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South Africa: Surprise Surprise
There셲 a lot more to the 2010 soccer world cup host than most people think
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-06 13:26 (KST)   
Think you can sum up South Africa with a soundbyte or two?
©2006 Nick van der Leek


As Africa increasingly comes under the spotlight of both world leaders and celebrities in search of a meaningful cause, South Africa has increasingly captured the imagination of visitors to these distant shores. The late Princess Diana, with princes in tow, often visited her brother in Constantia, a posh suburb of Cape Town. British tycoon, Richard Branson (king of the Virgin Empire) continues to mix business with pleasure on his trips here. Oprah also keeps coming back, most recently to open a school for girls. The list goes on, from Bono to Will Smith to Leonardo di Caprio, and invariably they include in their trip a visit to Nelson Mandela's house in Houghton, Johannesburg, for a handshake or a hug on that famous porch (we call it a stoep).

But you think you can still sum up South Africa with a soundbyte or two eh? No, the country is a lot more than AA (Apartheid&AIDS), it's filled with diversity and quirks, in fact it's the world in one country. It has all the world's problems, but it also has astounding natural beauty, and for every murderer, there's someone out here with a heart of gold. Seventy percent of the country professes to be Christian.


70 percent of the country professes to be Christian.
©2006 Nick van der Leek

South Africa was the first and only country to voluntarily disable its fully developed nuclear weapons programme. A South African doctor performed the world's first heart transplant (Dr. Chris Barnard), and the second space tourist after Mr. Tito, was a South African billionaire (Mark Shuttleworth) who made his fortune selling a security software company.

Still not convinced? Well, how many countries boast as many Nobel Prize winners for both peace and literature? We've got Bishop Desmond Tutu, P.W. Botha, Nelson Mandela, and for literature, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. If history is your thing, you might be surprised to discover that Gandhi spent a crucial period developing his national philosophy here, and so did Winston Churchill, who as a journalist reported on the Boer War in the early 20th century.


The real stars in South Africa are the wild animals and the untouched scenery.
©2006 Nick van der Leek

South Africa, once a British colony, is now, like Australia, part of the British Commonwealth. This special international relationship allows South Africans (and Aussies and New Zealanders) the opportunity to get visas for two year stints in the U.K. Thouands of young South Africans fly into London annually. They go to make the most of the power of the British pound; they apply themselves enthusiastically to work there and then travel beyond Britain. Today, the two year working visa is a rite of passage amongst the country's graduates. When they return home they convert their winnings (savings) into local currency to buy a car or put down a house deposit.


South Africa started off as a Dutch, then a British colony.
©2006 Nick van der Leek

Meanwhile, many foreigners have been buying dirt cheap properties in South Africa, and watching the values of these investments skyrocket. Others, who have ancestral visas, make Europe their oyster for several years, sometimes gaining dual citizenship.

Southern Africa is perhaps best known for its gold and diamonds -- it's the world's largest producer of both. The country boasts the world's deepest gold mine -- Western Deep Levels, more than two miles deep -- and the world's largest and second largest manmade holes -- at the diamond mines of Jagersfontein and Kimberly. Few people link our vast valuable ores to a lucky strike that happened here billions of years ago: the gargantuan gold deposits may have been caused by a massive impact (the Vredefort Dome, another world record), when a meteor the size of Table Mountain collided with the Earth and changed the chemical composition of ores, causing deep bands of rock to extrude along surface ridges, now known as the Witwatersrand: white water's ridge.

South Africa's currency, the Rand, in the 1970s was twice as strong as the dollar (R1 = $2). Today, it's quite different: $1 = R7.15, but it's predicted that the Rand will strengthen. The word Rand comes from Witwatersrand, where "rand" is an Afrikaans word for a "gold bearing" ridge.

Geographically the country has an unusual combination of forests, deserts, sandy beaches and jagged mountains. The country even engulfs an entire independent state, the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho a.k.a. The Roof of Africa. South Africa has the world's second highest waterfall at Mount Aux Sources, the world's most diverse floral kingdoms, and is attached to the world's largest continuous mantle of sand, the Kalahari. But the country is best loved for its stupendous natural beauty, and for the wild life that inhabits the unfolding scenery. They're all here, from hippopotami, to elephants, to lion, giraffe, rhinoceros, buffalo, antelope etc etc. The Kruger National Park is a game reserve in the northeast about the size of Israel.

What you might not know is the Bearded Vulture (lammergeyer) is one of the world's largest flying birds -- it has one of the largest wingspans of any flying bird. I've stood on a mountain when these impressive birds fly by, and it sounds like an airborne air conditioner. They eat the marrow out of bones, and break them open by dropping bones from a dizzy height and then swooping down (cue: air conditioner whoosh-by) to collect the treasure.

To understand the mindset of the locals means you have to get into the outdoor spirit, and specifically, develop an interest and knowledge of the local sporting heroes. The nation goes into hysteria when we win rugby or cricket matches, especially world championship events -- soccer is catching on fast. When we lose the stock market takes a little dive, especially losing rugby contests to arch enemy, New Zealand.

But South Africans are still a down to earth bunch; we call traffic lights "robots." We refer to pick-up trucks as "bakkies" (the same Afrikaans word is used for plastic kitchen containers). While almost everyone can speak English, even native English speakers throw in some unique and irreplaceable Afrikaans words:

Afrikaans Words

Lekker = nice, good, or delicious
Vrot = rotten
Voetsek = go away (usually used to get rid of dogs, but sometimes used on human beings who have become pests)
Boerewors = farmer's sausage
Kak = very bad
Ja [Yah] = yes
Bokke = springbuck rugby players (the national team), but it can also mean money, or simply a group of young men


South African English Slang

Howzit = (literally: how are you) informal hello (answer by saying 쁥owzit in return)
Kif = cool
Lank = very
Cheers = goodbye (in Britain it means "thank you")
Bucks = money (same as U.S. slang)


Indigenous Words in Common Use

Chaila = time to go home
Tokkelos = ghost, bad spirit
Ntate [ntah-the] = man
Mme [meh] = woman
Dumela = hello (but only in the Sotho language, as are the two words above, so Zulu and Xhosa speakers may take offence).


"Dumela." Say "hello," but make sure your audience are from the central parts (from the Sotho tribe). South Africa has 11 indigenous languages.
©2006 Nick van der Leek

South Africa is also a land of ancient human history. The San people made South Africa their home, and the mountains are filled with Bushman paintings. The Bushman walked the strands and fields of South Africa as long as 100,000 years ago.

Africa is the cradle of humanity, and that's perhaps the tug you feel once you've been here. The accasias that fill your nose, the wide open spaces, there's something deeply fascinating about the country.

And when you find yourself back in your country, away from what seems, somehow, a faraway home, filled with all the impulses of home, the longing begins. South Africa is filled with genealogical shifts in the human story, and the rocks, burned by space debris, burned by a sun that always seems to shine here, rocks that have seen the first soft toes of man step forward in search of his destiny. Rocks that have felt the first deft touches of human art sparking from the human imagination. The land has felt tens of thousands of generations losing themselves in the love, the tragedy of life. This land has been the backdrop to the upbringing, adolescence, early maturity and first memories of the human species.

The vast expanses of land, here, and the sheer emptiness echoes... South Africa is the place to find your inner space. Its vast countryside, its majestic mountains and wild coasts speak more eloquently to a man or woman than any other human being. It seems, when you're here long enough, that the land actually knows your name, and whispers it to you. Or is it just the grass that is singing?


South Africa is the place to find your inner space.
©2006 Nick van der Leek
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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