The Star Late Edition
Wild road out of urban frenzy
ALOT of South Africans felt things were going downhill in our country in recent weeks. With good reason too! What with the frail former police commissioner going to prison for corruption in a wheelchair; the appointment of the National Director of Public Prosecutions being declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Appeal and a newly appointed head of the Special Investigating Unit making idiotic and dangerous statements in the media.
Who would not understand if many of our compatriots feared that the fibre and dignity of important national institutions were being eroded by these goings-on? In addition to the quality of the performance of their functions, these institutions derive part of their efficacy from the trust and confidence the public have in them.
It is under that atmosphere that we took off – my wife, 11-year-old granddaughter and I – to spend six days in the Kruger National Park. We entered through the Phalaborwa gate, drove north and exited through Punda Maria, sleeping in different camps every night.
The moment you enter that gate, you know and feel the aura and power of nature enveloping you. You feel the “humanly” pursuits and pre-occupations receding to the back of your head. The wonder and mystique of nature take over. The observation of animals that don’t talk back has a soothing effect on you.
There are no newspaper outlets, no television, and cellphone signal is extremely patchy. Radio reception is available in some places, but my wife and granddaughter gave me such “dirty” looks whenever I tried to tune into radio newscasts that within a few hours of entering the park, the itch to tune in was cured.
As part of the conditions for entry into the park you are told to respect the animals: do nothing to disturb, provoke, feed or harm them, and drive at 50km/h and 40km/h on tar and dirt roads, respectively.
We are specifically warned of the danger posed by elephant breeding herds with small calves or solitary musth bulls which tend to get agitated, temperamental and bad-tempered. These are elephant bulls desperate for females to mate with.
“Always allow elephants the right way”, advises one of the conditions.
Although the rangers tell you how an enraged elephant can flatten your car in the blink of an eye, who in their right mind would dare not give such a gigantic and awesome creature the right of way?
But it is not only fear for the animals that informs your actions in their world, also respect and admiration.
You would stop to allow a tortoise or chameleon to cross the road at its own ago-
of nisingly slow pace. Nature dence here.
In addition to our own drives between resting camps, we took sunrise and sunset drives and walks under the guidance of amazingly passionate game rangers who shared their vast knowledge of the world of nature with us. It was during walks, in particular, that they would stop to point out birds, butterflies, beetles and other smaller creatures and their role in keeping a balance in the environment.
They would talk about the ferocity and independence of the buffalo and how it is the only animal they know that cannot be domesticated, despite many attempts through generations to do so. We were warned to be wary of this “proud” animal and to treat it with utmost respect.
The social arrangements, hierarchy, eti-
takes prece- quette and pecking order are rigid in the animal kingdom. These govern their feeding, mating rights and social interactions.
Male elephants, for instance, are kicked out of the herd by the matriarch once they reach maturity. They then lead the life of a lonely bachelor or team up with other bachelors to roam around, joining a herd only for mating purposes.
With the majority of animals, including elephants, males have to fight other males for the right to mate and therefore perpetuate their genes, prompting my granddaughter to remark one evening: “Shame grandpa, it’s hard to be male in the animal kingdom né? It is not fair.”
Fair or not, the natural world had taken centre stage in our consciousness, banishing the world of humans and their complications to the back burner.
It was the same feeling I had when I visited the bitterly cold and unforgiving continent of Antarctica where you are so humbled by the power of nature that you realise how small you are in the configuration of things.
There, every plan you have is subject to the weather. You will go back home on a particular day, “weather permitting”.
As we drove south at normal speed after exiting the Kruger, past Thohoyandou and on to Polokwane, we could feel the world of humans retaking our lives.
Tuning into radio news we learnt that Willem Heath had just resigned as head of the SIU.
Mosibudi Mangena is the former minister of science and technology, as well as former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation.