South Africa trip final report

10 Mar

Mama Tofu inside a traditional Xhosa hut.

I’m back home in Seattle and wouldn’t you know it, it’s raining!

This post is a two-parter:
– Part one: A quick recap of my final days there. I had a longer post, but my iPad somehow neglected to save it. Either that or I only dreamed I’d written it.
– Part two: Some final thoughts about the whole experience.

The last three days: East London and Johannesburg

I spent about a day and a half visiting a fellow Web-geek friend in East London on the Eastern Cape. She and her grandmother were so kind during my visit, even putting me up in a spare mother-in-law apartment. I went to the beach, had a great lunch at game-reserve buffet and visited with Tegan’s coworkers at the Dispatch newspaper.

The highlight of the short visit, however, was a special experience Monday morning in the village of Mooiplass, outside of East London. Tegan and I spent a couple hours with the legendary “Mama Tofu,” a cultural ambassador of sorts for the Xhosa people.

The spry 91-year-old had the cutest little embarrassed laugh when I told her she looked much younger than that. She told us about the tribe’s cultural traditions, such as when a boy becomes a man, and how a cow is prepared for a ritual feast. The language employs clicks that couldn’t duplicate no matter how hard I tried.

Wouldn’t it be great if she and her little village could be boosted by even more tourism that would both help preserve the traditions and provide jobs. There are a couple of more pictures at the bottom of this post.

After East London, I flew up to Johannesburg for my final night before my flight home. I had hoped to go on a walking tour of Soweto this day, but there just wasn’t going to be enough time given that Soweto is on the other side of town from the airport. I’ll just add it to the list many things I need to do next time I’m here.

Final thoughts

While on safari I met a couple from Germany who had been to South Africa eight times. Obviously they love the place and I can see why. I don’t know if I’ll make that many trips, but I do hope to come back back because I know I merely scratched the surface in only 12 days.

My strongest impressions of the place:
– Natural scenic beauty in excess, sometimes tempered by scenes of poverty.
– A developed tourism infrastructure that really helps you plan and use your time well.
– A cultural melting pot that’s fascinating to watch as it continues to evolve.

There are some rough spots for sure in the country’s social fabric, but there are also moments of hope and optimism. A little sliver of my heart will always be back there, laughing and crying along with the people of South Africa.

Mama Tofu and me.

An article in the East London Dispatch about Mama Tofu.


4 Responses to “South Africa trip final report”

  1. Maryke March 10, 2011 at 1:20 PM #

    I completely agree with you. The people, the culture, and the beauty of South Africa touched my soul. My husband and I know we will have to go back someday.

  2. Bob Payne March 10, 2011 at 2:34 PM #

    Thanks for following along!

  3. adp March 11, 2011 at 9:33 AM #

    I’ve been following your trip, and have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed. As an American who lived and studied in South Africa in 2009, I feel that you’ve grossly underreported on the country’s rich and complex history. Tourist attractions and beers are cool, but you don’t travel halfway across the world to see animals that we have here in the zoo and drink. What about the people? You were approaching something good with Mama Tofu, but I still feel that you did not give enough attention to the (healing) scars of apartheid in that beautiful country. You made it seem as if the only notable event of South African history was the World Cup. There’s much more, my friend.

    PS: If you do go back, be sure to visit the District Six Museum and ride a minibus taxi through a township. Long Street and the Waterfront may be nice, but only the most privileged of Cape Town have the leisure time and expendable income to go there.

    • Bob Payne March 11, 2011 at 10:11 AM #


      I hear what you are saying, but I must point out that this was a personal holiday and not a reporting assignment. This is a personal blog that just happened to have been linked to from the Seattle Times. While I never did visit a township, I did engage in lots of conversations with South Africans (mostly white) about the improvements as well as the frustrations with the course of events there. And if my goal was to effectively report on the state of things, I would have shared some of those comments – and would have made sure to visit the townships and talk to blacks as well. But that wasn’t the goal.

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