Cradles of Humankind: Maropeng and Delhi

July was a busy month and I did a great deal of traveling. This began with a weekend in Johannesburg with school friends. We have been getting together every so often for about seven years now. Owen and I flew up to Johannesburg to see David who had organised a packed weekend which included a visit to the Cradle of Humankind at Maropeng  ear Pretoria, listening to Prime Circle at Gold Reef City and going to the Apartheid Museum. The flight up was easy, it was negotiating the wonderful Gautrain ( the rapid transit link between the airport and Sandton) that we found tough. It is an amazingly efficient mode of transport but is hi-tech.

The Cradle is essentially a museum looking at early human history and I found it a little disappointing. Perhaps if we had also visited the Stilfontein Caves, the site of the archaeological dig, it would have meant more. It might also have been that I was caught out again by the Highveld winter. The trouble is that when one flies from Durban in winter the temperature is usually around 20° and in Johannesburg it is 10 or more degrees cooler. I did not have enough warm clothing but now have a new t-shirt from the Cradle, which I bought and put on under my shirt in the store. It is neither very nice nor very warm but did the job.

The Apartheid Museum  is amazing and extremely moving. Having lived through much of this, I found myself moved to tears at various points in the walk around. It was also interesting to realise how much the government of the day had kept from its citizens and the world. I was in England when the Soweto uprising began and vividly remember a fellow student from the township, with whom I had chatted in Afrikaans, saying that he could no longer speak the language. Looking back at a time when news was not instant, (I had to book a telephone call to my parents in Swaziland if I wanted to talk to them), it must have been extraordinarily stressful. The end of ‘legal’ Apartheid began soon after we arrived in South Africa, but was protracted and extremely brutal.

At the end of the weekend I went to Pretoria, using the Gautrain again, to facilitate a meeting for the British Department for International Development (DFID), looking at their AIDS position paper. This was the second in a series of three meetings, the first one having been in London. The Permanent Under-Secretary for State, Lynne Featherstone MP, was at both meetings. It was interesting to see how little formality there was around her participation as compared with many other nationalities’ ministers who have security entourages and inflated egos. Is this a sign of mature democracies?

The following week I hopped on an Emirates flight to Dubai and then connected through to Delhi to run the third and final DFID workshop. I left Durban on Tuesday night and got back on Saturday evening. These seemed long flights but I watched four films, two of which I would recommend, and did a fair amount of work. It is probably 14 years since I was last in India. Delhi is transformed from what I remember. The parts of the city that I saw were clean; there was little pollution; and a sense of hope and progress. Even the traffic seemed to move better. The hotel was slightly shabby, but as one would expect there were huge numbers of staff with infinite talents, including the ability to repair my computer, which did not want to talk to their Internet wireless system. I was able to get to one of the ‘Emporia’ shops and buy some shirts, bed sheets and a few gifts. I also bought a carpet which was packaged on the spot in a hessian bag for shipment.

Emirates is a great airline and I was deeply fascinated to see the multinational composition of the cabin staff. These included a number of South Africans of all races. My ability to speak Zulu is very limited but I did greet the obviously Zulu named stewardess (a name like Ncgobo is a giveaway). What was particularly striking is that these people, mostly in their 20s, do not have the hang-ups about race that I do. They are simply young professional people doing a great job, in an accepting environment. It was so refreshing. This is the direction that our nation needs to go in.

I had to spend a night in Dubai on the way back and I am ashamed to say that I checked into the airport hotel and stayed there. In my defence it is the height of summer and apparently it was 40° and humid outside the building. One of my fellow passengers warned me about this and also remarked that it was very uncomfortable. The hotel was very adequate and a good night’s sleep was much appreciated. They even had a small, but well equipped gym, with a power plate, an astonishing piece of equipment that, I believe, almost does the exercise for you. I would be very happy to travel on Emirates again, perhaps that will be my route from Canada to South Africa in the years ahead.

At the end of the month I drove up to Swaziland for a Waterford Governing Council meeting. It’s a long drive, and so I left ahead of schedule to drive halfway back and stayed overnight at Mkuze. There will be more on Waterford and event  in the next posting since that is where I am going in a few weeks for the ‘decade’ reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the school. There are some new photos in the gallery.

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Alceste A Bicyclette, a delightful French film about a TV star going to Ile de Ré to persuade a friend who has become reclusive, to star in his new production of Molière’s infamous comedy of manners ‘The Misanthrope’. The place does not get very good press, it seems to rain there more than one would expect. The way the characters are portrayed is excellent and most of the story is dialogue-driven and about character development.

The Sapphires is an Australian film based on the true story of four aboriginal women who get together to form a group to entertain the American and Australian troops in Vietnam. They have to overcome racial prejudice and function in a war zone. The way these people were treated in Australia is quite shocking. At the end there were pictures of the women as they are now, I found that extremely moving.

Jack Reacher is a straightforward film about the character created by Lee Child. Reacher is a former military policeman who is now a drifting investigator. Five people are shot in a seemingly random manner by a sniper. The police take a ministry veteran into custody, he is beaten up in jail and spends the period of the film in a coma but requests that Jack Reacher be called in before this happens. Reacher then investigates and discovers that one of those killed was being targeted. This is a thriller and great for watching on airplanes. There is unusually no love interest at all!

Admissions is a feel good comedy. A Princeton admissions officer risks and loses her job getting a young man admitted to the university. She does this because she is led to believe that he may be her son, given up for adoption some 20 years before. The film does capture some of the conflicts faced with unwanted pregnancies and families. Her mother is portrayed as a feminist who was quite unbending. Again this is a good film for traveling.

Felix is on a similar theme. The story is about Felix Xaba,  a 14-year-old black boy living in a township outside Cape Town who is admitted to a private school. His mother is a domestic worker. Felix dreams of becoming a saxophonist – like his late father. This is a South African feel good film but quite interesting to think this may be the experience of some of the children we admit to Waterford. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it of all the films I saw as it is well made and thought provoking.