Ah, South Africa. Its majestic undulating veldts, whatever they are. Animals that eat people. Diamonds scattered liberally on the ground. The world's most grating English accent. Oh, and a delicate smidge of racist oppression, once upon a time.
South Africa today is a model of harmony and an excellent lead for Israel/ Palestine to follow, at least that's how I view it from a rainy bedsit in Chiswick. 40 years of enforced apartheid seems to have given way to reconciliation, forgiveness, and general bonhomie. (You can tell I've never been, although I was afforded the opportunity to travel to SA driving from hotel to hotel for a series of specialist guide books about two years ago. The job was as good as mine until I received an email at the 11th hour telling me it wasn't.)
It was in 1652 that the Dutch East India Company established themselves here, at the Cape of Good Hope, to be exact, and expanded eastwards like the circular water rings of a Dutch pebble dropped into someone else's ocean. Well, tried to expand eastwards until they came across local people who'd rather they didn't. But Dutch this Southwestern tip remained, and for 150 years, during which time Indonesian, Madagascan and Indian slaves from East Asia were introduced. A strange caste system seemed to develop, as once irksome former royals were despatched from these places and sent to Africa, becoming the highest ranking among those who weren't Dutch and white. Their children, should they have dared been produced with some considerable help and fun from a dark native, were coloured, and therefore somehow lesser an individual than their Asian begetter, but clearly not as lowly as the other parent. You know, the black one.
To add to this mix of slavery and colonialism came Great Britain to seize the day and the Cape, because it was such a charming stopover en route to Australia (to drop off our criminals) and India (to rule over and grow tea).
Fortuitously for us Brits, the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt, meaning the Cape Colony was ours, all ours, in 1805. We continued to plough eastwards, despite the best efforts of those irritating locals. At the same time, abolitionists in Britain - fucking liberals - were able to force parliament to stop its global slave trade and, 27 years later, extended this ban to slavery in general throughout all British colonies, in 1833. (Interestingly, had the British army in America not been an equivalent of our modern day cricket team and tried just a little bit harder, we would've beaten those dastardly American rebels meaning that slavery would've been abolished in the States a lot earlier, and there probably wouldn't have been that less than civil Civil War. See Americans? Being ruled by greedy despots does have its benefits.)
Back in South Africa, the discovery of gold and diamonds in the mid to late nineteenth century drove everyone absolutely fucking nuts. Immigration increased, as did a general subjugation of the local populace now that the country became so much more interesting to all concerned. Britain ended up at war with the Boers, famers descended from the original Dutch, who had settled (i.e. nicked someone elses land) further eastwards in an effort to avoid the Brits as we too moved east. In an effort to overcome the Boers (we did), the British invented the world's first concentration camp - I'm so proud.
The Union of South Africa became, in 1934, a dominion, an overseas territory of the British Crown, but not of England, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom itself. It's all largely semantics. The point is we'd nicked it and stuck a flag in the ground.
I recall, many years ago on my travels, meeting a Dutchman called Peter Buijs, and watching with amusement as he conversed with an Afrikaaner. They were, Peter told me later, speaking in their respective languages, yet could understand each other almost perfectly which I found interesting because I'm a nerd who's fascinated by language. For example, the Afrikaans for an Orange is 'Lemoen'. Good god.
The language Afrikaans (quite simply, Dutch for African) descended from Old Dutch and was considered a mere dialect until 1925, when it was bumped up to a language in its own right. The only English equivalent to Peter's conversation that I can come up with would be if I hopped into a De Lorean and travelled back to London circa 1650 and struck up a conversation with someone. Fascinating. To me, anyway.
That, and Johannesburg is colloquially nicknamed Jewhannesburg, which I find amusing and disturbing in equal measure.
South Africa is apparently extremely dangerous. The life expectancy of a South African police officer is one of the lowest (as well as poorly paid) in the world. Plus a chap I once knew who hailed from nearby Swaziland regaled me with stories of his youth. He told me about the local nightclubs where, as well as having a cloakroom to hand in their coats, they also had to hand over their, erm, guns, to be collected once they'd drunk enough dirt cheap Castle Beer and were spoiling for a fight. (Can someone please confirm the existence of gunrooms in South African nightclubs, as the mind boggles.)
Nowadays, I only have to wander up to Shepherds Bush to be confronted by a huge swathe of Southern Hemisphere travellers; Aussies, Kiwis, and the aforementioned Saffas. But don't mention apartheid. That's all ancient history. Although it did inspire Spitting Image's 'I've Never Met A Nice South African' song in 1986.
South Africa ~
Pros: Nice people now. Year round gorgeous weather. Penguins.
Cons: Bad people then. That accent. Surfers. A lot of violence. The 'A' word.