There was snow in the Drakensberg last weekend; usually an event that prompts a migration of motorists to the mountains, hoping to get a hold of some snow, to make a snowman or attempt to drive up Sani Pass. I was busy that weekend and so I missed the rush for snow, but come Tuesday while doing a landscape photo shoot, I couldn’t help but notice the white snow caps glistening in the far distance. I had to go. I simply had to have a few pictures of that beautiful white stuff, still such a novelty for us! I’d take a little road trip on my own this time and hook a left or a right, with no particular plan in mind, other than to find a view of the snow capped mountains.
I drove to Reicheanau Mission. I drove to Underberg, to Cobham Reserve and onto Vergelegen Reserve. Exploring the berg midday is certainly not the optimal time of day for photography, but it was more like a ‘scouting tour’ for future trips. It was also a time to simply ponder ‘life’ in South Africa.
As I drove down the narrow muddy Vergelegen road, I remembered I was alone. But it was too late to turn back. The road had very recently been graded, making it rather 4×4-ish in parts and difficult to turn around. I had to keep going. There was no cell phone signal either and I was starting to think, ‘You stupid fool, how will anyone know where you are if you get stuck?!’ I pictured my vehicle; deep in mud, wheels spinning but going nowhere. I thought about what I’d do if that happened; if I had to spend a night in my car on a lonely road in a reserve that not too many people visit. How would I survive a night in the berg without slowly freezing to death in my driving seat – starving, alone and scared? But then I thought to myself, ‘Well thank god, I’ve still got a packet of peanuts.’ And if things really got serious, I’d resort to a half empty packet of marshmallows that I had hidden under the car seat from the kids from the previous camping trip. ‘I’d be alright,’ I thought.
In fact more than that, I’d be bloody brilliant! On the way back from the Vergelegen I pumped up the tunes. I felt proud that I alone had conquered the muddy road. I was invincible. I felt the rush of adrenaline and heard the little mantra playing over and over in my head, ‘I can do this!’ I opened up my window, wanting to feel the icy cold wind blowing through my hair, the sense of adventure – a potential Dakar rally driver if you must – and suddenly, SPLAT! A solid sheet of mud flew up from under the trye and through the window, smothering my face with a thick layer of gritty berg mud. I closed my window and wiped my face. ‘Dakar would have to wait another year,’ I thought.
The golden hour was near and I had finally gotten back to the main road. I needed to start making my way home and I decided to take the dirt road that cut through the productive farmlands from Himeville, through to Pevensey and onto Bulwer.
I stopped to take many pictures. And on the way, some motorists stopped to ask me if I was okay – since I had parked on the side of the road and seemed to be going nowhere. I suppose their concern and sometimes ‘suspicion,’ shouldn’t have been any surprise. I think South African’s ‘think’ the worst. We live in fear – though not gripped by fear, always on the alert. When we see a car parked on the side of the road, we think: “Is it a stolen vehicle? Have they broken down? Do they need help? Are they scouting the place as the next possible ‘hit,’ why is that car parked here, Whose car is that? But never, ‘Oh that’s just a photographer taking a picture of the landscape.’ Is this mindset normal? I dont think so. But I think it’s a typically South African mindset. And who can blame us?
I still cant quite wrap my head around the fact that just near this mountain, only a couple of weeks ago, was the place of yet another gruesome murder. A man was attacked and tortured with his garden tools. He was then set alight. His wife came home to a bloody and tragic scene after attending a community fundraising event.
You get used to it. Every time that whatsapp security message ‘pings,’ you expect to read…’there was a farm attack last night…’and you hurriedly scroll down the message. Was he killed or did he survive and do you know him or her? It happens more than you can possibly believe. Gruesome, gruesome murder. Not just a simple gun shot, but torture.
South Africa is a land of such beauty, contrasts, complexities, hope and contradictions. We all have our own ‘version’ of South Africa. Some happy, some not.
For me, South Africa is a clock ticking. One minute you’ll be pondering glorious sunsets and the next, murder. But the clock doesn’t stop for either.