caravanning, camping or, on occasion, taking in a game lodge.
In the beginning, she admits, the idea took some getting used to. “I come from a culture where camping is purely for white people. Even if black people were to camp, they would not enjoy it because it is reminiscent of how many of us used to live. In fact a lot of black people live like that today – cooking on a fire, using communal toilets, with access to little or no technology.”
There were other incidents of stereotyping – as when a white couple asked her how much she would charge to wash their dishes – as well as seeing the black women being paid as little as R30 a day by white campers at Sodwana to clean their campsites, wash their dishes and even make their beds.
But there were also those interactions which reminded her that there is really only one race – the human one. As when the family returned to their site at the Richards Bay caravan park after a great time at the beach to find a white couple sitting in their camping chairs.
She writes: “I was thinking: ‘Are these white people nuts or is my depression at its peak?’
“We found out they were actually heroes as they had chased away almost 20 vervet monkeys from inside our caravan.”
The monkeys had broken in and made a mess of the van, but the family’s new white neighbours offered to help. “I thought to myself – this is what camping is all about, togetherness. Out in the wild, you become part of a close community that embraces nature.
“Camping is such a relaxed environment for people to engage no matter what background or race. Meeting happens naturally, you would be going to the ablutions and bump into another camper and a simple conversation starts.”
One such conversation happened at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State with Rina, a woman from North West, as they washed their hands together.
An hour later they were still talking: “Our discussion became so deep while enjoying the captivating views of the beautiful sandstone cliffs with mushroom shapes. Rina said to me: ‘For the first time I feel such a connection to a person I just met.’
“I thought in my head: ‘Wow, now this is interesting.’
“She continued: ‘It feels like I have known you for years.’”
There is something about nature, says Hlatshwayo, which helps us connect with people and her interaction with Rina and her husband, Johan, “was enriching for me and it changed certain perceptions I had about Afrikaners”.
That interaction showed her, she says, that people from different backgrounds can have similarities.
“We cannot shy away from them. The more we engage with each other, the more we will find the connection which makes us human.”
But it wasn’t only the ugly face of racism which she confronted her on her wanderings around South Africa. In Mapungubwe National Park, she sat on a hill and looked out at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, the place where three countries – South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet – and was overcome with emotion.
Seeing the animals crossing between the countries without any restrictions made her think.
“If each one of us were to come and witness this freedom of life, we would understand there is no difference between a South African, a Zimbabwean, or a Motswana. As much as there is no difference between an elephant in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“Why do we slaughter our fellow human beings who are our own reflections? Why have we become so brutal?”
Her children, she says, were never alone; they always found playmates. And, for all of them, colour was simply not an issue.
Taking them out of school and home schooling them at various sites across the country was the best thing she could have done for them, she says.
Being together as a family – and experiencing the wildness and beauty of South Africa – was almost indescribable and the impact on children of such travel is “immeasurable”.
“We live in a very fast-paced world that can break families and those families who are united survive – discovering new places together. It has been a miracle I wish on every family on Earth.”
She met Mathieu at university 18 years ago and their time in the country with the children has immensely strengthened their relationship.
He is French and, though their cultures are different, their love unites them.
The differences, though, are “what spices up our marriage. We always learn something new about each other.”
Right from the beginning, friends and family embraced Mathieu because “he was just my sweetheart and his race didn’t matter”.
Hltashwayo acknowledges that her book can be seen as not just about travel and tourism, although it is also a useful guide to fantastic beauty spots. Going into places where racism (both deliberate and unintentional) was common definitely took her out of her comfort zone.
Is this what South Africans – and particularly white South Africans – need to do?
“Absolutely, if we seek genuine unity then integration must happen. Whites should visit areas that are predominantly for blacks and vice versa.”
She sums it up well in the introduction to the book. “My ultimate goal is to make this book an inspiration to all South Africans to take time out of their busy schedules and spend precious time with their families to discover the beauty of our country.
“I want to break those boundaries created by the past regime and contribute to the unity that is needed for all South Africans to move forward and experience this country, equally, whether caravanning or doing any other form of holidaying. Remember, change starts with you and me…”
Touring the nine provinces not only led to an appreciation of the magnificent scenery, but a better understanding of the people living in them.
A year away brought the family together, where they discovered race seldom matters at the campsite.