This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, "150 Times Around the World," by Dr Jac Fitzenz. Its a culmination of his life's travels around the world and a compelling window into his vast journeys. Take a seat and come along for the experience of a lifetime as you join Dr Jac on his travels. Click here if you'd like to be notified when "150 Times Around the World" is available for purchase.
SOUTH AFRICA – PART 3
South Africa has a varied geography from seashore to the central desert and mountains. By the time we reached Johannesburg we had entered a region of moderate rainfall and verdant foliage. Reluctantly, I disembarked from this gorgeous experience.
Johannesburg. Jo’burg is the major commercial city and the second largest in population with almost one million inhabitants. It got its start with a gold rush of the 1880s. It’s clearly a wealthy area. I see Jo’burg as the transition from the liberal Cape Town to the restrictive Pretoria. You see and feel the change when you arrive from the Cape.
I held my second two-day program here, and the people were keen to learn. This is the business town of RSA. Everything went smoothly, and the delegates worked willingly throughout the two days. I recall it was here I was invited to a braai. That’s the equivalent of the Aussie’s “barbie” or the U.S. barbeque. It’s a backyard cook out featuring boerewors (sausage), sosaties (skewered chunks of lamb), marinated chicken, chops, steaks, and spareribs. Fish and crayfish (kreef in Afrikaans) are also popular along the coast. That, along with a couple of Castles (beer), made for an enjoyable feast. The people were most cordial. It felt just like my time in Australia or here at home.
Pretoria. This is the capital of the Republic. Pretoria is known as the Jacaranda City with an estimated 70,000 jacaranda trees spread over the metropolis of two million people. When in full bloom from above the city looks like it is covered with a pale purple foam. First imported from Brazil and planted in 1888, from late September to November, the tall trees cover the city with streaks and bursts of mauve blossoms. At its peak it’s truly breath-taking.
In the early 1800s Dutch and then English people began migrating to South Africa. The early history of the countryside is very bloody as the native tribes fought fiercely with the settlers. The rules of war were largely ignored by both sides. There are eleven recognized languages, mostly native African dialects. About 13 percent of the people speak Afrikaans a derivative of Dutch, although only ten percent speak English as their primary language. It is used for government and business probably because this was a British colony until 1931. It is common to hear people switching between two or three languages as they converse.
Pretoria is apartheid central. I could see it in the eyes of the “Boers,” the original Dutch settlers. The basis of the attitude was partly that it’s a government town and the other part is the Boer style. The people were nice, but challenging and more reserved. My concept was not as well received in Pretoria as in Jo’burg or Cape Town. I don’t believe new ideas are as readily accepted here. Even in the more “liberal” people I met there was a firm attitude about people’s place in life and how things should be. Although Jan is an Afrikaner by birth and upbringing I felt he was happier in the Cape. I did my job and we moved on.
It’s been thirty years since then and I believe the old ideas have slowly weakened with the advent of a new generation, the abolition of Apartheid and more international influences.
Durban. Next stop was Durban. Durban is a little more than halfway up the northeast coast of the RSA along the Indian Ocean. Mohandas Gandhi lived and started his resistance movement here from 1894 to 1914. It’s a major port and a favorite tourist city. It offers gorgeous, broad beaches and a warm ocean. It has hot, rainy, humid summers and pleasantly warm and dryer winters. It has an annual rainfall of almost 40 inches. The average temperature in summer ranges around 24 C (75°F). Indian influences abound in this beach city. The blend of cultures and colonial architecture makes Durban somewhat unique in South Africa. Durban’s Golden Mile is a popular ocean front for surfers and fisherman. Port cities are typically more liberal than inland towns who have less contact with outside ideas and people.
My program worked well here, but my principal memory was dinner at a fine restaurant whose name I don’t recall. The point is we were greeted by a tall, impressive Indian gentleman in traditional garb. When we were seated, I said to him, “I’ve been told this is the finest restaurant in Durban.”
To which he responded without a change of expression, “Of course,” turned and walked away.
Indian Ocean. Before we left Durban, I wanted to take a swim in the warm Indian Ocean. I’d swum in the Atlantic off Florida when I was stationed at NAS Jacksonville, and in the Pacific off Mexico and California. In the navy, I’d surfed a bit in Hawaii, while at NAS Barber’s Point. On a WestPac tour at NAS Naha on Okinawa, 1959, I had a dip in the East China Sea. This was my chance for another ocean score.
I had a few hours before we had to leave for Port Elizabeth. The morning was a bit windy and the onshore waves had white curls. There were a number of young men taking advantage of the waves for board and body surfing. I didn’t have a board, but I’d done a bit of surfing in Hawaii and this didn’t look very rough.
The beach slopes very gently into the Indian Ocean. I was surprised how warm the water was compared to other oceans I’d swum in. It took a while to swim out to the first breakers. I rode through them and continued another few yards. I was just turning to set up for a ride when a big wave picked me up, and rolled me under. It slammed me into the bottom and tumbled me toward the shore. The wave passed and when I surfaced there was a trough as the next one rolled in. Just like Mexico, I was coughing and disoriented. I looked up and saw it coming. All I could do was take a deep breath and ride it wherever it wanted to take me.
When it let go, fortunately, I was facing the beach. I started a breaststroke to get moving and regain some control of my body. This helped, yet there was a bit of undertow. The next wave shoved me inward before the undertow tried to take me back out to sea. Working strongly, very slowly, I was able to make my way back to a point where I could stand up still at least fifty feet from shore. That’s when I felt the undertow dragging me back out. It gabbed my feet and took me about twenty feet farther offshore before letting me go. I floated, waiting for the next incoming wave. As soon as the undertow lessened, I made several quick strokes until the water was only a couple feet deep. I dropped my feet to the sand and I took a deep breath and dug my feet and hands into the sand for an anchor. When the undertow lessened I high stepped four or five strides till I was on the beach. Out of breath, I trudged up the beach and swore never to swim in an ocean again. I was closing in on sixty and figured I’d had my days in the water. Now, I don’t go into any body of water larger than a hot tub.