The unheralded beauty of the Eastern Cape
XHOSALAND! I’d forgotten its beauty. Multos years since I tramped these rolling hills at all.
Never before have days gone into ambling its coasts and valleys with mind in neutral and soul in flight.
The sheer terrain is just a part, big part though it be. Every stretch we’ve walked, Wild Coast or Border or varied points between, has been another world-beating landscape.
Zululand nabbed the name somehow, Valley of a Thousand Hills, but there’s an injustice in that, like the way that the public mind recognises the Zulus’ war for freedom and overlooks the nine Xhosa wars. They’d better bring in the brand guys. “Hill of a Thousand Valleys”?
What adds to the vista is huge restful strings of peri-urban homesteads in recurring colours, punctuated by vivid emerald green and shocking pink. Economics passes harsh judgment on these dwellings, like on river estuaries. Rationally, they are bad news – water being wasted in the sea, humans living in unviable units – but to the naked eye the appearance of calm country life is delicious.
A typical homestead is four buildings in matching colours, often with a fenced mealie patch or veggie patch and a Jojo water tank.
Plus a woodpile, an artwork in its own right, long straight branches laid end to end in a neat rectangle.
One day someone will transport one to an avant-garde gallery in Paris or London. It’ll be a sensation, like Andy Warhol’s soup tin.
The fence is an artwork too, its posts coming across as wood statues. Mainly it’s there to keep the goats from chowing your mealies, although some stretch high with a barbed top layer, deterring humans from annexing those mealies.
That’s one of the two brands of crime around here. The other is sheep theft. Not cattle, it seems, or pigs, which roam unmarked, but every sheep is branded with a symbol, a + or an 0 or an X, on its side or head or back. And plenty of homes show burglar-bars, so the wide cruel world can’t be entirely off duty.
But for a visitor, strolling through the far furthest Xhosa corners is the most harmless activity imaginable. Communication is friendly waves, with greetings in warm sentiments and guessable words.
We know that these homes have bred doctors and advocates and directors, and we find 10-year-olds whose English sounds inborn, but we’re surprised at adult mouths being more innocent of English than our mouths are of Xhosa.
What’s changed is the ubiquitous phone, of course, and fairly frequent solar panels. What hasn’t changed is a lot: people carry water in buckets, they carry wood, their groceries, their produce; they’re women, they carry it on their heads.
Ridiculous driving hasn’t changed. We repeatedly encounter apparent suicide missions, narrowly failing, or jamthe-intersection missions abundantly succeeding.
Ridiculous passengering, too, cans and tins routinely flying from vehicle windows. Walking one 2km stretch of recently tarred road, I count 21 places where shattered glass bottles have ground into the tarmac. And nobody disposes of dead dogs and horses, ugh.
A change I find interesting is the lifesaver who is visibly embarrassed to not know what the sea temperature is.
This is a double change. Twenty years ago he wouldn’t have existed, a black lifesaver. Ten years ago he would have thought “who cares?”
Another is that everyone now takes the failure of the Eastern Cape government as a fact of life, talking of its failing schools and functions in a to-be-expected way, as of flood or drought damage.
But hey, that’s not the point right now. The point is thanks to a beautiful place for the beauties that it offers.