WULF UTIAN’S LETTER FROM KNYSNA
BACK TO EXPLORING
We start many days of the week with an early morning walk on the pristine beach at Buffalo Bay, and I mean pristine. We usually have the half-moon 6km (3.8 miles) stretch of white soft sand to ourselves and at most the 8-10 people we greet along the way. To one side are the high dunes covered with fynbos, the local indigenous vegetation, and the other side is the warm blue Indian ocean with the roar of the surf and the songs of the sea birds. Bounded by Buffalo Bay at the one end and Brenton on the other, this is perhaps the only place in the world where two Blue Flag beaches are joined as one large half-moon.
Lunch is invariably our main meal of the day. We constantly search and test new places. The photos below were lunch at Hunter’s Country House, an historic garden resort near Plettenberg Bay, beloved by British tourists. Food and ambience were 5 stars plus.
By sheer coincidence, two Presidents delivered State of the Nation (SON) speeches within days of each other – Trump and Ramaphosa. The difference in tone, content, and delivery, was extraordinary. What traditionally would have been expected in South Africa actually occurred in the States, and vice versa. Trump, at times professing an interest in bipartisanship, delivered a smug and narcissistic view of his perception of the SON that was notable for pauses, grimaces, smirks, finger wagging’s, and many neck twisting’s, but that included factual errors and misleading statements. Ramaphosa, on the other hand, commenced by engaging the political opposition leaders with humor and warmth. He then went on to deliver a detailed and highly technical, but traditional, SON speech in a somewhat pedantic manner, focusing on the economy and corruption, enumerating achievements, failures, and projects for the future. Unfortunately, in both cases, my perception is that these leaders described their national situations in ways that did not truly reflect the reality on the ground. Both Trump and Ramaphosa are balancing on the sharp edge of a knife. Which way they fall, their actions in the immediate future, will determine the real state of these nations. To quote Ramaphosa – “watch this space!”
No sooner had Ramaphosa declared a 9-point plan in his SONA to save the decimated power grid of South Africa, Escom, then Escom reported several national power generators switching off simultaneously across the nation, without any clear explanation on why there was the need to introduce the most severe form of “load shedding” in over a decade. Major cities lost power for 4-6 hours per day in 2-hour divided increments. Industry, businesses, and traffic ground to a halt. Ramaphosa expressed “shock and surprise” at this announcement, although his facial expressions and body language reflected neither. The head of the opposition party in Parliament asked Ramaphosa what he was up to and what he knew while he was Past-President Zuma’s Vice President? Clearly, the shine has gone off Ramaphosa as he and his party, the ANC, twist and turn trying to explain how the largest and once one of the best power supply companies in the world has been reduced under ANC rule by corruption, inept management, and a failure of maintenance, to become an Achilles heal for South Africa’s survival and growth. Local and foreign investment is fleeing, and I believe we have not been told the truth or the worst of what is yet to come. SA’s top cartoonist, Zapiro, says it all in the cartoon below.
South Africa’s next nationwide election has been set for May 8, 2019. The African National Congress party of Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma, beset by cronyism, corruption, ineptness. and incompetence from the very outset of taking power in 1994, has proven in all the worst ways possible its ability to take power but its inability to effectually govern. They can only thank their lucky stars that there is no really strong opposition party or leader. With dozens of the most corrupt ANC leaders still holding major positions of power, it is very difficult not to be pessimistic with what is yet to come. To quote the London Times, South Africa is now an Ineptocracy.
Meanwhile, back in the USA Trump was desperately trying to spin an embarrassing political defeat into a fake victory by declaring a National Emergency, something even he stated he did not really need. He fumed that America was at war on its southern border using spurious statistics, at odds even with the record low numbers reported by his own State and Justice Departments, fabricating that we are being invaded by hundreds of thousands of criminals, rapists, drug dealers, and kidnappers (yes he did say there have been 10,000 kidnappings in the last year). Do I just know a different America?
Both lying presidents are blowing against the wind. Ironically, Moira and I now find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. So rather than sit around and be depressed, we embarked on a two-week four-destination road trip.
We set off along the Garden Route in the direction of Cape Town on the N2, traversing the jungle-like Kaaimans Pass beyond Wilderness, and then turning off the N2 at Swellendam to Robertson, our first stop. The Small Hotel at Robertson is perfect. We could literally step out of our room into the swimming pool. Situated on van Reenen street, there are wonderful well-maintained examples of Georgian and Victorian homes. But it is the wine estates that surround Robertson that really deserve attention. Robertson is rightfully the heart of South Africa’s answer to French champagne. A prime example of the Methode Cap Classique can be tasted at the Graham Beck Estate, also notable for its avante garde architecture. Other estates, some centuries old, also welcome visitors to cellar tours and education into the making of a good bubbly.
En route to our second destination, we crossed the N1 near Worcester, and took the R46 through the scenic Heks River Valley in the direction of Ceres, a vital center of the fruit industry. Beyond Ceres as we entered the Cedarberg, the scenery is breathtaking. The road is flanked by two startlingly different mountain ranges, the dry, folded and shattered-rock range of the Witsenberg and Skerweberg (“Scaly mountains”) to the one side, and the green chocolate-box Swartruggens mountains on the other. Fronting the mountains, in the valley, are miles of fruit trees, all weighed down by ripe peaches, apricots and nectarines, and the pickers busy, filling large containers.
On the way we traversed the dramatic Mitchell’s, Gydo and Katbakkies passes, all quite different from each other, and went through charming small villages with names like Prince Alfred Hamlet and Op-die-Berg. At that point we left the tarred roads for over 35km of gravel road, much of it corrugated, but hardly noticed the shaking up we were enduring because of the bizarre scenery and rock formations.
Our destination was the 15,000-hectare Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve and Lodge. We had been tempted to visit, hearing about the isolated location, the unusual topography, and the fact that our room at the Lodge would in fact be a cave with a picture window, set in the craggy rocks surrounding the lodge. It is also off the grid, and with no cellphone and no internet it really is isolated. Over two days just Moira and I alone were taken on open Land Rover drives into the reserve, watching sunsets over the shattered rocks, and on one excursion, to see excellent San and Khoi rock art, still perfect in detail after being exposed to the open environment for at least 6000 years. Excursions are in the early morning and late afternoon because of the heat, leaving the rest of the day to enjoy lunch, relax, and soak in the environment. Remember, no email!
The first leg out of Kagga Kamma was back on 35km of dirt road. It is actually quite scary driving on these tortuous roads knowing one has no cellphone connection and not seeing one other vehicle going in either direction the whole distance. Our third destination was 10 days in Cape Town.
I am not going to say anything about this visit to Cape Town, other than to mention the joy of seeing our one grandson Jack playing exceptional cricket for his two teams, the Greenpoint and the Herzlia Schools under 12 teams.
Our final destination was the Franschoek wine valley, and perfection in 5-star luxury. Our indulgence was the Leeu Estate, with 17 suites based throughout an ordered and serene landscape of sculpted gardens and vineyards. Analjit Singh purchased the Mullineux wine estate in 2012, and in 7 short years has developed a luxury property of perfect taste and design. The art collection inside and outside the buildings is varied and excellent – paintings by Irma Stern, Vladimir Tretchikoff, Vusi Khumalo, Tinus de Jongh, Beezy Bailey and Phillemon Hlungwani, to name just a few, and small and very large bronzes by Deborah Bell, Dylan Lewis, Angus Taylor, Lionel Smit, Guy du Toit, Otto du Plessis, and Jop Kunneke, again to just name a few. But it is the artistic perfection of the gardens themselves that is most stunning. To quote Franchesca Watson, the garden designer who worked with Analjit Singh to bring his dreams to reality, “Every idea and detail is spun out, patterns are developed involving colours and mathematical proportions, plants are used as architecture cut into curves and precise angles, wonderful art is set thoughtfully into the landscape with perfect mountings and lighting. Nothing is casually thrown together or left to chance or random whim.” I also enjoyed a wine tasting of the Mullineux and Leeu wines, winner of the Platters best wine estate of 2018/19. The best of their wines come from grapes grown on their Swartland estates.
We left feeling that we needed to return, if only just to explore more of the vast gardens. Our route took us through the 18-kilometer Franschoek Pass, with high mountains, and views of the peaceful valley below. Our hectic month ended with a return to the quiet and tranquility of Belvidere.
Belvidere, March 5, 2019