Like hip hop, kwaito is not just music. It is an expression and a validation of a way of life – the way South Africans dress, talk and dance. It is a street style as lifestyle, where the music reflects life in the townships, much the same way hip hop mimics life in the US ghetto. Just as many of the influences on hip hop come from the streets of New York and California, kwaito became the musical voice of young, black, urban South Africa. It’s a mixture of all that 1990s South African youth grew up on: SA disco, hip hop, R&B, Ragga, and a heavy, heavy dose of American and British house music.
Thomas Pringle, Rider Haggard and Olive Schreiner, Wilbur Smith, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Athol Fugard, Credo Mutwa, Sol Plaatjie, Deon Meyer, NP van Wyk Louw, Andre Brink, Etienne Leroux, C.Louis Leipoldt, Can Themba, Breyten Breytenbach, Alan Paton, Eugene Marais and Herman Charles Bosman all wrote from these shores.
South Africa has produced two Nobel literature laureates: JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. The country has had a rich history of literary output. Until relatively recently, realism dominated the production of fiction – perhaps because authors felt an overriding concern to capture the country’s turbulent history and the experiences of its people.
Fiction has been written in all of South Africa’s 11 official languages – with a large body of work in Afrikaans, in particular. Many of the first black authors were missionary-educated, and the majority wrote in either English or Afrikaans. One of the first novels by a black author in an African language was Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi, written in 1930.
In 1939 a tall, shy Zulu migrant worker named Solomon Linda stepped up to the microphone and produced a three-chord song with lyrics something like “Lion! Ha! You’re a lion!”, inspired by boyhood memories of chasing lions stalking the family cattle. The song was called Mbube, Zulu for “lion”.
It’s estimated that Linda received a total of 10 shillings for the song. Yet the tune went on to become Pete Seeger’s runaway hit Wimoweh, then the Tokens’ The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on to at least 160 covers, before ending up in the voices of Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog characters in Disney’s classic movie and Broadway hit The Lion King, earning some US$15-million in royalties – but not for Linda. The musician died in 1962 with less than R100 in his bank account. His widow couldn’t afford a headstone for his grave. In February 2006, Linda’s legacy finally received some justice. After a six-year battle his daughters, who had claimed almost R10-million from copyright holder Abilene Music, settled their
So you think a cow is a cow is a cow?
Think again. South Africa’s indigenous Nguni cattle, long the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture, are possibly the most beautiful cattle in the world, with their variously patterned and multicoloured hides everywhere in demand. For hundreds of years, the well-being of the herds and the Zulu people have been so closely connected that cattle have become a part of the people’s spiritual and aesthetic lives.
In the remote Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda is a fascinating world of sculpture in concrete and glass, fantastic figures and mythical beasts set around a house decorated with luminous paint and multicoloured panes of glass.
This is the Owl House, created by the reclusive Helen Martins and her labourer Koos Malgas in the 1940s and now regarded as a masterpiece of visionary art. In her late forties Martins found herself divorced and alone, her parents dead, and back in the tiny town in which she grew up. The Owl House was her attempt to bring light, life and colour into her lonely grey world, and soon became a major obsession.
Known in South Africa as the Cradle of Humankind, the region of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs has one of the world’s richest concentrations of hominid fossils, evidence of human evolution over the last 3.5-million years.
Found in the provinces of Gauteng and North West, the fossil sites cover an area of 47 000 hectares. The remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and hominids – our early ancestors and their relatives – are captured in a bed of dolomite deposited 2.5-billion years ago. Although other sites in south and east Africa have similar remains, the Cradle has produced more than 950 hominid fossil specimens.
Sites in the area supply crucial information about members of one of the oldest hominids, the australopithecines – two-footed, small-brained primates that appeared about 5-million years ago.
Extinction is forever – or is it? On 12 August 1883 the last living quagga died at the Amsterdam zoo, and the world believed this unusual type of zebra had gone the way of the dodo. The quagga lived in the Karoo and southern Free State, unlike regular zebras, was striped on the front half of its body only, coloured a creamy light brown on its upper parts and whitish on its belly and legs.
South African English is both rich and peculiar. Here, cars stop at robots, not traffic lights.
A pickup truck is a bakkie, sneakers are takkies, a hangover is a babbelas, and people greet each other with a heita or howzit.
Eish! expresses surprise, frustration or outrage, and a juicy piece of gossip is likely to be greeted with a drawn-out see-ree-ous!. An particularly handy word is sharp (often doubled up for effect as sharp-sharp!), used as a greeting, a farewell, for agreement or just to express enthusiasm.
Voetsek! means go away right now – or else – and a bliksem is what will happen to you if you don’t voetsek. Those who won’t voetsek and aren’t scared of a bliksem are known to skrik vir niks – unless they’re simply spookgerook.
With an appropriate name, South African internet entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth used the millions he earned selling his company in his late twenties to become the first African in space. Joining a Russian crew on the International Space Station in 2002, SA’s Afronaut has gone on to become a major philanthropist, setting up the Mark Shuttleworth Foundation to promote science education and open-source software.
Shuttleworth’s Go Open Source campaign aims to create awareness, educate and provide access to the software – which is created by volunteers and free for anyone to download, use and modify. Software developed by Shuttleworth companies includes Ubuntu, a leading open-source operating system used, among others, by Google.
Tsotsi is the first South African film to win an Oscar, and has put the country’s movie industry firmly in the spotlight – and vindicated the government’s multimillion-rand strategy to increase the volume of local films and market South Africa as a film-making country.
Based on acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard’s only novel, Tsotsi – the word means “thug” or “hoodlum” – tells the story of a violent young street criminal who finds redemption after he inadvertently abducts a baby during a car hijacking.
The film cost $5-million to make and was filmed on location in Kliptown in Soweto, Gauteng.
Did you know that Table Mountain National Park has more plant species in its 22 000 hectares than the British Isles or New Zealand?
Or that the Drakensberg has both the highest mountain range in Africa south of Kilimanjaro and the continent’s richest concentration of rock art?
South Africa is home to seven Unesco World Heritage sites, places of “outstanding value to humanity”.
Natural heritage sites are the St Lucia wetlands, the Cape Floral Region and the Vredefort Dome meteor impact site. Cultural heritage includes the archaeological site of Mapungubwe, and Robben Island, for centuries a jail for political prisoners – including Nelson Mandela.
The Drakensberg mountain range, with its dramatic scenery and rich store of rock art, is a mixed natural and cultural World Heritage site.
The vineyards of the Western Cape have been producing wine since the 17th century, with perhaps the most famous estate, Groot Constantia, established in 1685.
Members of the British royal house, Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Philippe of France, Frederick II of Prussia, the Lords Seventeen of the VOC, governors, admirals and captains coveted the Constantia label and treated their special guests to it.
South Africa now has 100 200 hectares under vines for wine production, with the annual harvest some 600-million litres. The country produces 3,1% of the world’s wine and ranks as number nine in overall volume production.
The Winelands are set in magnificent Cape mountain scenery, with estates offering wine tastings, restaurants and accommodation. Some of the world’s top eateries are to be found in the region.
South Africans are lucky to have such a varied heritage.
Dishes such as bobotie can be ranked with the best in the work. Snoek braais are kong, pap is truly South African and no one can make chakalaka like we can. Biltong is another South African delicacy that you have expats queueing up for in foreign lands.
What about melk tert, koeksisters and ouma rusks. Where would we be without our truly South Agrican staples. Find some yummy South African recipes at https://www.foodandhome.co.za/recipes/braai
The Zulu people are South Africa’s largest population group, with isiZulu the most common home language.
They also have the country’s largest monarchy, headed by King Goodwill Zwelathini, and a rich and enduring culture going back centuries. Shaka, who ruled the Zulu in the 19th century, is possibly their most famous leader, an almost mythical figure and the stuff of legend – not to mention a fair amount of colonial fabrication.
South African cultural villages allow tourists to experience first-hand the traditional ways of life of South Africa’s people,
from the Basotho Cultural Village in the Free State, the Shakaland Zulu village in KwaZulu Natal, the Shangana Cultural Village and South Ndebele Open-Air Museum in Mpumalanga, and the Lesedi Cultural Village in Gauteng. Visitors get to eat traditional food, be entertained by traditional dance and music, and sleep in authentic dwellings. And the villages are more than a unique holiday experience: owned and run by local communities, they help uplift the often marginalised communities of rural areas.