The country came with a big reputation – it’s Kate’s favourite, and she’s been to 46 nations so far. She can’t stop raving about it, so my expectations were high.
My friend Kimbers, as I like to call her, used to live in London but in recent times has moved to Port Elizabeth (PE) to be with her fellow, the excellent Andrew. An example of the Port Elizabeth coastline can be seen in the top image.
She had very kindly lined up a number of people for me to photograph for SOTM during my stay. These included some people who worked at or attended Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).
While there I learned that, as the main campus is on a nature reserve, they frequently have monkeys come and try to snaffle people’s lunches.
Hence there are lots of warning signs up about keeping your food out of sight, and advice pinned to the fridge about what to do if you’re confronted by a monkey pilfering your sandwiches.
Apparently raising your eyebrows is seen as a sign of aggression by those primates, which is a bit of a shame as it’s just the kind of thing a human does if we come across anything unusual or exciting.
I spotted this monkey looking longingly through an office window at someone’s apple.
Kimbers also lined up an afternoon at the Eveready factory in PE, whose management kindly allowed me access to their staff. I wandered about and got a number of them to take part, hearing some great stories along the way. Here’s one example:
And she even managed to get me in the Weekend Post, an edition of the Port Elizabeth Herald.
But without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was visiting Missionvale Care Centre, which feeds, educates and cares for people from the adjoining township. It’s run by the amazing Sister Ethel, an Irish nun who 25 years ago started giving out aid to people while under a tree in the township and running a school beneath it.
Today there is a bustling complex at the entrance to the township which is home to some 100,000 people, of which about 70% are estimated to have HIV.
Brilliantly, the tree where it all began is still there, even though many other trees have been cut down in the area.
And Sister Ethel is still there too – she posed for SOTM, which I was delighted about. She had a great story to go along with her photo.
The landscape of the township was nothing like I’d really seen before. I’d been close to slums in India, but never entered them, and there are many similarities between them and this township, particularly in the flimsiness of the dwellings.
This time I got to walk around for quite some time, as the smashing Linda, who oversees much of the daily operations of the care centre, said it would be useful for her to have a new batch of images from the area, to highlight the work that they do with supporters etc. So I went back a second time and photographed the township and its people, giving the images to Linda afterwards.
Seeing how poorly the township’s inhabitants live, but how friendly many of them are, was a difficult experience. When it came to the photography, it was a fascinating time and I learned a lot about portraiture out in the field, with harsh sun and people with expressive faces on dark skin, most of who were happy to have their image captured.
This lady was shy and had to be softly coaxed to pose for me, but I really wanted to photograph her. She had a wonderful face and I liked the backdrop of her neat and tidy home. Finally, she was all smiles and seemed to like how she turned out.
During my first visit to Missionvale we passed these four children playing in a wheelbarrow. I got the car to stop on the dirt road, jumped out and took their photo. The chap in the cap came sauntering over and got in on the act.
The terrain of the township is very rich to look at, but incredibly difficult to live in. New properties are being built, of much better quality than the existing flimsy homes, and you can see the concrete foundations being laid next to this tin shack, an increasingly common sight in the township.
I saw these two, whom I assume are mother and daughter, a little way off and waited while they walked past me. Right at the decisive moment, they both looked my way.
I asked Linda if I could take her photo, and the lady agreed. Afterwards I thanked her, in English, and she said something that sounded like “my pleasure”.
This lady is the neighbour of the smiling woman above. She has HIV and lives along in a leaking shack which also floods, meaning the soil floor becomes a pool of mud. Staff from Missionvale Care Centre have patched things up a bit for her, and given her some possessions as she lost all of hers in a fire.
Commonly, some people in townships light fires within their shacks to cook on, and frequently this results in them being burned down. I understand that this lady also lost her husband in the same fire.
After experiencing the townships, Kimbers organised a couple of days for me at the luxurious Shamwari Game Reserve, out on the African plains, which turned out to be a quite memorable experience, not least for the contrast between the five-star luxury I was sleeping in, and the townships that I couldn’t get out of my head.
First of all – I was in a car crash on the way to Shamwari, just five minutes away from the entrance. My driver and I ended up backwards and on our side in a ditch.
Luckily, apart from a few bumps and bruises, we weren’t hurt. This is the first photo I’ve published of the crash – you can see the car sadly didn’t make it out of the ditch in quite the same shape as when it went in.
We were heading in the opposite direction to how the car is facing here, meaning my passenger door, now on the top, was the only way out. I got my camera and computer out of the wreckage before I left, though. I know the value of things.
Shamwari is an incredible place and being on safari there is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I can’t recommend it enough, and I was lucky enough to have the brilliant Julius as my guide for a couple of days.
He is a fount of knowledge, once took out Margaret Thatcher and her family on safari, and has eyes as sharp as an eagle who’s just opened an opticians.
“See that flash of grey on the other side of the valley?” he’d say.
“Er, no,” I’d reply.
“Yeah, that’s a rhino,” Julius would say, shifting about excitedly in his seat.
We’d bounce around over the African plain for a bit, and lo and behold, there would be a rhino, an animal as short-sighted as I am (quite literally, I wear strong contact lenses).
Here’s Julius’ SOTM:
And here are some of my favourite shots from Shamwari. First, getting up close and personal with a young male elephant.
“I saw her first.” “No, I saw her first.”
This is a Serval, and capturing him in mid-flight is the best action shot I’ve ever done.
Cheetahs. Fast on paper. Much slower in real life (most of the time).
I’ll never forget my time at Shamwari, or in South Africa. I can’t wait to go back.
After my time in PE I moved on to Cape Town for three days, and loved that place too. I was a guest of Cape Town Tourism who kindly put me up in a nice hotel and organised some activities for me also.
The hotel was on the 27th floor, which afforded me some super views of this utterly charming city. Most of the photos I took up there were done while I was naked, incidentally.
I just seemed to keep catching the light pre or post-shower. I didn’t take any selfies while doing that, you’ll be relieved to hear.
At the top of Cape Town is the unmissable Bo-Kaap district, which is fantastic to walk around with a camera on a sunny day.
Once a township, the area is now highly desirable as a place to live.
Seeing it was another of the most memorable things I’ve ever done, and even the jabbering tourists, who were running around Robben Island prison like it was a theme park, thankfully fell silent as they filed past it.
That’s it for this post. From South Africa I headed up to Dubai, just in time to catch up with old friends and be reunited with Adventurous Kate for her birthday. More on that next time.