Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Tour

For the next 3 weeks, I’m on tour guiding a group of German visitors through our country. This means that I won’t post anything during that time. The good news is that I have yet another opportunity to return with photos, which I can share in future on this blog, because my camera is always by my side.

Simply Clouds

This is what most travelers "by air" have the opportunity to observe - how fluffy and feather-bed-like clouds look from above - as seen through the windows of aeroplanes.

The next two photos (left and below) I've taken outside our house, i.e. clouds over Joburg (or Jozi = Johannesburg).

I took this photo of clouds (left) just after sunset in the "Valley of Desolation" (situated in the Graaff-Reinet district of the Eastern Cape Province).

After a thunder-storm (at home) - a magnificent rainbow.

Did you know that according to traditional folklore (in southern Africa) a rainbow represents a bad omen? In contrast to the European myth about a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the appearance of a rainbow, generally, means that the rain is over - certainly a "sad" phenomenon in countries always yearning for the relief only rain can bring to the often parched earth.

The last 2 photos (below) were passed on to me by our son-in-law, Quinton, and represent what we luckily don't experience to this degree in South Africa. I say "luckily", because I wouldn't like to be on the receiving end of such a force of nature, in contrast to those, who are known to actively "chase" tornadoes in the USA. Then, again, I guess we should be grateful some people do that, or how else would we be presented with such phenomenal photos?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rainbow Children

Sentimentally, I'm focusing today on the cute children of South Africa - from school going age (right) -

- to nursery school (left and below).

This is another one (left) of what I've called before a "stolen" photo. It was sent to me a couple of years ago by my friend Annatjie, who lives in Port Elizabeth. It's of her sweet granddaughter, Nina - two dolls in one picture?!

Isn't he too cute for words? It's a little Zulu boy I photographed at what was once known as Kwabekhitunga, but now is called Stewart's Farm.

And this "little man" looks so serious while a band is (literally) playing. I was with a group of tourists when we were treated to an impromptu concert in a local village near the Drakensberg Sun Hotel.

This photo (right) was taken in the same area but during a different occasion. The local primary school was having a prize-giving ceremony to which they invited me with a group of German tourists.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Rainbow Nation

Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the phrase "Rainbow Nation" with regard to South Africa's multi-culturally diverse population. Former president, Nelson Mandela, elaborated on it by saying (soon after he was elected) that South Africans are "a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world". I thought that the person standing on the pavement (photo right - snapped from a moving car) takes this rainbow-concept very seriously. Once you enlarge this photo, you will also see that this interestingly dressed individual is wearing a silver star on a piece of green felt, indicating membership of the Zionist movement, one of the largest religious groups in our country. Wherever you go in southern Africa, you will find people proudly displaying their affiliation with this church.

Most visitors seeking to catch a glimpse of whales (May-Nov each year), for which the coastal town of Hermanus (Western Cape) is famous, are also happy to see its equally renowned whale crier. If you enlarge this photo, you can see that on the board he's wearing, specific areas along the sea-board are stipulated - with a Morse Code "attached". The moment the whale crier is aware of where whales are breaching, he blows Morse-Code-style on the bugle, alerting all visitors in his vicinity of the exact site.

In South Africa, we call the performing group (right) "Kaapse Klopse" (Cape Minstrels). Every year, the city of Cape Town comes alive when New Year is celebrated by the Coloured community with a raucous carnival during which many minstrel bands compete to out-perform each other. I took this photo in Houtbay (on the Cape Peninsula), where such a group of Kaapse Klopse welcome back guests on a ferry-boat after visiting a small island just outside the bay, "inhabited" by Cape seals.

These two traditionally clad Ndebele ladies are found most days in the historic town of Pilgrim's Rest (Mpumalanga Province). Other than posing for tourists (photographers are expected to pay a small fee), they proudly represent a specific ethnic culture in our country. The Ndebele are famous for the colourful murals with which they decorate the outside walls of their homes, as well as for the traditional necklaces they wear. Peter Magubane, in his book "Vanishing Cultures of South Africa", explains that other than beaded wire hoops, "an Ndebele wife would also wear copper or brass rings (iindzila) around her neck. Traditionally, the husband provided his wife with her iindzila; the more rings she wore, the greater was her husband's wealth reputed to be. Iindzila are considered by a wife to be a token of her bond with and faithfulness to her husband."

This photo was taken at Stewart's Farm (KwaZulu-Natal) when it was still known as Kwabekhitunga. Here, visitors can relive a true, traditional experience. Portrayed in the photo is an isangoma (diviner) and her assistant, wearing traditional outfits. Again I'll quote Peter Magubane: "Diviners usually wear long white (and black) beaded headdresses in acknowledgment of their association with the shades of the underworld. Most diviners are female but men may also enter the profession if called by the ancestors to do so."

More traditional garb - in this case, following a German custom. This is a photo of a dear friend, Karsten, who doesn't know I'm using this photo by way of demonstrating the range of our rainbow nation. As a member of an oompah-band, which performs during get-togethers of the German-speaking community in the Greytown area (KwaZulu-Natal), Karsten is wearing a "uniform". The occasion, during which Karsten posed, was the annually held Hermannsburg School Fete, where old scholars, like me, love to meet.

Again, the man in this photo (my brother-in-law, Barry) isn't aware that I'm using it on this blog. It's also a "stolen" photo because his daughter, and not I took the photo. I got hold of it during a family reunion at Goudini Spa just outside Worcester (Western Cape), when we all exchanged photos. Barry hammed it up with whatever was available during a stop along the road, representing a bugle-player. Was he perhaps thinking of passing on military signals, or announcing the start of a hunt?

No dressing-up in this photo! Instead it's of youngsters wearing the prescribed uniform of the school they attend - it's a customary practice at schools in our country. I'm using this photo to present yet another insight into our multi-faceted rainbow nation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gregarious Primates

rate high on the list of intelligent primates. They are gregarious animals, live in troops of up to 50 or more, and have a well-developed social structure.

This is neither a gorilla nor a chimpanzee, but in fact a Chacma baboon, the only species of baboon native to South Africa. It represents the largest member of the monkey family. The subject in my photo is probably a dominant male, also known as an alpha-male and leader of a troop. Chacmas are omnivorous and forage for wild fruit, bulbs, roots, seeds, insects, scorpions, lizards and bird eggs.

Trivia: a mature male measures about 1.5m from head to tail, and weighs 30kg or more. The life expectancy is between 20 and 30 years.

How human-like is this posture? I've often had the chance to observe how engagingly human-like baboons are, but I must admit, the "attitude" of this baboon still caught me off-guard, sitting comfortably, just like an "old" man, in the fork of a tree. It's no wonder that because of its high intelligence and humanoid habits, the Chacma baboon rates amongst "favourites to spot" during game drives.

Mutual grooming amongst primates has two purposes: they keep each others' fur clean AND that promotes harmony (a sense of well-being?) within a troop. Can we learn something from the latter? After all, we are closely related: primates (in general) are divided into 5 divisions - the most primitive are prosimians (in SA including e.g. the bushbaby), then the somewhat more complex monkeys (in SA e.g. Vervet monkey and Chacma baboon), then the lesser & great apes (the latter including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees) and highest on the list are humans - also known as the most dominant and successful group of primates!?

Trivia: chimpanzees share 98% of DNA with humans - sadly that's the main reason why they are often used in scientific experimentation.

More human-like characteristics are "exposed" in this photo (in South Africa, we would call this an ag shame, sweet-moment). Although a disobedient baboon youngster can expect to be disciplined with a cuff from an adult male, the bond between adults and their offspring within a troop is often clearly on display. What amazed me during this "photo-session" is that the visible exchange of trust and affection, is "happening" between a youngster and a male, instead of between a female and her offspring. The mother is in the picture, though, protectively watching procedures.

Chacma baboons "carry" their tails in a characteristic "shepherd's crook" position, whilst the youngster in the photo (right) appears to be playfully trying to straighten the crook - or does it remind you of an action like pulling a chain? Whatever the case, the habit of juvenile baboons forming playgroups represents an important means by which youngsters learn new skills - and reveal human-like characteristics in this process. For which adult hasn't endured being pestered in one way or another, by a youngster?

After a gestation period of 6 months, a female baboon produces a single offspring and doesn't mate again for the following 18 months.
A newborn tends to cling to its mother (left)
or learns to "hitch a ride, jockey-style" once it gets older.

Now to the sad part - baboons are being threatened due to conflict with humans! The photo (left) reveals a typical example of confrontational behaviour by a baboon (as is often the case on the Cape Peninsula - this photo was taken at Cape Point). After years of being fed by visitors to the nature reserve, the baboons have become aggressive (= they expect to be fed!!). Whenever these baboons detect an opportunity to "steal" food from unsuspecting visitors - unfortunately, mostly from defenceless, young children - they take action. A law prohibiting people from feeding animals (who already have learned to help themselves!) therefore appears ineffective. Apart from that, most tourists (foreign and local) find it highly amusing when a baboon (like the one in my photo) reveals the learned tendency of opening packets of (stolen) food, lifting the lids off ice-cream tubs, or even pulling the seals off cold-drink tins. Talk about intelligence!?

Cause for concern for conservationists: in provincial legislation the chacma baboon is NOT classified as a game species - therefore can be shot without a permit!

On a lighter note - during a family "outing" along the western coast of our country, we saw a baboon perched on a water-reservoir, whilst the sheep, standing around, appeared more perplexed than frightened. Once the baboon "sailed" down to the ground, he calmly walked towards the herd of sheep - almost as if the baboon was "paid" to do the job of herding sheep! Now, baboons are often described as having "dog-like" faces (something I hate to hear, as I've explained before, when wild animals are compared with domestic animals). Well, I must admit, during this experience I couldn't help "falling in this trap", since it does appear as if this baboon reveals (sheep-) dog-like symptoms. Surely the farmer didn't train the baboon to herd his sheep??

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Jacaranda City

is South Africa's administrative capital (> Cape Town = legislative & Bloemfontein = judicial capitals) but Pretoria is also known as the Jacaranda City.

Between 50 000 and 70 000 Jacaranda trees "paint the city purple" during early summer. This plant/tree is exotic (not indigenous) to South Africa and is now prohibited from being planted - it's now listed as an highly invasive alien tree in our country.

Trivia: the first Jacarandas were planted in Pretoria over 100 years ago. The first trees were import from Brazil, although the country of origin is Argentina.

The Union Building in Pretoria was designed by Sir Herbert Baker according to the acropolis-concept in a neo-classic architectural style (Italian Renaissance). The building was completed in 1913 and is the official seat of South Africa's government, i.e. the office of the state president. In 1994, this building formed the backdrop to a joyous occasion - SA's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, was inaugurated here. The statue of a horse-rider (in forefront on photo) is of Gen Louis Botha, the first prime minister of SA when in 1910 the country was promulgated as the Union (> Republic 1961) of South Africa.

Did you know that the 2 wings of the Union Building represent the billingual nature of South Africa (when only Afrikaans and English were official languages)? By connecting the two wings this symbolises the unity, which these 2 cultures achieved after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

The Voortrekker Monument commemorates the "Great Trek" (groups of pioneers, who trekked north on ox-wagons) as well as the Battle of Blood River. Most South Africans no longer view the monument as making a political statement, but instead view it as a cultural memorial, commemorating the pioneer spirit of SA, although it's also seen as an icon to Afrikaner nationalism. What about calling it a "struggle" monument? Doesn't it celebrate the liberation from an oppressor, since the Voortrekkers, leaving the Cape Colony from 1835 onwards, viewed the British colonists as oppressors?

Trivia: it is said that the architect, Gerard Moerdijk, was influenced by the design of the "Voelkerschlachts Denkmal" outside Leipzig in Germany, which is 11 times bigger though than the Voortrekker Monument. Construction of the Voortrekker Monument started in 1937, the cornerstone was laid on 16 Dec 1938 (exactly 100 years after the Battle of Blood River) by 3 descendants of some Voortrekker leaders, but the monument was only inaugurated on 16 Dec 1949 (World War II, during which many SA citizens fought in Europe, interrupted procedures).

Did you know that the monument was designed in such a way that on 16 Dec, every year and at 12 o'clock, a ray of sunlight shines through a "cleverly" designed opening in the arch-like ceiling onto a cenotaph (symbolic grave) in the centre of the monument, illuminating the engraved words (from the national anthem) - "We for thee, South Africa"? The ray of sunshine is meant to symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers.

The Voortrekker Monument is surrounded by 64 (granite) ox-wagons representing the "laager" of wagons during the Battle of Blood River. This surrounding wall of wagons is said to form a symbolic "rampart against anything clashing with the ideals and views of the Voortrekkers". The lawn and flowerbeds are always kept in immaculate condition, and just outside the laager-wall is a garden with many indigenous plants.

The unique marble frieze inside the monument consists of 27 bas-relief panels depicting the story of the Great Trek from 1835-1852. The panel featuring in the photo represent the scene of the Battle of Blood River (panel 21) on 16 December 1838 between King Dingane's Zulu warriors and the Voortrekker, led by Andries Pretorius - after whom the city of Pretoria is named. What seems impossible, happened: 530 Voortrekker successfully defended their laager against 12 000-15 000 Zulus without a single Voortrekker-life lost that day.

The "Trek" to Natal (today the province of KwaZulu-Natal) started by crossing the treacherously steep Drakensberg mountain range, and ended with most Voortrekker leaving the province again along the same route in 1843 (panel 26) once the British had also annexed Natal (other than the Cape Province). The Voortrekker goal and ideal was to establish their own republic free of British rule.

Trivia: at 92m x 2.3m the Italian marble frieze of 27 panels inside the Voortrekker Monument is the largest of its kind in the world. Mostly Voortrekker descendants from whoever is depicted on the frieze, acted as models so that the designers could create "look-alike" identities.

The Ou Raadsaal (Old Government Building) is situated on the southern side of Church Square in the centre of Pretoria. Designed by the Dutch architect, Sytze Wierda, it was the seat of the ZAR (Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek) and the foundation stone was laid in 1889 by ZAR President, Paul Kruger (after whom the Kruger National Park is named). From the balcony of this building Lord Kitchener announced that the British had also annexed Pretoria (during the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902).

A statue of a 6.2m bronze figure was unveiled in during a low-key ceremony in July 2006. It represents Chief Tshwane, the man said to have inspired the naming of the metro-pole of Tshwane (> Greater Pretoria). The statue caused controversy because there's a difference of opinion on whether a chief, by the name of Tshwane, actually existed. Apart from that, it was was also suggested that this statue should replace "Oom Paul" - the former president of the ZAR, Paul Kruger (mentioned above) - on Church Square. In the end, the Statue of Tshwane was erected in front of the City Hall in Pretoria - and Oom Paul remains "standing" in the centre of Church Square. An engraving meant to feature at the base of the statue states that through Tshwane's existence "our city origin and history sprung".

Beautiful Landscapes

We have so many aesthetically pleasing landscapes in our country! Today I'd like to share some of these with you. On various occasions I've been overseas (of which I might one day also share photos on this blog!?) but nowhere have I experienced such deep admiration for natural splendour as my country, South Africa, presents manifold.

I took the 2 photos (above) on two different occasions and from two different angles as representative of vineyards and country-style living just outside Stellenbosch (Western Cape) during visits with tourists to the Neethlingshof Wine estate. Either flanked by hills or the Hottentot-Hollands mountains forming a magnificent backdrop, the area is a natural paradise - apart from being world-famous for the great wines produced here.

I think of this as my "signature" photo because I use it on the cover of a CD I filled with photos taken all over South Africa (available to whoever is interested). It's a collection similar (and "uncut"!) to what I "publish" on this blog. The photo (left) was taken during a visit to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve and represents what I find typical of what South Africa has to offer - wide, open spaces, wild animals in their natural habitat, a sky so clear and blue that a few clouds only enhance the image, etc. etc.

This rural scene (right) in KwaZulu-Natal was taken in the Cathedral Peak vicinity of the Drakensberg region. I think of it as a typical example of how and where a great proportion of our ethnically diverse population lives - in this case, the amaZulu.

This photo (left) represents a scene from an "untouched" area, which unfortunately doesn't feature on most tourist itineraries covering our vast country, because it's right on the northern border of South Africa. Most travelers - foreigners as well as locals - seldom make the effort to visit this natural as well as cultural significant "treasure house", i.e. Mapungubwe. It's another one of our (so far 8) World Heritage Sites, which attained UNESCO status (I will cover this in more detail in the near future). Here, 3 countries meet - South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This photo was taken of the Limpopo River just "below" its confluence with the Shashe River.

Something "different" (although similar to the first 2 photos) in the sense that this landscape is "man-made". It's a photo taken at Kirstenbosch, our National Botanic Garden (in Cape Town), where on more than 500ha, over 5000 species of mainly indigenous flora are on "open" display. Situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch was founded in 1913 on land, which Cecil John Rhodes had purchased in 1895. In his testament (he died in 1902), Rhodes bequeathed the land (part of his Groote Schuur estate) to the people of Cape Town.

This is one of the photos I store under the heading "Mood" in my collection, because of its aesthetic ambience. It's a scene along the Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape Peninsula - on the way to Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope. I just can't stop marveling at the "smorgasbord" of colours in this photo.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Exemplary Birds

By far the largest of our 3 local bustard species, the Kori bustard, is known as the heaviest and tallest bird capable of sustained flight. Other than its huge size (1,35m), the Kori bustard can also be identified by its crested head. This bird tends to walk slowly with measured strides, and although reluctant to fly, it at least can! - I mean this in comparison to the ostrich (at up to 2m, the biggest bird in the world - but: it can't fly). I recently photographed this magnificent and usually solitary Kori bustard at Etosha (Namibia).

The largest of the African storks is the Saddlebill stork (right). It's often found near water (as this one in the Kruger National Park), because its main diet consists of crabs, shrimps, frogs and fish - although it also feeds on small mammals and even birds. Because the Saddlebill stork is listed as endangered, I get very excited when I have the chance to encounter this colourful bird.

The bird I think of as the most regal-looking amongst the South African birds, is the Martial eagle - known as a fierce bird of prey. It also is one of the largest of our "true" eagles, with a wingspan of 2,1m or more.

Trivia: "true" eagles have fully feathered legs, distinguishing them from e.g. snake eagles and (all) other raptors.

Yes, I know it's not the first time that I present a Ground hornbill on this blog, but because of its size, I think this bird deserves another mention today. It's the largest of the hornbill family and grows to a length of up to 1,1m. I must admit, I hate it when some people describe this bird's appearance as a cross between a domestic turkey and a crow, because I don't like it when wild animals/birds are compared with domestic animals. Despite its size (and name), this bird roosts in trees - as the one in the photo, sitting on a branch - but forages on the ground. Although also listed as endangered, when one does encounter ground hornbills in the wild, they aren't solitary birds but instead are found in groups of 4-10 individuals. Their natural habitat is bushveld, woodland or montane grassland.

Generally, hornbills are fairly large birds, although half the size of their "cousin", the Ground hornbill. All hornbills (and as their name suggests) are easily identifiable by their enormous, mostly curved bills. In most cases, the upper mandible of male hornbills is "topped" by a growth called a "casque", as is visible on this photo of a Grey hornbill. This member of the hornbill family keeps to trees (= mainly "arboreal" > on the ground) in which it forages for food.

In my eyes, the most "comical"-looking (or even fierce/not amused?) in this family of birds, is the Yellowbilled hornbill. The casque of this member "adorns" the entire length of the male's upper mandible, which adds thickness to its bill. This hornbill feeds both on the ground and in fruiting trees, and is often seen at various, national park campsites across the parts of our country, which represents this bird's habitat.

The Redbilled hornbill is a look-alike of the previous species, but somewhat smaller in size. It's mostly by the colour of their bills that one can distinguish between the two family members, and the Redbilled hornbill also doesn't have a casque on its red bill. This bird mostly forages on open ground or in dung, and is often seen actively digging with its bill.

Some people, e.g. overseas visitors, like to compare our hornbills with toucans - found in tropical America - but the 2 bird species are in no way related!