The Beauty I

This pristine, unpeopled country: Koeel Mountains on the Whale Coast
This pristine, unpeopled country: Koeel Mountains on the Whale Coast

What is the quality of beauty of the South African landscape, what is the beauty, the exhilaration, the recognition, longing, excitement that you felt, experienced, took away with you? 


The air so clear. The sky so big. The blue a vast arch to infinity. The south-eastely gale exhilarating in its measured fury. Blowing across such vastness. The distant Antarctic. The windows of the guest-house banging.  The fynbos raging. The fine fur of the Chacma Baboons misty in the camera's lens. The Buffel's Bay sea intense turquoise, boisterous, effervescent, tugging at the land's end, the known world, the tippy-toe of Africa. 


The road north. Arrow straight. Heading for the heart of distant lands. Desert. Namibia. The vastness of country. Great sweeps of uncluttered land. The Overberg rollers. Range upon range of rearing mountains. Empty silent watersheds. So much land.


The Whale Coast. Intense clarity of light. Clouds forming on the edge of bare peaks. Bright orange ochre shales.  The knuckled mass of the Koeel Mountains. Even the thought of whales rising out of that sea thrills me to the bone.  Flukes smashing the water in sheer delight.


Kelp stipes as thick as your arm. Giant sea hawsers. The sea bursting with life. Over-abundant with seal, dolphin, shark, sardine, tuna, yellow fin, crayfish, perlomoen. Fifteen types of limpet, for God's sake. Upwelling nutrient-rich currents. 

Granite hills and fynbos, Langeban
Granite hills and fynbos, Langeban

The fynbos. Humble, multitudinous, appetising. To be a grazer in that waving, varied sea of life. Drawing succour from thin soils and sands. Bontebok, Rhebok, Eland, Cape Zebra, Hartebeest. The great net of living things.More bio-diversity than you can shake a stick at. More on the top of Table Mountain than the whole of the UK.


Klein Karoo. Langeberg. Small farms lost in an expanse of sky. Cradled by tight valleys. Sustained by boreholes. The drip, drip of channeled water. A peach-drying sun. Turning grapes to dikvoet.  The Karoo unseen beyond, aching in my heart.


A land not overused.  That still holds the freshness of its creation.  That is not bowed under the yoke of its occupation. That has run with blood.  That despite the despair and inhumanity holds on to some vestige, some belief in its own grace and pristine dawn. 


That's hard to say when Africa is cramped and downpressed, coralled into townships blatant against the unpeopled vastness of the white man's land. Zolani, Smitstown, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Nkqubela, Mbekweni, Imizamo Yethu, Masiphumele, Newtown, Mitchell's Plain, Nyanga, Crossroads.  The names go on. The millions cramped on the least desired land. The leavings of the white man's feast. The tailings from the white man's rapacious wealth pump.


Is that the beginning of an answer?

Reeds, river and the Langberg Mountains, Montagu
Reeds, river and the Langberg Mountains, Montagu

There is indeed a book, a catalogue of an exhibition, that tries to make sense of some of these things. I read a review of it in Kronos. 


Amongst other things it says:


This 'master narrative' [of early colonial landscapes] is one of the removal, or alienation, of the indigenous people of South Africa from the land. p.340


This is both the cradle of mankind and the grave of the earth's genetically oldest people - the Khoisan. p.342


Foster writes that although he has travelled widely, 'few landscapes I encountered - no matter how distinctive their scenic quality - seemed to evoke such a strong affective response in me'. p.341 (See Foster, J. Washed by the Sun: Landscape and the Making of White South Africa)


The Lie of the Land: Representations of the South African Landscape by M Godby Cape Town, 2010. Reviewed by Nigel Penn, Kronos 36 Nov 201.