About South Africa

African folklore: the mermaids of the Karoo

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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

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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!”

 

Robben Island: a small island with a big history

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Mention Robben Island, and immediately Nelson Mandela’s 27 years incarcerated their as a political prisoner at the institution and his long walk to freedom comes to mind. This 5km2 island just off the coast of the city of Cape Town, and can easily be seen from the iconic Table Mountain.

This small rocky outcrop has seen many ships wrecked along its reefs over the centuries, and Jan van Riebeck, who led the Dutch colonisation of the Cape in 1652, was the first to light fires on Robben Island to warn incoming vessels of the danger. Today, a lighthouse lights the way from Minto Hill, the highest point on the island.

Robben Island has been many things since the Dutch arrived in the Cape in the 1600s. It served as an animal quarantine station, leper colony and a hospital for the mentally ill, and during World War 2 it was a military base, standing ready to defend Table Bay in the event of an attack. But Robben Island has always been used primarily as a prison.

 

Port Elizabeth – sitting on the dock of the bay

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It’s one of the biggest cities in South Africa, a laid-back seaport that stretches down Algoa Bay, its harbour crowned by the iconic architecture of the new Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.

Known as the ‘Friendly City’ to outsiders, grumblingly as the ‘Windy City’ by residents and simply as ‘PE’ to almost everyone, Port Elizabeth started out as a 1820s British settlers’ town. (It must be said that the sheltered bay was actually marked as early as the late 1400s by both Bartholomew Dias and Vasco da Game, the famous Portuguese explorers who navigated the coastlines of Africa.)

 

A snapshot of the Bang Bang Club

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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.

 
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