On our way to see South Africa eluding whales (we only got to see a tail, far into the sea, and through binoculars), our very friendly guide shared a wealth of information about the country – both things he was proud of, and sadder realities – something I personally very much appreciated.
Some of the things he was saying sounded a bit stretched, though, so I decided to fact check him when I got back home.
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It’s how I learned, for example, that South Africa:
- Has the longest Wine Route in the World. Spanning a distance of 850 km, Route 62 is said to be the longest wine route in the world, stretching from Cape Town, Constantia, to Port Elizabeth
- Has an amazing agriculture setup, growing everything from apples, oranges, and dates, to mangoes, litchis, and avocados.
- Is not the largest merino wool producer in Southern Hemisphere (that would be Australia, obviously) contrary to what our guide said
- Neither is South Africa the largest cheese industry in the Southern Hemisphere. However, cheese is – mark my word – as delicious as your finest French or Dutch favorites.
One look at their Huguenot heritage will explain why SA is a significant producer, with about 82 000 metric ton of cheese per year, according to Agri-Expo. That means more than twice the production of Greece, but it’s still dwarfed by the German Goliath, which apparently accounts for over 2M tons!
- It is true, though, that South Africa is home to the world’s fastest mammal (cheetah), largest fish (whaleshark), and largest bird (ostrich). Plus: Penguins!
- Kruger Park, spanning an area as big as the Netherlands, is considered to be the largest conservation area in the world
The Not so Pretty
As we exited Cape Town, heading towards Hermanus – the Whale capital – we passed by one of the many townships (informal settlements, with barracks and makeshift houses) and learned that this particular stretch of land held close to 1.2M people!
- Unfortunately, according to the World bank, townships hold as much as half of South Africa’s urban population
- The unemployment rate is said to be close to 60%.. These are people that, for the most part, are living on less than one dollar a day
As a result, and because the country struggles with a prevalent culture of violence, the crime rate is high – this you probably knew about, right? I have many people ask me when I mention South Africa: but just how safe is it?
So it warmed my heart our guide pointed at the green space separating the motorway, where many homeless people take shelter to evade violence, and said “not all poor people are criminals“
Townships were a creation of the apartheid system, legally supporting the racial segregation in South Africa – a law that persisted until the 1990’s.
The government does try to move forward and provide free housing, but the average wait time for such a house can go as far as 20 years!
Hit by Drought
We also ended up going to South Africa at the end of the southern winter (barely spring) and amidst the worst drought in over a century.
Even though we saw the rough hit of the drought in the safari, you’d never even consider Cape Town area to be an affected area… Just look at this beauty!
There were signs on the motorway letting drivers know that the water level in the dam dropped at 22%, which means the water reserves would only last until November. Our guide told us that most households are now bound to 2-minute shower restrictions.
Bordered by two oceans, it would seem that desalination is an obvious solution for South Africa – albeit an expensive one. So the government is investing in desalination solutions to have a fallback plan since the situation is not looking to improve.
Between lack of proper preparation, political instability and corruption though, South Africa experiences regular and often violent protests over public service delivery.
Here’s a country which would thrive tenfold, if only it had the leadership it deserves – but which had been deprived of rights for so long, it is just learning how to juggle with responsibility.
As tourists, we’re most of the time oblivious to the country itself apart from the touristic attractions it has to offer. I think we should try to learn about the places we visit, beyond the obvious.Do you?
What’s the one thing about your recent destination that surprised you the most?