Culture and People of South Africa

If you want to visit a country where the people are just as interesting as the place itself, then South Africa is where you need to be heading! With several local native tribes living within its borders, a huge Indian community, and the descendants of countless white settlers from a mixed bag of European nations, South Africa is literally a melting pot of race, religions and cultures.



Helen Martins and the Owl House – This is my world

Nestled in the dusty Karoo valleys of the Eastern Cape, Nieu Bethesda would be a little town like any other in the area were it not for one extraordinary feature setting it apart... the Owl House, and the woman behind its refracted narratives, Helen Martins.

Born in 1897 in Nieu Bethesda, Helen Martins (or Miss Helen as she was known) was the youngest of six children. Her father, Piet, was a notoriously subversive and difficult character with whom Helen shared a complicated relationship. Hester, Helen’s mother, was sickly for most of Helen’s life, though Helen adored her.



Ingrid Jonker, The Escape

Ingrid Jonker was born in September 1933 on a farm in Douglas in the Northern Cape, to Beatrice and Abraham Jonker. Shortly before she was born, Abraham, in a fit of jealous rage, accused his wife of carrying a child that wasn’t his. Beatrice left him that night and moved in with her parents.

This would not be the last time that Abraham Jonker would disown his daughter.

All her life Ingrid would search for her father’s acknowledgement and approval, often replacing him with the affections of much older men. Loved by both Andre P. Brink and Jack Cope, and adored by countless other men, Ingrid would never lose her childlike vitality and aching vulnerability that so enchanted everyone that met her.



Daisy De Melker - SA's Poisonous Femme Fatale

When Daisy Louisa Hancorn-Smith was born on the 1st June 1886 at Seven Fountains, near Grahamstown, nobody suspected that she would rise to fame as South Africa’s first recorded serial killer. DAISY DE MELKER was charged with the murder of two husbands by strychnine poisoning and that of her twenty-year-old son, Rhodes, by arsenic.

Her murder trial in 1932 at the Johannesburg High Court attracted unprecedented public interest. Queues of spectators lined up for hours each day before the proceedings began. On the final day of the trial, some spectators reportedly paid up to 30 shillings each to secure a prime seat in court. Daisy greeted the crowds with the elegant wave of a movie star, noticeably revelling in the attention. She wore the same modest black dress every day and her light-hearted behaviour throughout the course of the trial belied that of someone who honestly believed she would be acquitted. And she almost got away with murder, were it not for a surprise witness and an imaginary cat...



Preserving Tradition: South Africa's Cultural Villages

South Africa is a veritable “potjiepot” of diverse cultures and traditions, from the Afrikaner to the Zulus. Over the last few years the increasing demand for accessible cultural tourism has brought to life the heart and soul of South African cultural heritage through the establishment and development of the concept of The Cultural Village. A cultural village allows a visitor to experience a traditional way of life, whether it is in the hills of Zululand or along the dusty streets of Soweto.



African folklore: the mermaids of the Karoo

One of the most fascinating fireside tales in South Africa is the legend of the mermaids in the Karoo. The Karoo is a vast semi-desert area that covers much of the western half of the country – and is divided into the Groot Karoo (which means the ‘large’ Karoo in Afrikaans) in the north, and much more fertile, smaller Klein Karoo of the south – where many a local claims to have spotted a mermaid combing her hair alongside a mountain rock pool.



Desmond Tutu – archbishop, human rights activist and South African icon

When South Africa became the first African nation to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, all eyes across the globe watched as Archbishop Desmond Tutu shuffled onto the stage at the kick-off concert held the day before the opening ceremony on 11 June 2010. To celebrate the historic moment, the Nobel Peace prize-winner had traded in his bishop’s ceremonial attire for a patriotic green-and-yellow striped beanie and scarf. Who can forget that joyful moment when he shouted: “It’s like I’m dreaming, man, wake me up!”



A snapshot of the Bang Bang Club

After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after spending almost three decades behind bars as a political activist, several photographers rose to fame as South Africa made its bumpy journey to its first democratic elections.


These conflict photographers captured a new South Africa struggling to free itself from the shackles of apartheid, roving the townships as violence and confrontation erupted between fired-up locals and authorities in uncertain political times. Four photographers, in particular, became well-known for their vivid portrayal of the brutality and beauty of the birth of the Rainbow Nation. They are Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbrook and Joao Silva.



Vuvuzela – the sound of the African spirit

In 2010, when South Africa became the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, it left a legacy of a people united by sport for the whole continent. On the sidelines, another legacy all together emerged: that of the vuvuzela.

The sound of the vuvuzela became synonymous with African football in 2010. So popular did this plastic horn with its monotone trumpeting sound become that for months it was heard across the world – at the annual hotdog eating competition on Coney Island, at a Hollywood awards show, rock festivals and comic conventions.