I progressed further through the Western Cape without too many hassles and moved into the Northern Cape; providing me with climbing roads that wound past small towns all the way until Springbok. The area is known for its flower blooms in late August, which carpet the ground in a sea of bright colours. Considering I was a little early for that, I’ll remember the area for the small towns that became a constant of broken glass, loitering men (always men), and more alcohol shops than grocery shops. It wasn’t the Africa I was daydreaming about when working long days in Australia.
From Springbok I cycled the remaining 125Km to the Namibian border. A smooth decent brought me to the Orange River where I met Rick, a Dutch cyclist at the end of his Cairo to Cape Town journey. He told me tales of Malaria in Uganda, stone throwing kids in Ethiopia, hyenas around his tent on ten separate occasions and cycling away from an elephant that was charging him. His stories filled me with nerves and excitement and gave me hope at a more exciting adventure than the last few weeks.
Whilst cycling in South Africa hasn’t had me gasping in amazement, the current political and social climate sure made up for any lull moments.
Just before I had arrived, contentious political mandates have acted as a catalyst to already burning issues. The ruling ANC (African National Congress) has floated an “exoneration without compensation” policy that transfers white owned agricultural land to black South Africans. Perhaps it’s just a political distraction from a party drowning in corruption charges and dwindling support, but it still doesn’t help an already fragile situation. And purely from an outsiders view it was fascinating, provocative and even a little scary.
Often people would assume me for a white South African, if they were black we would ignore each other, if they were white I might get a question about the bike. But as soon as both parties realised I was from overseas both would engage in fun, light-hearted conversation.
But, by the time I had left the country I had almost exclusively talked to white people. After constantly hearing all their doom and gloom I started second guessing my own intuition and instinct. I rarely wild camped, and I watched my possessions with even more care. All of this was completely unintentional, and I hardly consider myself a racist. But, I think the constant barrage of racial separation, demonization and distrust had its own negative effect on me. It put a small dampener on an otherwise fantastic country.
The irony in reading Nelson Mandela’s, Long Walk to Freedom, really hit me. Apartied has finished in an official capacity, but it’s alive in many facets scattered throughout every day in modern South Africa. The racial stalemate will continue to abide.