From Table Mountain to its famed national parks and wineries, South Africa has so much to fascinate and delight visitors. Its former High Commissioner to Australia, Beryl Sisulu, takes us on a grand tour.
MUST EAT AND DRINK
South Africa has a rich multicultural history with cuisine influences from around the world, but perhaps the most typical is a braai. Known elsewhere as a barbecue, a braai must include boerewors (spicy sausage), pap (maize porridge) and chakalaka (a vegetable relish). Bobotie is a Cape Malay spiced curried mince dish with a savoury custard-like topping, while koeksisters, malva pudding, and milk tart show South Africans’ sweet tooth. In order to truly experience South African hospitality, make sure you attend a traditional braai.
One of my favourite things to do when I’m home is to visit Durban, which is famous not only for its beaches, but also for its Indian curries. For a quick trip to the beach, grab a bunny chow, a unique fast food dish of hollowed out white bread filled with curried mince. There’s nothing like it!
For lovers of fine wine and excellent food, I recommend visiting some of the popular wine routes. South Africa has some of the oldest vineyards in the world, first planted by the Dutch in the late 18th century. The Cape wine growing region has some unusual varietals such as Pinotage, always of interest to wine enthusiasts. For those interested in liqueurs, make sure you try Amarula, a liqueur made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree.
MUST DO EXPERIENCES
For a different perspective of urban life, I recommend a township tour to Soweto in Johannesburg or Khayalitsha in Cape Town. Visiting an informal tavern or “shebeen” in a township is a must do experience. The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg explores South Africa’s 20th century history, while the vibrant Maboneng precinct in Johannesburg is abuzz with art, culture and music.
For many tourists it’s all about the wildlife. You cannot visit my extraordinarily beautiful country without doing a safari. There are plenty of game reserves. Kruger National Park is the oldest and among the largest in Africa, having been first established in 1926. Take your time and you are assured of seeing most, if not all, of the Big Five! (Lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo.)
MUST LISTEN AND DANCE TO MUSIC
Wow, where to start? South Africa has an incredibly rich musical history in many genres. Listen out for old favourites such as Hugh Masekela, Johnny Clegg and Miriam Makeba, or pick up a compilation of traditional music. New kids on the block include Jeremy Loops, Die Antwoord and Nasty C. One of my favourite albums is Freshlyground’s 2004 Nomvula. It captures so many different elements of South African music. Try to take in some gumboot dancing, introduced by mine workers from regional areas, and traditional Zulu dance in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
MUST VISIT TOURIST SITES
Cape Town, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, is famous for its visits to Table Mountain and Robben Island. To get to Table Mountain you can take the cable car up for some spectacular views. If you are energetic, there are excellent hikes.
MUST READ BOOKS
It’s difficult to avoid political books which have provided a rich vein of talent. My pick would be Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter (1979), a homage to the Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fischer, who defended Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists. It is narrated by the daughter of the central character, who faces the consequences of her parents’ martyrdom for their political ideals.
Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, gives a historic perspective of the struggle against apartheid, while comedian Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime illustrates the effects of apartheid on a child of mixed-race, and his subsequent search for belonging.
Something quite different is brilliant Afrikaner poet Eugene Marais’ Soul of the White Ant (1937), a fascinating investigation of these intriguing insects.
Augrabies Falls in the Northern Cape is a hidden treasure and well worth a visit, particularly if you are travelling to the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. If you have time and are feeling adventurous, head for the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, surely among the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Augrabies Falls National Park is home to the 145 metre waterfalls and the adjoining ravine, considered one of the most spectacular sights in South Africa, is a highly recommended destination. Located in an arid area, the reserve offers spectacular scenery and is one of the best locations in South Africa to view Klipspringer and Dassies (Rock Hyrax).
Above all though, I suggest you spend time with the people and experience the joy found in Ubuntu, the meaning of which is “humanity”. Our Rainbow Nation is our country’s greatest asset. We have 11 official languages so you are sure to learn some new words! South Africa looks forward to welcoming you. TTW
Beryl Sisulu is the High Commissioner at the South African High Commission in Canberra. Photographs supplied. More at Visit South Africa.
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Check out the famous Babylonstoren estate in the Simonsberg Mountains, deep in Cape Winelands territory.