We had a spell in South Africa last month, marveling at what an easy country it is to get around and the good value it offers to visitors. We returned to Europe with a mixture of impressions and emotions, but we were above all humbled by the Rainbow Nation.
Many visitors to South Africa comment on similar reactions; indeed, the wonderfully insightful blogger Abigail King (of Inside the Travel Lab) recently wrote of an overwhelming sense of humility upon returning from South Africa. Travel writers’ perceptions of South Africa have often dwelt on the humbling capacity of South Africans to triumph over adversity. A recent piece by the distinguished travel publisher Hilary Bradt celebrates this particular theme.
The road to freedom
Of course, you don’t need to travel to South Africa to be impressed by the way that selfless struggle turned the political tide of oppression and paved the way to democracy. Anyone who dips into Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom will be humbled by Mandela’s essential humanity, his capacity for forgiveness and his quiet energy and determination.
The fact that we had so recently been in South Africa made us focus all the more on the events of the last weeks, as the country celebrated the life (and mourned the passing) of its most famous son.
Politics and tourism
Nelson Mandela restored South Africa to the political map. His election as President in 1994 legitimized a new wave of South African tourism. His passing will surely give great impetus to the country’s efforts to woo a new generation of visitors from afar.
Celebrity connections inflect many decisions that tourists make. The fame game has already transformed parts of Soweto, as travelers flock to see Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West. A visit to Robben Island, the offshore prison where Mandela and other ANC leaders were incarcerated, has become the prescribed excursion for visitors to Cape Town.
Mandela’s roots in the Eastern Cape
Mandela’s funeral on Sunday showcased the Eastern Cape, a rural district of South Africa that lies well removed from regular tourist trails. Suddenly the village of Qunu, where Mandela lived as a child, features on our mental maps. TV footage of the area revealed a landscape of serene beauty. Those rolling green hills around the N2 highway south of Mthatha will soon be pulling a great flood of visitors. We shall most likely be among them.
The challenge will be to accommodate the crowds in a manner that does not undermine the dignity of Mandela’s final resting place.