The shacks make up only about 15% of Soweto, to my surprise. The rest of the city consists of small brick buildings, not looking too bad. We visited a local market, and went inside a shack full of smoke housing a local "bar", or something. I had to taste a local brew, served in a carton (see the picture above). To put it simple, it didn't taste good. Of course, we also passed the house where Winnie Mandela lives today (with a lot of security measures), and the street where both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu used to live (two Nobel laureates in one street), and the Walter Sisulu Museum.

 

Me and Ken (the guide from Take a break Tours) in a Soweto restaurant next to the Walter Sisulu Museum

Soweto woman

 

At Sterkfontein Caves, where the Australopithecus africanus fossils were discovered, north of Joburg

At the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine. The owner and Ken, the guide

Sterkfontein and the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine

On Saturday, I ordered a new trip from the same guide who took me to Soweto. This time to see the Sterkfontein Caves, a familiar name for most biologists. This is the place where the first specimen of Australopithecus africanus was found:

"Sterkfontein is one of the world's most productive and important palaeoanthropological sites. It is the place where the very first adult ape-man was found by Dr. Robert Broom in 1936. This ancient cave system has over the years revealed a sequence of deposits with fossils dating from about 3.5 to 1.5 million years ago, a period of time which spans the early development of the family of man - the hominids. In addition to almost 500 skull, jaw, teeth and skeletal fossils of these early hominids, there are many thousands of other animal fossils, over 300 fragments of fossils wood, and over 9,000 stone tools which include some of the earliest manifestations of human culture on earth. Some of the youngest deposits in the cave also contain fossils and tools from the period just prior to the emergence of modern humans, the period ca. 100.000 to 250,000 years ago, most widespread of which are the dolomites of the Transvaal Supergroup. Dolomite, as well as limestone, is slightly soluble in acidic groundwater (groundwater that contains carbon dioxide in solution) and readily forms caves and sinkholes".

The caves were not that impressive, as we were not allowed to venture into the area where they were still digging. And the museum at Sterkfontein could have been more extensive. The next stop was at the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine, where the Black Reef was mined, before the Witwatersrand was discovered. The owner took me into the mine, and showed me how hard it must have been to work in a gold mine late in the 19th century. The mine was occupied by bats, and an underground lake runs all the way to the Sterkfontein Caves, some 6 km away.

 

Landscape south of Sterkfontain

Coming out of the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine

 

Pilanesberg National Park west of Pretoria. A rather dull park, after experiencing Botswana

Recent wildfires in Pilanesberg National Park

 

Spiky brush in the African outback

After having been robbed, I bought a revolver, and was ready for a fight... Yes, this is the real thing, full of leaded bullets

     

Pretoria

Returning from the safari, I spent three days in a guesthouse just north of Pretoria. Instead of spending even more time in Johannesburg, I preferred to see a new city. Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa, and the crime level here is supposed to be lower compared to that of Joburg. The South African government rest in the Union Building, overlooking the city, and with a view towards the tower of the Voortrekker Monument. During my stay in Pretoria, I visited the Pilanesberg National Park one of these days. Here I saw white rhinos and a lot of other species, but due to a recent wildfire, this park was a disappointment. On my last day in South Africa, I went to a private game reserve outside Pretoria. My purpose with this trip, was to try to get some nice photos of lions. Although private game reserves are much smaller than the national parks, you are much more likely to see predators and other rare animals here. Private game reserves are nothing like zoos, because the animals are free to roam large areas. A substitute, yes, but still worth it.

 

Downtown Pretoria

The Union Building in Pretoria

 

Euphorbia tree in Pilanesberg National Park

Hey, bastard, put your head into this! From a zoo south of Pretoria