Latest News! 21st November, 2019

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Van Rynevelds Pass Van Rynevelds Pass - Photo: Camdeboo Cottages

The week that was:

* MPSA is on tour

* Lesotho-Sani Tour (Part 1)

* South African History (Final Chapter)

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom

Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour
By the time you read this we will be in Kirkwood meeting guests for our Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour. We will as usual, provide comprehensive feedback on the tour and share photos and videos. The weather forecast indicates no rain with temperatures ranging between 5C and 33C. This will be our last tour of 2019 but rest assured we have a wonderful set of tours planned for 2020 and hope that YOU are able to join us on one of them.

Lesotho-Sani Tour report back
This was our most popular tour of 2019 with 12 guest vehicles and 2 guide vehicles making up a long convoy. Once again we were blessed with generally fine weather and the sights and sounds of Lesotho did not disappoint. But let's start at the beginning.

The tour was run right at the end of the winter period as we specifically did not want to be turned back by ice or snow on the roads, but the reality is that Lesotho experienced snow on Saturday 16th November. Planning tour dates is a matter of lowering the likelihood of bad weather.

We met up at the Zuikerkop Lodge near Clocolan in the Eastern Free State, where as the only guests, we had royal treatment by the staff and excellent food. We were able to utilise their conference facilities for our first driver briefing which was attended by 37 people from all over South Africa. We will definitely be supporting this business for future tours to Lesotho.

The convoy departed on time on Friday morning 27th September in perfect sunny weather. We chose the Peka bridge border control point as it is quiet and the bigger border posts can get very busy on Fridays. The crossing took less than 20 minutes for the entire group as we quickly turned left and joined the tarred A1 heading south towards Maseru. The 60 km trip from Peka to Maseru was however, painfully slow with the streets lined with car dealers, taxis, skedonk cars and careless pedestrians, dogs and goats.

It would be some time before we reached our first pass of the day - Bushmans Pass. To while away the time, we regaled our guests with some interesting information on Lesotho:

Lesotho, officially named the Kingdom of Lesotho, is an enclaved country within the borders of South Africa. It is just over 30,000 square kilometres in size and has a population of around 2,2 million people. Its capital and largest city is Maseru.

Lesotho was previously the British Crown Colony of Basutoland, but it declared independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966. It is now a fully sovereign state, and is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). [More lower down]

The Lesotho Government is a parliamentary or constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister is head of government and has executive authority. The King of Lesotho, Letsie III, serves a largely ceremonial function; he no longer possesses any executive authority and is prohibited from actively participating in political initiatives. There are only three active monarchies remaining in Africa; Morocco, eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland), and Lesotho.

Because of its elevation, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude. Most of the rain falls as summer thunderstorms. Maseru and surrounding lowlands can get as hot as 30°C in summer. Winters can be very cold, with the lowlands getting down to −7°C and the highlands to −18°C at times. Snow is common in the highlands between May and September; the higher peaks can experience snowfalls all year round.

The official currency is the Loti (plural: Maloti), but it can be exchanged at a 1:1 ratio with the Rand. One hundred Lisente (singular: Sente) equals one Loti. Rands are accepted anywhere within the country.

The traditional style of housing in Lesotho is called a “mokhoro”. Many older houses, especially in smaller towns and villages, are of this type, with walls usually constructed from large stones cemented together. Baked mud bricks and especially concrete blocks are also used nowadays, with thatched roofs still common, although often replaced by corrugated roofing sheets.

Traditional attire revolves around the Basotho blanket, a thick covering made primarily of wool. The blankets are ubiquitous throughout the country during all seasons, and are worn differently by men and women. Footwear for men and young boys often consists of gumboots.

One of the staple foods is pap-pap, a cornmeal porridge covered with a sauce consisting of various vegetables. Tea and locally brewed beer are popular choices of beverages. Coloured flags are often used to advertise when home-brewed beer and/or food is available; white is for sorghum beer, yellow for ginger sorghum beer, green for vegetables and red to indicate that meat is for sale.

2018 film “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler has confirmed that his depiction of the fictional country of Wakanda was inspired by Lesotho. Much of the background scenic footage was shot on location in Lesotho and in South Africa. Basotho blankets also became more well-known as a result of the film.

[More next week]

South African History - Chapter 27

A New Dawn

Nelson Mandela being sworn in as president of the new South Africa in 1994.

By the early 1980s, leadership of the National Party had passed to a new class of urban Afrikaner; business leaders and intellectuals who believed that reforms should be introduced. P.W. Botha succeeded B.J. Vorster as prime minister, and the government began a series of apartheid concessions. It repealed the bans on interracial sex and marriage, desegregated the hotels, restaurants, trains, buses and beaches, removed the reservation of skilled jobs for whites, and repealed the pass laws. A new constitution was promulgated that created separate parliamentary bodies for Indians and Coloureds. 

The Botha reforms, however, stopped short of making any real change to the distribution of power. The white parliamentary chamber could override the Coloured and Indian chambers on matters of national significance, and all blacks remained disenfranchised. The Group Areas Act and the Land Acts maintained residential segregation. Schools, health and welfare services for blacks, Indians and Coloureds remained segregated and inferior, and most non-whites, especially blacks, were still desperately poor. 

South Africa’s black neighbours formed the Southern African Development Coordinating Conference in an effort to limit South Africa’s economic domination of the region, but it made little progress. Most of the export trade from the region continued to pass through South African ports, and the country provided employment for some 280,000 migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Botha also used South Africa’s military strength to restrain its neighbours from pursuing anti-apartheid policies. Besides the support of UNITA in Angola, the SADF assisted the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) rebels in Mozambique, and troops entered Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Lesotho in order to make pre-emptive attacks on ANC groups and their allies in these countries. South African dissidents from all race groups were harassed, banned, or detained in prison without necessarily being charged under renewable 90-day detention sentences. 

The conservative administrations of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain and President Ronald Reagan in the United States faced increasingly insistent pressures for sanctions against South Africa. A high-level Commonwealth mission went to South Africa in 1986 in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the government to suspend its military actions in the townships, release political prisoners, and stop destabilizing neighbouring countries. Later that year, American public resentment of South Africa’s racial policies was strong enough for the U.S. Congress to pass, over a presidential veto, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which banned new investments and loans, ended air links, and prohibited the importation of many commodities. Other governments took similar actions. 

The struggle intensified and became further polarized. The new constitution of 1983 had attempted to split the opposition to apartheid by meeting Indian and Coloured grievances, whilst at the same time giving blacks no political rights except in the homelands. In response, more than 500 community groups formed the United Democratic Front, which became closely identified with the exiled ANC. Strikes, boycotts, and attacks on black police and urban councillors began escalating, and a state of emergency was declared in many parts of the country. The government embarked on a campaign to eliminate all opposition. For three years, policemen and soldiers patrolled the black townships in armed vehicles. They destroyed black squatter camps and detained, abused, and killed thousands of blacks, whilst the army continued its forays into neighbouring countries. Rigid censorship laws tried to conceal these actions by banning television, radio, and newspaper coverage. 

The brute force used by the government did not halt dissent. Long-standing critics such as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, defied the government, and influential Afrikaner clerics and intellectuals withdrew their support. Resistance by black workers continued and saboteurs caused an increasing number of deaths and injuries. The economy suffered under severe strain from the cost of sanctions, administering apartheid, and military adventurism, especially in Namibia and Angola. The gross domestic product decreased, annual inflation rose above 14 percent, and investment capital became scarce. Given these circumstances, most white citizens came to realize that there was no stopping the incorporation of blacks into the South African political system. 

Government officials held several discussions with imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela as these events unfolded, but Botha balked at the idea of allowing blacks to participate in the political system. National Party dissent against Botha in 1989 forced him to step down as both party leader and president. The National Party parliamentary caucus subsequently chose F.W. de Klerk, the party’s Transvaal provincial leader, as his successor. More than 20 years younger than Botha, de Klerk exhibited more sensitivity to the dynamics of a world where, as democracy arose in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the blatant racism that still existed in South Africa could no longer be tolerated. De Klerk announced a program of radical change in a dramatic address to Parliament on 2 February 1990; nine days later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. During the next year Parliament repealed the remaining apartheid laws, lifted the state of emergency, freed many political prisoners, and allowed exiles to return to South Africa. 

On 27 April 1994, South Africa held its first fully democratic election, with millions of blacks participating in a national election for the first time. The ANC was victorious, and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first black president. The transition to democracy was a crucial turning point in world history, ending more than three centuries of colonialism and finally burying the repressive system of apartheid.

MPSA would like to thank Mike Leicester for this excellent contribution to the website. The entire history section can be found permanently embedded on the MPSA website via this link: SA HISTORY

PODCAST This week we chat about some of the big passes in Lesotho with a special focus on the Mohale Dam.

Pass of the Week

This week we trek off to the Karoo town of Graaff Reinet with it's many national monuments and magnificent church, but we explore an old pass first built by Andrew Bain in the mid 1800's who first worked as a saddler in the town, (after emigrating from Thurso, Scotland) before trying his hand at road building. The original Van Rynveld's Pass can still be seen today just to the west of the new road, but much of the old road disappeared under the waters of the Van Rynveld Dam (Nqweba Dam) once the dam filled up. As short as what the pass is, it holds a number of interesting points of interest, not least of which is the memorial of Gideon Scheepers.

* * * * *   V A N    R Y N E V E L D S   P A S S   * * * * *

Trygve Roberts

Thought of the day: "Take every chance you get in life, because some things only happen once" – Karen Gibbs

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