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essays | places

South Africa

south of heaven, trenches in the garden


Mthata, Eastern Cape / South Africa · 2017   container shops



   Poll and poll again, the panel of well-seasoned travelers had agreed unanimously: South Africa was the ultimate Eden south of Heaven. And it was that, in the narrow field of view of white-hearted travelers, and it was that for those inhabitants who could afford being on the right side of it, the West of course. But there were many going through the hell underneath, in the deep trenches Apartheid had left in the topography of that garden. You didn’t see them all that much if you didn’t bother looking beyond the rim, so it was easy to leave them out of any account about that beautiful, beautiful heaven-land.

Disparity looked different in South Africa. The extremes were the same as in any other place where dirt poor and filthy rich are neighbors, but the packaging was something I’d never seen. The Western Cape looked like a high-income country with low-income country elements. The Eastern Cape was the exact mirror image of that. You wouldn’t know in which World Bank drawer to put South Africa. And it shouldn’t disappear in any drawer either, because there is a lot of work to be done.


a glimpse

Kid in a South African township

passages   20 YEARS AFTER | Tucked away in-between Cape Town’s plush waterfront and Stellenbosch’s fine wineries, the Cape Flats aren’t exactly glamorous. That’s why they are easily overlooked by tourists even though their ample expanse makes them hard to miss. Everybody had hyped up South Africa and Cape Town as heaven on earth, but nobody had mentioned the abysmal disparity. I was taken aback by how segregated the country still was, 20 years after apartheid. The institutionalized oppression had left societal trenches so deep that they undermined social and racial equity at every step. There is plenty of joy in the townships, no doubt; but people’s happiness is up against vast inherited sufferings and struggles, which can overshadow the most beautiful smile with a frown.


South African kids

lines   MANY REASONS | I’ve seen these guys fight for many silly reasons, but race was never one of them.


Elephant seen from behind during self drive safari in South Africa's Addo Elephant Park

words   É L É P H A N T A S S Q U E


Imagine Scholar turned education so upside down, that it needed to be redefined from toe to head.

Imagine Scholar, Kamhlushwa / South Africa · 2017   students living passions


Big as a country, Krüger National Park is home to the wild and an open house for safari humans.

Krüger National Park / South Africa · 2017   blended giraffe



Freestate / South Africa · 2017   chasing the golden west






places / stories

Western Cape / Easy on Farsighted Eyes

A bay with turquoise water, Western Cape, South Africa

Western Cape / South Africa · 2017   nature's chemistry



Western Cape / South Africa · 2017   six legs


Cape Point / South Africa · 2017   walking into the view


Sunset shadow of Lion's Head over Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town / South Africa · 2017   late shadow


A cape town can hardly be a bad town. That’s a given. But this Cape Town didn’t quite measure up to the gospel everybody had been singing. That gospel was all sopranos and falsettos, none of the bass. Sand on end, ocean front delicacies, bars and brunches. Everybody seemed to eat the disparities right up and digest them just fine. Every waiter black, every owner white. The most prominent hint at inequality, as far as tourism was concerned, was crime. I received my first cautioning from two police who were flabbergasted that I was walking alone a spittle outside of Bo-Kaap, one of the most touristy places far and wide: “go back down and keep walking if somebody starts talking to you.” And at the hostel they pointed out those emptier downtown alleys you should avoid, left and right of the main streets. I stayed at that place on and off over the course of three months and there was one break in for each month. Harmless, non-violent break ins, unlike the ones South Africans would tell you about, usually first-hand accounts. One was just in the making one night when I accompanied River, the receptionist/son, on the way out. It took me three moments to realize why he was so tense and rude in escorting some guy off the porch: that guy had hopped the wall and was trying to petty-steal some things by reaching through a barred window. They had a sign on the other side of that window to not leave belongings lying around near it.



Cape Flats / South Africa · 2017   metal township


Two woman during a party

Cape Town / South Africa · 2017   texture of the night


Bo-Kaap, Cape Town / South Africa · 2017   plenty pink


Birthday cake with candles

Cape Town / South Africa · 2017   birthday love


Made friends there that stayed with me. And going up Table Mountain along the Venster route, I made friends with the skies.




Table Mountain, Cape Town / South Africa · 2017   mind-bound

The Garden Route was lekker, obviously. Green days and golden afternoons, more bays than are healthy when you're trying to lay off hedonism.


Fishing in Wilderness, South Africa at sunset, Garden Route

Wilderness / South Africa · 2017   fishing gold


Mansion in Knysna, South Africa

Knysna / South Africa · 2017   living fine



Western Cape / South Africa · 2017   penguin party


Knysna, South Africa

Knysna / South Africa · 2017   inlet inkling


Coastal road, Western Cape, South Africa

Western Cape / South Africa · 2017   generous road


Eastern Cape / The Other Side of South Africa


Eastern Cape / South Africa · 2017   square roundhouse


Coffee Bay / South Africa · 2017   muse views


The Eastern Cape was, very fittingly, the polar opposite of the Western Cape. Much less glamorous, plenty heartier.


Street with stores in Mthata, South Africa

Mthata / South Africa · 2017   ideals


I volunteered with Greensleeves Children's Home outside East London, an organization that was much more family than institution. The kids were a lot stronger than most adults I know. Life had uprooted them much too early, ripped them out of the childhoods and families their parents had signed them up for. Their stories were devastating and their laughs miracles, and they laughed plenty by any measure.



East London / South Africa · 2017   young impressionist


East London / South Africa · 2017   traveling skin


Kamhlushwa / Humans Living Passions – Community Enrichment from Within

meet the extraordinary Imagine Scholars

As founder Corey Johnson puts it: “I’m incredibly proud of all the huge successes, but the real goal is to create good people. I’d be more proud if they become good mothers, fathers or coworkers, just good people; because that’s what the world needs.”




KwaZulu-Natal / An Apt Name

Kwawazulu Natal sounded exactly what the landscapes looked like, and I don't know if that was by design or by whose design, but it all made sense like beans.



Drakensberg / South Africa · 2017   green mantle


Drakensberg / South Africa · 2017   cloud canyon


Free State / Burning Asphalt

DSC_0299 (2).jpg

Free State / South Africa · 2017   asphalt river


Free State / South Africa · 2017   roadtrip body


With our little road trip, we couldn't have been freer in the Free State. On and on, in and out, up and about. West and Wester, through apocalyptical thunder and always following the burning asphalt into the sun.



Free State / South Africa · 2017   looking back ahead


Free State / South Africa · 2017   pastoral present




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