The mission to Zulu land commenced from Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest country that has its civilization dating as far back as the 2nd millennium BC. There can’t be wholesome discussion about Ethiopia without recalling its demised flamboyant leader – Emperor Haille Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 – 1974. Barely after ascension to the throne, Emperor Selassie, Messiah of Rastafarians, was dethroned in 1934 by marauding forces of the Italian fascist regime of Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini. Errant Mussolini had bought German Adolf Hitler’s philosophy of expanding German territory by acquiring nations it considered German. Mussolini also wanted to restore the Italian pride by avenging the humiliation of Italy at the Battle of Adowa in 1896 where Abyssinians frustrated Italy’s attempt at colonising their country.
Amidst other self-seeking persuasions, Mussolini who was also exploring opportunities to provide land for unemployed Italians, acquired more minerals and needed to fight off the pangs of the Great Depression. Courageous Haile Selassie aka Tafari Makonnen (1892–1974), was later restored by the British in 1941. He ruled Ethiopia till his overthrow in the Marxists led coup of 1974.
Most of the Ethiopians I came across in Addis Ababa offered the customary warmth of the African. They wore calm “nothing to worry about” mien. The women were largely petit and beautiful. The men had relatively larger frames but were certainly, not heavily built. I kept pondering if being light framed is a national endowment and if there is a correlation between the light frame and the renowned success of Ethiopian athletes at Marathon races. I couldn’t help but chuckle over the famed fattening rites of our Efik sisters in preparation to meet their grooms. Ever heard of different strokes for different folks?
That Ethiopia isn’t in the league of resource endowed nations was evident from the simple disposition to living. The skyline wasn’t outlandish, just as the living standard was clearly modest. Buildings found as much space as the planners afforded on the hills around the city. The temperature had to be cold considering the mountainous topography, colder in the night.
It was sunny, hazy and windy as we jetted out of Addis Ababa. The winds kept pounding on our intruding aircraft which was momentarily uncomfortable and of course, couldn’t stop us. What lesson! Dogged force against friction is a reality of life. Whatever winds, keep focused. God on your side, Victora acerta, keep going, you will surely arrive destination!
On departing, I took a panoramic view of the interesting array of agricultural fields around the obviously moist highlands of the Addis Ababa environ. It was heartwarming realizing that the uncomforting tales of drought and famine experienced by Ethiopia in the 1970s has not been lost on these people.
From the aircraft, I studied most of the vegetation across most of East Africa. It was late October and I had my take about the challenge of aridity in the region. Expectedly, the chilly Abyssinian Mountains which peak in Ras Dashen at 4,550 metres and the equatorial belts of Kenya and Uganda were comparatively moist with pockets of lakes entrapped atop. This wet geographical belt birthed the Blue Nile which combines with the White Nile to form the Nile, which travels some 6,853 kilometres across a drainage basin that impact the livelihoods of eleven nations before emptying via a delta unto the Mediterranean.
Beyond the belt, as you glide through most of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and Northern South Africa, it’s stretches of sparse vegetation. In a lot of the cases, desertification had become evident, rendering expanses of land barren. Numerous rivers had dried up, the lands mercilessly pounded by the sun, stifling life off the flora and fauna. Any wonder why survival instinct compels regular migration of the animal of these lands to greener pastures?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Scarcity of water requests optimal utilization of that which is available. There were a number of well laid agricultural fields and human settlements at watersheds. Beyond such were several hectarages of barren wastelands. Years of unbridled exploitation of forests for fuel and other human activities in these countries have been expensive. It’s simply riding the back of the Tiger and end up being consumed! When you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind!
It was a happy return to Johannesburg and its potpourri of settlements in the Ekurhuleni district of Gauteng province, South Africa. This trip, being relatively prolonged, afforded further opportunity of seeing the South African society. I had a good feel of the society from Johannesburg and suburbs like Kempton Park, Sandton and Mandela’s Soweto. I also visited Hatfield – Pretoria and undertook a long mission to the coastal city of Durban in the KwaZulu – Natal province.
South Africa has its pass marks and challenges. There is a functional infrastructural and social set up. I had a privileged appreciation of the health care set up, visiting and actually seeing some patients at both private and public hospitals. I visited the General Hospital at Edenvale and the famed Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto – the teaching hospital of the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, Johannesburg. It is reputed to be the world’s third largest hospital. I witnessed a social health scheme available for most of the populace and relatively more expensive private initiatives. I also had interactions with High School students heading for school or learning and reading at neighborhood libraries.
Clearly, South Africa’s organized infrastructural has endeared it to tourists. There are functional rail links. One of the rail services, Gautrain, an 80-kilometre mass rapid transit railway system in Gauteng. It links Johannesburg, Pretoria, Ekhuruleni and O. R. Tambo International Airport connecting principal towns like Midrand, Sandston, Centurion unto Hartsfield – Pretoria. Residences are well planned. Even Soweto that is branded home of the poor has well-kempt and laid out housing structures. There are complementary transportation services – buses and taxis, communication network (this is the home of the continent’s pride -MTN and Vodacom), spiraling chain of retail stores all combine to have a travel to South Africa a delighting experience.
Nonetheless, South Africa’s social challenges are manifest. You come across beggars, homeless whites and blacks, the urban unemployed, alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, victims of sexually transmitted diseases etc. This is a tale of the expected. Every nation has its tale.
The sunshine this summer was a welcome relief and I took in as much heat as I could. It was particularly cold in Pretoria despite being summer. At barely over 20 degrees, it should be cold for an inhabitant of the humid tropics who is accustomed to sunshine hours in excess of five hours and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees centigrade. Along the streets of Hatsfield were stretches of Jacaranda mimosifolia trees donning purple flowers abscising and littering streets. Scores of red, white and pink rose flowers beautified several buildings. These, along with other flowering plants, trees, and a well-planned public transport, a blend of well-designed modern and ancient buildings qualify Pretoria as one of the continent’s most beautiful capital cities.
There can’t be a discussion of South Africa without a mention of its famed heroes – historic figures, most who were involved in struggles that terminated apartheid and its evil machinery.
This is the land of the famed Shaka the Zulu and Albert John Lutuli who during his presidency of the African National Congress (1952–60), orchestrated a programme of civil disobedience that in part won him the Nobel Peace Prize (1960). On this land also, rest the weary limbs of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
We can’t forget Steve Bantu Biko – that dogged fighter, charismatic leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and founding member of the all Black South African Student Organization (SASO). On 12th September, 1977, Steve Biko died in a prison cell in Pretoria, South Africa being victim of Police brutality. Also, Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we sizwe the armed wing of the African National Congress who was felled on 10 April 1993 by assassins – a Polish far-right anti-communist immigrant called Janusz Walus who shot Mr Hani with the gun provided by Clive Derby-Lewis at the time, a senior South African Conservative Party M.P. and Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs.
In the course of education, I and fellow young minds of my times, the 1970s had sufficient exposure to South Africa’s famed novelists like Peter Abraham, author of Tell Freedom and Mine Boy and Alan Paton, who authored Cry, The Beloved Country. These novels tell tales about the pains and aches that the struggle for liberation from the manacles of apartheid entailed. Isn’t it said that: “the man dies in him, who keeps mute in the face of tyranny”? These heroes, bless their souls, with support from fellow African nations, did not look the other way when their compatriots needed them most! May the souls of these gallant heroes of South Africa and indeed great sons of the black race, keep resting in perfect peace.
An interesting aspect of the mission was a travel to the beautiful coastal city of Durban. This city appeared relatively less expensive than Pretoria and Johannesburg. It is a tourist destination per excellence with its enthralling stretch of beach on the Indian Ocean, beautiful skyline, the Inyuvesi Yakwazulu – Natali i.e the University of KwaZulu Natal, Moses Mabhida Stadium, the Ushaka Marine world, the shopping malls, the cricket stadium and chains of affordable hotels etc.
The return trip from Durban ferried us through Pietermaritzburg, capital of the KwaZulu Natal province. During the long ride back to Johannesburg, there were spectacular landscapes of Agricultural fields most of which were being prepared for the forthcoming rainy season. There were several livestock – cattle, sheep and games ranches. These simply revealed modern agriculture in a nation that not only feeds itself, but has much in reserve and for export.
* Egbe, an agriculturist and media practitioner, lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached via email: email@example.com