CULTURE RICH DESTINATIONS - SOUTH AFRICA

Heritage & Culture Travel Themes

Heritage and culture plays an important role in Africa. Each country have a unique culture that is rich and diverse and varies not only from one country to another, but within each country itself. The culture of each ethnic group centers on family and can be found in each group’s art, music and oral literature. From storytelling through oral literature to traditions, dialects, arts and music, indigenous culture persist. And we couldn't agree more when Victoria falls guide describe the unification of communities. "In African culture, the “self” is not separate from the world, it is united and intermingled with the natural and social environment. It is through relations with one’s community and surroundings that an individual becomes a person of volition, whose actions and decisions affect the entire group rather than just oneself. There is a Xhosa proverb that is common to all African cultures and languages, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” (“A person is a person through persons”)." Or as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We hope to take you on this journey to understand and appreciate African culture by highlighting cultural nuances, heritage and traditions of  each country that seem to have tremendous influence in the world.

HUMAN ORIGINS - Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (South Africa)

The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (dubbed the 'Cradle of Humankind') lies 45 km west of Johannesburg. It includes a number of caves and dig sites at 13 separate locations within an undulating landscape of low hills along a dolomitic limestone ridge.  The importance of the area was discovered accidentally, as a result of fossil finds during limestone quarrying.  Today the quarrying has ceased and the site is being excavated and explored more systematically for its scientific values.  The whole area (470 km2) is under private ownership, and most of the excavation sites are not accessible to the general public.  The world heritage site was extended in 2006 to include two more distant localities - the Taung Skull Fossil Site (which lies in Northwest Province about 350 km WSW of Sterkfontein), and the Makapan Valley (about 300 km to the north-east in Limpopo Province).

ROCK-ART & PRE-HISTORY - Maloti-Drakensberg Park (South Africa & Lesotho)

The Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains form a steep escarpment along South Africa’s border with the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.  It is one of the five world heritage sites in Africa that satisfy the Convention’s natural and cultural criteria.  From a cultural perspective it is outstanding for the wealth of its rock art heritage, created over a period of about 4,000 years by San hunter-gatherer people.  The San and their ancestors have lived in rock shelters and caves in these mountains for about 8,000 years, producing an incredible quantity and variety of paintings right up until the time the last San were driven out (or killed) from the area a little over 100 years ago.  

There are more than 600 individual rock-art sites ranging from large rock-shelters containing over 1,000 individual images to small rock overhangs or the vertical faces of fallen boulders with only a few paintings. More than 22,000 individual paintings have been recorded, mostly images of animals, especially eland - a type of large antelope that was clearly revered as the San’s most important hunting quarry.  Many sites show scenes of hunting, dancing, fighting, food gathering, ritual and trance. Human subjects often appear naked, but some of the more recent images show dressed figures clad in a variety of garments, recalling the early days of the colonial era.

LIVING TRADITIONAL LANDSCAPES -ǂKhomani Cultural Landscap

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape coincides with the boundaries of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, located in the extreme northwest of the country, bordering Namibia and Botswana.  It is a harsh desert environment in which the ǂKhomani-San people have lived in close association with nature as a nomadic hunter-gatherer community for millennia.  The inclusion of the area on the world heritage list recognises the cultural importance of this association between the ǂKhomani-San people and this part of their traditional homeland.  The world heritage listing has been possible through the recent restoration of land rights to the ǂKhomani-San people, following their forced removal in 1930 when the national park was established.  

Designated as a cultural landscape, the site includes landmarks of ǂKhomani-San history, migration, livelihoods, memory and resources.  The ǂKhomani-San people developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their desert environment. So it is the cultural association with various landscape features, rather than any archaeological evidence or physical alteration to the natural environment, which the world heritage committee considered sufficient to justify the area’s designation as a world heritage cultural landscape.

LIVING TRADITIONAL LANDSCAPES - Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (South Africa)

Mapungubwe cultural landscape is located in the extreme north of South Africa, near the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana.  For about 400 years, between 900 and 1300 AD it was the centre of perhaps the greatest Kingdom in southern Africa, based on trade in gold and ivory through the Swahili trading ports of eastern Africa.  It was subsequently eclipsed by the development of Great Zimbabwe, 250 km to the north (which was at its zenith between 1300 and 1450 AD), and then a later kingdom based at Khami (1450 to 1650). Today, little remains of the settlements that existed, but meticulous archaeological work has revealed the remains of three palaces, evidence of a complex social structure, large quantities of clay figurines (suggesting some kind of centralised ritual ceremonies), and evidence of iron and copper working.

LIVING TRADITIONAL LANDSCAPES - Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (South Africa)

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical landscape is located in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, along the Orange River border with Namibia.  It is an area of semi-desert, in which the Nama people still practice a form of transhumance, moving seasonally with their livestock to suitable grazing areas.  The Nama are the direct descendents of the original Khoi-Khoi people who lived across much of southern Africa in the millennia before the arrival of Europeans and African Bantu tribes.  Their lifestyle, moving between stock outposts and living in collapsible reed-mat houses, would have been typical of peoples across the semi-arid lands of southern Africa, but is now limited to this relatively small area.  This form of traditional stock management has not only enabled people to live in this hostile environment, but has also contributed to the protection of the diverse Succulent Karoo vegetation.

EUROPEAN COLONIAL INFLUENCES - Robben Island (South Africa)

Robben Island is located about 9 km off the South African coast near Cape Town.  It is the site of the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 20 years, alongside others who fought against the racist policies of the (white) Apartheid government of the time. The Island has come to symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.  In fact, use of the island as a prison dates back to the early years of colonization, soon after van Riebeck arrived in 1657 to establish a Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

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EARTH'S CRUST Vredefort Dome - South Africa

The Vredefort Dome world heritage site encompasses the central part of the oldest and largest meteorite impact site known on earth.  The entire meteorite impact structure (or astrobleme) has a radius of impact of 190 km, while the section designated as a world heritage site features an eroded ‘crater rim' of low hills with upturned quartzite rock strata and other features of the impact. It is one of about 200 meteorite impact structures currently known on Earth, of which only three have a diameter greater than 150 km. It is the only world heritage site in Africa that is primarily under private ownership, encompassing 149 farm properties.

MOUNTAINS Maloti-Drakensberg - South Africa & Lesotho

The Maloti-Drakensberg is one of the major mountain ranges of southern Africa with dramatic scenery, high levels of biological endemism, and a concentration of rock art spanning 4,000 years. The highest reaches of its escarpment feature sheer basalt cliffs, with ramparts of golden sandstone rising above high rolling grasslands, rocky gorges and pristine steep-sided valleys. Hundreds of sandstone caves and rock shelters harbour the largest concentration of early rock art in sub-Saharan Africa. These are outstanding in their quality and diversity of subjects, their depiction of animals and human beings and as a record of the beliefs and way of life over 4,000 years of the Khoisan people who used to inhabit the region.

Cape Floral Region - South Africa

The Cape Floral Region has been called the world's hottest hot-spot for plant diversity and endemism. Its flora is so diverse and unique that it warrants classification as one the world's six principal floristic regions. In less than 0.38% of the area of Africa it has nearly 20% of the continent's flora and five of its twelve endemic families. Although the entire floral region is only 90,000 km2 in extent, it is home to 8,996 plant species and 988 genera, with 32% of its species found nowhere else in the world. The world heritage site comprises an ‘archipelago' of eight protected areas encompassing as much as possible of this floristic diversity and the range of ecological conditions, soil types, rainfall regimes, and elevation found in the region.  It stretches from the Cederberg to the Cape of Good Hope and includes the Boland Mountains, De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Swartberg mountains and eastwards to Baviaanskloof.

St Lucia iSimangaliso wetland park - South Africa

The St Lucia wetlands represent one of the largest estuarine systems in Africa, and the world heritage site encompasses a 180km-long strip of coastal lowlands, including the estuary itself, the surrounding mosaic of swamps, woodlands, grasslands and dune forest, as well as a marine reserve of beaches, offshore marine environments and coral reefs. These provide critical habitat for a wide range of species from Africa's seas, wetlands and savannas including large populations of nesting turtles and aggregations of flamingos and crocodiles. The interaction of major floods and coastal storms on these environments fuels a process of continuing ecological change. The St Lucia system supports over 350 bird species and is the most important breeding area for waterbirds in South Africa, with at least 48 breeding species recorded.

Succulent Karoo - Namibia & South Africa

The Succulent Karoo biome extends across a wide swathe of South Africa and Namibia, covering some 116,000km2.  A suitable representative network of priority areas is being identified for a serial world heritage listing, which is likely to include some existing national parks (see map). The Succulent Karoo, which consists primarily of winter rainfall desert, is one of only two desert biodiversity hotspots in the world. For an arid region, it has extraordinarily high plant diversity and endemism, including the world’s richest succulent flora. Some 40 percent of the 6,356 plant species occur nowhere else on the planet. 

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South African Arts and Culture

South Africa is often called the ‘Rainbow Nation.’ A term which was coined by the former Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, due to the country’s multicultural diversity.

South Africa has a large number of Afrikaans- (descended from Dutch settlers) and English speakers (the British began colonizing the region in the 1800s). French Huguenots, Germans and Portuguese arrived from the 1600s and brought many slaves from India and modern-day Indonesia. Islam and Hindu traditions and culture are also therefore prominent.

Black South Africans make up around 80% of the population and belong to a variety of ethnic groups

Art

Art is a fusion of traditional and modern. Artists draw inspiration from the masks, statues and figurines of tribal culture, but also employ Western techniques and mediums. 

Culture

Among native black South Africans, there are many different ethnic groups and nine officially-recognised local languages.

The Zulu and Xhosa speakers are the two largest groups – accounting for nearly 40% of the population – with Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati/Swazi, Venda and Ndebele speakers making up the rest.

The various tribal cultures have rich oral traditions.  Stories, poems and epics were learnt by heart and recited out loud. Slowly, these stories are working their way into written literature.

Dance

Art forms such as dancing and textiles perhaps retain the strongest links to traditional black culture, because they express identity and shared history. Gumboot dancing is a very amazing dance of South Africa. The black Africans were given Wellingtons to protect their feet and communicated in the dark by slapping and thudding their boots.

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South African Tribal Beads, Dress, & other Cultural Significance 

Cultural Influence on Daily Life

Political Opinion

Depending on who you speak to, Nelson Mandela is either a hero or a terrorist -- or both. Many countries celebrate Mandela as a revolutionary who helped overthrow apartheid and became the first black and democratically-elected president in the country. However, others view his acts of political protest against institutionalized racism in tandem with his multi-racial and communist friendships as acts of terror against the apartheid state. In 1952, he was arrested and began a 27-year imprisonment. Talking politics here is probably a poor choice, especially since the wounds from the apartheid are still healing.

South Africa is a developed country.

 It is both a developed country with good infrastructure and also a country with huge social and economic problems. There is a very high gap between rich and poor. Most people live in the urban area and life in the city is very urbanized. The many rural black communities are still rooted in the traditions of their heritage, whereas the increasingly urban black community combines their roots with the urban environment and international influences that surround them.

Greeting Etiquette

There are several greeting styles in South Africa depending upon the ethnic heritage of the person you are meeting. When dealing with foreigners, most South Africans shake hands while maintaining eye contact and smiling. Some women do not shake hands and merely nod their head, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand. Men may kiss a woman they know well on the cheek in place of a handshake.Greetings are leisurely and include time for social discussion and exchanging pleasantries.

South Africa runs on its own time.

South Africa has a laid-back, slow paced vibe. You might find yourself anxiously tapping your feet for that waiter to come by or hotel clerk to check you in, even in big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. Remember that it's not a slight or laziness, but just the wonderfully slow South African way. Embrace it -- you are on vacation.

 

Popular  Festivals

The Cape Town International

Jazz Festival

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) is the flagship event for the leading events management and production company espAfrika, which has staged and produced several world-renowned events.

 

Affectionately referred to as “Africa’s Grandest Gathering”, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) is the largest music event in sub-Saharan Africa. The festival is famous for its star-studded line up of local and international artists, and is currently preparing for its 19th annual event.

This proudly South African produced event is hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) each year on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April. The festival annually boasts 5 stages with more than 40 artists performing over 2 nights. The festival hosts in excess of 37, 000 music lovers over the 2 show days

Accomodations

La Clé de Montagnes

Franschhoek, South Africa

Nestled in the heart of the Cape Winelands, Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa sits quiet and unassuming— surrounded by magnificent mountain vistas. Ease into pure luxury, and be treated to elegant finishes and careful attention to detail. Bordered by leafy vineyards in the small town of Franschhoek, Le Franschhoek Hotel offers a remarkable selection of inspiring venues, delectable restaurants, and indulgent spa treatments, to present luxurious hotel accommodation at its best.

WHAT IS THE VISA REQUIREMENT TO TRAVEL TO SOUTH AFRICA?

 

No, if visiting 90 days or less. Yellow fever at least 10 days before arrival is required for travelers originating from or transiting through WHO-designated yellow fever countries.

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK THE WATER IN SOUTH AFRICA?

 In general, the water in large urban areas is potable and safe to drink in South africa. Check below for city specific information. 

However, in rural areas within South africa, the water should be considered contaminated. Bring all tap water to a good rolling boil if you want to drink, brush your teeth or make ice cubes. Otherwise, buy capped bottled water from reputable brands. 

CAN I GET INTERNET ACCESS IN SOUTH AFRICA?

In South Africa, internet connections can be slower and more expensive than in other developed countries, but the internet service sector is evolving. You can access the internet easily in most South African cities. Land line companies offer ADSL, ISDN, Digitnet, and leased lines. Satellite and wireless are also offered by land line companies, as well as small providers and mobile phone providers.

There is also free Wi-Fi services at local restaurants, hotels, business centres, or going online from internet cafés located at business and shopping centres.

ARE CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED IN SOUTH AFRICA?

All major credit cards can be used in South Africa. If you have a so-called “chipcard”, you will be required to enter a pin code. Pin-based debit cards are often accepted too.

ARE THERE ANY ATMS IN SOUTH AFRICA AND I USE THEM?

ATMs are common in South African cities and accept the major card providers. 

Across all the banking groups, Standard Bank is the only one to have actually reduced its withdrawal fees over the last 5 years, with a number of forumla changes cutting the cost to access funds. In 2012, the bank charged R9.75 to withdraw R500 – the highest cost out of all the banks – reducing this by 7.7% to only R9.00 in 2017.

WHAT IS THE CURRENCY OF SOUTH AFRICA AND TIPS FOR FOREIGN EXCHANGE?

South Africa's unit of currency is the Rand, which is divided into 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200; and coins come in 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5. There are two R5 coins in circulation, both of which are legal currency. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest 5c.

With a favourable exchange rate for many international currencies, you'll find South Africa an inexpensive destination, with excellent access to banking and foreign exchange facilities.

DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE TRAVELING TO SOUTH AFRICA?

All passengers traveling with Trailblazer Travelz are highly recommended to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

IS TIPPING CUSTOMARY IN SOUTH AFRICA?

While South Africa has no legislation regarding tipping, it is customary to leave a tip of at least 10% of your bill at restaurants and bars.

If you are driving around, you will notice car guards patrolling streets where there is free parking. While you are under no obligation to tip these car guards, it is customary to do so if they have looked after your car for more than 30 minutes. While the amount is at your discretion, locals would normally tip an official car guard about R5.

In South Africa, petrol and diesel is administered by attendants. At most service stations, attendants will offer to wash your windows, as well as check your car’s oil and tyre pressure. This is part of the service and you are under no obligation to provide a tip unless you would like to.

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