Glen and I are back from a week’s holiday that started in the Midlands, in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, about 2 hours west-ish of Durban. It’s an area that was heavily colonized by the English and Scots in the 19th century the legacy of which still remains with polo fields, an abundance of prep schools and thatched roof inns that look as if they were air-lifted straight out of the English countryside.
We rented a cottage on a farm where the main house echoed of faded colonial glory but retained a restrained elegance. Although we were self-catering, we opted for them to prepare our dinner the night of our arrival. Walking into the red-walled dining room filled with a massive table, cabinets of silver and English bone china and roaring fire flanked by two gigantic elephant tusks made us feel like we had walked into some 19th century English baronial manse. Dinner was amazingly good and we were pleased we had pre-ordered food from the house chef, Ruth, to heat up other nights. Glen commented that the only thing missing was that we should have been seated at either end of the long dining table just like in the movies!
One goes to the Midlands, an area of rolling hills, to do “The Midlands Meander” as it’s an area full of artisans from cheesemakers to potters to shoemakers. One of the most unique is Ardmore Ceramics. I tend to prefer the more “earthly” style of pottery, but Ardmore has gone absolutely baroque working with local Africans and encouraging them to take the work in their own creative direction. One of the most interesting aspects of this company is the division of labour: one either makes the pots or decorates them. Both are monumental tasks given the complexity of the work.
The most moving place to visit as one meanders the Midlands is the Mandela Capture Site: the very spot where Mandela was arrested on August 5th, 1962, on a tip provided by the CIA. The capture eventually leading to his 26 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. Without this monument, I would not have known about what had happened on this non-descript stretch of road in Howick. But to stand there, almost 55 years to the day of the capture, gave me a feeling similar to what I get I when I walk through a cemetery—I may not know the people buried there but I felt but I feel the presence of the place. That day, I felt connected to Mandela and the power of what had happened on that site.
In order to view the sculpture, one follows the “Long Walk to Freedom” that positions one correctly to see the portrait of Mandela in the assemblage of jagged pieces of metal. When viewed from the wrong direction (see photo below) the image doesn’t exist. The genius of the artwork honours the genius of the man.
Last week, I was making split pea soup as it’s winter here and nothing is as cheap or comforting as a nice bowl of pea soup. Maybe it was the word “Canada” on the bag that caught my eye, but I had a good laugh when I learned what world travellers these very peas were. They could be from Canada or the US or UK with a few thrown in from France or Ukraine. Getting spit peas here in South Africa is clearly a convoluted matter but someone at Pioneer Foods in Paarl wanted us to know exactly where these peas might have come from.
Unfortunately, I am reminded regularly that I am living in a country where not everyone takes accuracy as seriously as Pioneer Foods of Paarl, South Africa. We live in a cluster of five townhouses. Today, for example, I texted a neighbour who seems to have some sort of decision-making power here, about the lack of an address on our complex making it very difficult for couriers and repairmen to find us. Our address is 64 – 12th Street. So I asked if the number “64” could be put up near our entrance gate to solve this matter. Her response was interesting saying that our address is actually 62 – 12th Street despite our lease saying we live at 64 – 12th Street. So no one is sure about the accuracy of all this, but having “62” will be better than no address at all.
This reminds me of a much bigger and more vague issue I came across when working at Soweto TV back in 2011. We worked out of a rundown old school in the township that was reputed to be the elementary school of a major anti-apartheid leader and, hence, could not be torn down. The station’s parent company wanted to buy the building and repair it, but no one knew who owned it! So much for accuracy.
Such are the challenges lived out by a Virgo and former production Production Manager in Joburg…. as Glen is fond of saying, “We’re not in Canada anymore.”
White Zulu rock n’ roller, Johnny Clegg, is in the midst of his The Final Journey World Tour. From the moment he stepped on stage and opened his mouth with a burst of “Afrika kukhala abangcwele” Clegg proved, at age 64, he can still bring the house down. With his cancer in remission, he rocked the Teatro at Montecasino on Thursday night. Backed by his ever-so-tight band, lead female vocalist who has been with him since the ‘80s and about 15 members of the Soweto Gospel Choir, it was a night one hoped would never end.
The night was a very personal one during which he retraced his development as a musician from a teen in Joburg who wandered into the mens’ mining hostels to dance with the Zulu workers housed there—something unimaginable in the 1970’s South Africa. And learn he did! To conserve his energy he brought on dancers who were the sons of the men with whom he used to dance. But the impulse runs deep in him and Clegg would burst into short bursts of intense leg flipping dance afterwards panting at the mic—exhilarating and unnerving. By the end of the show, the urge was too great and he performed a full-on Zulu dance to wild crowd appreciation.
Stage sized rear screen projections of him Zulu dancing with his mentor, the late Dudu Ndlovu, both dressed in traditional regalia reminded one of what he was capable of as a strong young man and how he refuses to let his aging and ailing body let him down.
It was a brilliant night that I wished would go on and on. Yet when we had to leave after several moving encores, we left with a marvelous shared experience reminding one of a clip of Nelson Mandela projected during in the show in which he said “Music and dance are what make me feel alive.” We all left very very alive and with a tinge of hope in these very troubled political times in South Africa……..
Clegg will be in Toronto at Koerner Hall on October. Buy a ticket NOW if there are any left. Check his website for other cities on the tour. A few weeks ago, we met an American by chance here at a bush pub. He lives in Dubai and had never heard of Clegg but I knew that Dubai one of the stops on Clegg’s final tour and told him he simply had to go. This is his last chance and your last chance to be loved by Johnny Clegg. Don’t miss him.