“Ah, but your land is beautiful”

‘Ah, but your land is beautiful’ is the third novel by Alan Paton, the South African author best known for ‘Cry, the Beloved Country.’ Telling tales of apartheid and resistance, the title is an ironic reflection on the perception so often and so blindly voiced by visitors to this country – ‘you live in such a beautiful country,’ they say.

The Acacia Tree

Yes, it is beautiful, Paton tells us, but it is also a terrible beauty. The strange and haunted beauty of suffering and terror, oppression and hatred, struggle, love, fear, indifference, compassion, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, humiliating poverty and vulgar ostentation – extremes, contradictions, a maddening buffet of blandishment and repulsion.

And I haven’t even mentioned corruption, nepotism, greed, incompetence, and the other multiple sins and vanities of today’s ruling and entitled classes.

So, as we prepare to leave South Africa, and return to Canada, I feel the old duality still: this land is beautiful indeed, but it is also a suffering, struggling, hurtful beauty.

Twenty-seven years of liberation have brought progress, for sure; so much has changed, and for much the better. But so much has remained the same. ‘The Dream Deferred,’ as Mark Gevisser called it in his magisterial biography of Thabo Mbeki, seems as I round out my career, in education and development, not so much deferred as indefinitely postponed; less a prospect on the horizon or around the corner than a fragile unsubstantiated obstinate hope, a persistence of faith against the evidence and the available facts.

Burning the Veld

We have taken a few days out, as we come to the end of our time here, to rest and relax in the shadow of the Drakensberg, at a comfortable lodge overlooking Spioenkop, in the heart of the old Anglo-Boer War battlefields. It is peaceful now, the blood of Boer and Brit long since soaked and absorbed into the earth, the cries and the gunfire gone from the hills and the echoing valleys. Perhaps, one day, a similar calm will descend on the country, old wounds and old debts not necessarily forgotten but at least forgiven.

I hope so, with the part of me that can’t help but feel the call of the struggle. Yet there is part of me, too, as I look now toward the end of my contract and the freedom of retirement, that is over all this. Like a man remembering a former lover, I want to know how this terrible, beautiful, demanding mistress is doing, but it doesn’t matter.

In the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema

One of the best decisions we made on our trip to Spain was to head off the main road from Sevilla to Ronda, and take a detour through the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema. The ‘park’ is an area of wild beauty, rugged, steep, sheer, spectacular, dotted with isolated farmsteads and whitewashed pueblos blancos – the roads making for some nail-biting driving, the countryside for some dramatic photos.

Here is the road leading into – or out of – Grazalema. The farmer was tending his pigs a few kilometres outside and a couple of hundred metres below the village.



Golden Gate, Free State

Golden Gate # 8


Here are a few images of the stretch of the Maluti mountains, outside Clarens in the Free State, known as ‘Golden Gate’ for its imposing cliffs and rock formations, which glow golden in the afternoon sunlight.

I can’t say any one of these images completely knocks me out, but cumulatively, perhaps, they may give you some feeling for the rugged grandeur of the location.

Of course all of us were up there – the family I mean – admiring the view and taking photos, so there will be a post of family pics to follow.


Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander in KwaZulu Natal – well, meanders, criss-crossing the N3 that links Johannesburg to Durban, offering the traveller a network of scenic routes that winds through hills and valleys as it folds into its embrace potteries and chocolatiers, breweries and cheese-makers, leather workers and artists. It is the land of dairy – and, along a nondescript stretch of the old Johannesburg road, beside the railway line not far from Howick, the area where Mandela was captured, in August 1962, following a tip-off, it is believed, from the CIA – those friends of democracy everywhere.

These images, I hope, stand on their own, but they are also an entree to the blogs and photos that will follow: The Road to Ardmore takes us to the wildly imaginative ceramics of – you guessed it – Ardmore, Abingdon Estate is home to one of KZN’s few – and best – wineries, St John’s in Nottingham Road is a construction that was shipped out from Scotland in the late nineteenth century and assembled in situ, Dairy Country (the only colour photo in this collection) is dairy country and the Mandela Capture Site – well, speaks for itself.

The Natal Midlands: Two Gates and a Landscape

Two sets of gates on Beverley Farm, in the Dargle Valley; two interpretations. The one gothic, the other more bucolic.

The landscape shows the Karkloof, where we spent a lovely morning hiding in bird hides, on a farm, hoping for cranes.

Karkloof # 1.jpg

The Cape, Mothers Day

I had had my misgivings, as readers of this blog will know, about the weather expected across South Africa on Mothers Day, last Sunday. But, contrary to expectation, the Cape was in glorious form – warm, bright, still, the sea on both sides of Cape Point calm as a pond, the waves turning crisply white as they reached the shore.

I took my 85 year-old mom – she could pass easily for 70, and a pretty nimble 70 year-old at that – for a variant on one of our usual drives, this time over the high road above Kalk Bay, along the coast toward Simonstown, and up over the steep Redhill pass to the crest of the mountain and down again onto the Scarborough side.

At Scarborough we drove down to the beach, a picture of tranquillity, and then on to Witsand, where I was taken by the shadow-lines on the white sands from the wind-breaks, and stopped to take some more pictures with the Leica (Digilux Typ 109) – still my go-to camera when I’m traveling light, or traveling on business.

Here are some images – old hat for Capetonians, but maybe an incentive for some of our family and friends in Canada and the US – and indeed elsewhere – to consider a visit.

Thorns, Nirox Winter Sculpture Exhibition

I was wandering around, as you know, last Saturday, with my camera around my neck, at the Nirox Winter Sculpture Exhibition in the Magaliesberg. The spirits were warm, though the day was chilly and wet, the people as varied and interesting as the sculptures, and then, at the edge of a field, near the entrance, I saw these thorn trees.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to capture them, but I had in my head the idea that they were their own form of sculpture – there was something playful, perhaps salutary, or ironic, in the concept  – and the image seemed to have potential.

This is what I made of it.

Thorns, Nirox Winter Sculpture Exhibition

New Portfolios

You might want to mosey over some time and take a look at three new portfolios I’ve created on Adobe Portfolio – Namibia in black-and-white, with a portfolio each on Luderitz, Kolmanskop, and landscapes.

The images can also be seen on Behance, where you can comment if you wish, and sign up as a follower to receive updates when I post new portfolios.

You can click on the live links when you open this post to go directly to either of them – or both, if you wish!

Oh, and thanks so much for reading and following; it makes all this worthwhile.