BREN­DAN SEERY

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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.

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