Category Archives: South Africa

Blissful Escape

Most Interesting Bookstores of the World:

I love books.  I am still teased today because at family do’s I always had my nose in a book.  It was, and is, a blissful escape.  I escaped so much that I have more memories of fictional characters than of my own childhood.

My mother always warned me that reading in bad light would affect my eyes.  She was right.

I will only touch on some authors and books here because I am not writing a book and it is inevitable that I will leave some out that are just as important.

The last book I read was ‘George Sand A Woman’s Life Writ Large’ by Belinda Jack.  All I will say about George Sand is:  “Wow”.

Right now I am reading ‘The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, written by Himself’.  Only on page 5 but looks like it is going to be fun.

I am also reading ‘If You Want to Write’ by Brenda Ueland on my Kindle.  She draws from William Blake who is, oh, so heavenly.

One of my favourite authors is Charles Dickens.  Nobody else has developed characters as full and rich as he has.

I love Mark Twain.  I have all of his books and letters on my Kindle.

One of the most profound books I have ever read was ‘The Autobiography of Madame Guyon’ by herself, i.e. Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon.  One does not have to agree with her understanding of spirituality to know that she was preciously rare.

Stephen King is an awesome author.  I have only read about three of his more twisted tales but do check out ‘On Writing’.  It reads like a memoir.  I am awaiting my order of Secret Windows Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing. 

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Jonathan Swift.  Swift was a master satirist.  The story of Gulliver is about people.  And how ridiculous we really are.

‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck.  Let me quote the Amazon description:  “The story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity”.

‘Out of Africa’ by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).  The opening sentence “I have a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills ……” is the beginning of a journey that cannot but stir you deeply.

‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ by Irving Stone.  Michelangelo brought to life.

Wally Lamb writes beautifully.  ‘The Hour I first Believed’ and ‘I know this Much is True’.

One of my favourite local books is The Deneys Reitz Trilogy – ‘Adrift on the Open Veld.  The Anglo-Boer War and its Aftermath 1899 – 1943’.  History is fascinating to me, particularly the Anglo-Boer War.  A better account has yet to be written.  This historical piece reads like a novel.  You feel as though you are in the saddle with the young Deneys.

Dalene Matthee introduced me to the wonders of Knysna, the Tsitsikama Forrest and surround.  Her stories are based on fact and wonderfully funny, complex and spell-binding.  ‘Moerbeibos’ being a favourite.

At a quick glance, the books here mentioned (and ommitted) have a couple of things in common:

  • They are well written, but some were crafted
  • Most of them are amusing, and those that aren’t, still produce deep emotions
  • Many of them were biographical in nature, or based on fact
  • But they are ALL, inspirational

Wish there was more time … … …

On Driving

I am, apparently, a bad driver.  This is according to my father, husband and sons.  Oh, and every other man that has ever seen me drive.  Do I agree?  Maybe.  Do I care?  No.

I believe that men are better drivers than women in one specific area.  Spacial awareness.  Most women (and there are exceptions), have no concept of the space around them.  They cannot judge distance.  It annoys me to no end in the school parking lot where one woman will take up enough parking spaces for three cars.

I last parallel parked twenty-odd years ago when I went for my driver’s licence, which I had to re-do two or three times.  And then about two years ago when my son challenged me.  I did it successfully but have to add, it was a huge space.  So I would rather drive around looking for parking, than trying to parallel-park.  It is for men.

I am a bit of an aggressive driver, I will confess.  And I tend to drive fast.  I have no patience on road and cannot stand snails in the fast lane.  Why, why, why are you sitting in the overtaking lane, when you need to be overtaken?

I use my hooter a lot and if you have ever been on South African roads, you will understand the necessity thereof.

I overtake and tailgate, I signal, hoot and gesture.  I worry that when I stop doing it, it will be a sign that I am getting old.

But here I have to add something.  The car you drive makes a big difference to how you drive.  Or rather, a good car increases impatience.

I drive a 320d.  A Beemer.  And no thank you, I don’t want any other car other than perhaps a 330d.  My car is like a faithful Boerperd (South African horse breed).  It is willing and has all the power necessary to do what I ask.  I never have to use force; a gentle nudge is all it takes.

And for people who complain about BMW drivers, this is what I say to you:  “I drive like this, because I CAN!”

Now move over and go sulk at home.

The South African Braai (barbeque)

The South African braai can be loosely translated as a barbeque but it is much more than that.  A braai is a South African tradition and is always, a man’s domain.

Braais are not usually done on gas fires.  Wood fires are traditional because the start of the ritual lies in the building of a perfect fire.  No man tolerates another messing with his fire, adding to it or poking around in it.  They each have their own style of making a fire and believe their way is best.

While the Braai Master builds and tenderly cares for his flames, it is customary for him and his buddies to drink beer.  The women meanwhile busy themselves in the kitchen making salads and side dishes.  Usual accompaniments include rich tomato and onion gravy, potato salad, green salad, garlic bread, bread rolls and pap (similar to a polenta, made from corn).  The meat can include steak, lamb chops, chicken portions, ribs, pork rashers, kebabs  and boerewors (a South African specialty sausage for which all butchers have a secret recipe).  Meat preparation also differs from man-to-man.  An assortment of spices and marinades may be used.  Some men like thick steak-cuts and others prefer them thinner.

Snacks are essential and include potato crips, dips, peanuts and biltong (a salted, dried meat similar to jerky but much tastier).

If large quantities of beer are consumed, logs would be added to the fire indefinitely until the kitchen intervenes.

A visitor may ask the Braai Master if he needs help turning the meat but it is generally considered in bad taste.  Unless of course the Braai Master suddenly falls down dead.  Strict etiquette is followed around a braai and all South African men instinctively adhere to it.

Once the all the meat is cooked it is placed on the table with the side dishes and the feast commences.  Most of the time there is way too much and the left-over meats become creative others.  Such as my After-Braai, Stir-Fry.    I simply chop all the left-over meat into small little chunks, give it a quick swish in the pan over high heat with some cream and cayenne pepper and, voilà!  The smoky flavour of the different meats is simply yummy on fresh bread, potatoes, rice or couscous.

If you ever find yourself in South Africa, and you are invited to a braai, do yourself a favour and go.  It is as South African as our sunny skies.


From braaivleis (“grilled meat”), from Afrikaans braai (“to grill”), from Dutch braden (“roast”).



braai (plural braais)

  1. (South Africa) A barbecue, the Afrikaans word for grill.
  2. (South Africa) An open outdoor grill built specifically for the purpose of braaing.
  3. (South Africa) A social meeting, including the braaingof meat.
    Come over to our place for a braai.


braai (third-person singular simple present braais, present participle braaing or braaiing, simple past and past participle braaied)

A quiet, hot Christmas day

We are in Scottburgh, on the South Coast of South Africa.  It has been hot and humid, and yesterday was no different.

My eldest is spending his Christmas holidays in Kunjata Bay, Mozambique with his buddy Donut.  A whole group of friends went down and it sounds like they are having a ball.  He tells me that the little kids faces are starting to scar from the sun.

My husband and I, and Kyle and his buddy James, spent Christmas day by ourselves.  There were only about 9 gifts under the tree and opening them was quick.  I made bacon and eggs for brunch and in the evening we had a braai (barbecue).  It was tranquil and nice.  No tables laden with food, overeating and long naps to sleep it off.  Last night we took Cinnamon for a stroll on the beach.

Twice we tried having Christmas lunch at a restaurant and it was disastrous.  The service was bad, food took long and it just seemed gloomy, spending Christmas with strangers in a strange place.  I won’t do that soon again.  Just us, at home, is good.

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is different from the North.  A white Christmas is an experience.  It looks, tastes and smells different.  I love the way people Christmafy their houses.  Lights and nativity scenes on a wintry, snowy landscape at night is something to behold.  And unlike the North, our December holiday is long with schools closing for about six weeks and most adults taking their annual leave to stream down to the coastal towns of SA.  Generally, decorations are kept down to a Christmas tree and some tinsel around the house.  Nothing fancy.

Turkey is not big here.  Christmas lunches would include gammon, chicken, pork and lamb roasts with potato and other salads.  And brandy pudding, Christmas cake and trifle.  If it is really hot, the meats will be served cold.

Today, the 26th of December, is as yesterday.  Hot.  Later we will make our way down to a beach, hoping that some of the crowds have gone home.

Long, lazy summer days are the hallmark of South African Christmas holidays.

Today is ‘The Day of the Vow’ for my people

On 16 December 1838, a group of around 470 Boer people (Afrikaners) were besieged by more than 10,000 Zulu warriors on the banks of the Blood River in Natal, South Africa.  This led to one of the bloodiest and memorable battles in our nation’s history.

The Boer’s struggle for independence started in 1835 after the Cape Colony and Natal were invaded by the British.  The Boer was not willing to serve under the English and moved inland, a movement known as The Great Trek.  The almost 10,000 Boers who participated in the Trek were called Voortrekkers.

Commander Piet Retief chose to travel to Natal where he petitioned the King of the Zulus, Dingane, for a piece of land between the Tugela and Umzimvubu rivers up to the Drakensberg Mountains.

On the 4th of February 1838 Dingane signed the treaty which awarded the land to Boers.  He invited the Retief-group to a Zulu dance on the 6th of February.  During the ceremony, Dingane suddenly called out:  “Bulalani abathakati!”  (kill the magicians).  The Boers were tied up and dragged outside the village where they were beaten to death with knopkieries.   The remaining Boers were attacked in their laager, causing the deaths of a further 282 people.

The Natal Voortrekkers sent for and chose Commander Andries Pretorius from the Eastern Cape as their leader.  He immediately put together a Commando of 470 men with 64 wagons to return to Zululand.  The families that stayed behind had become impoverished and did not have enough wagons to return back over the Drakensberg Mountains, so it was of the utmost importance that their men returned.

A lay-preacher by the name of Sarel Cilliers suggested that they make a vow with God.  In return for victory in the battle, they would build a church, always honour the day and tell their children so that future generations would honour the vow they had made.

The Boer Commando pushed deeper into Natal and on the 15th of December drew a laager on the banks of the Ncome River, today known as Blood River.  Pretorius chose a strategic spot for the laager which forced the Zulus to attack mainly from a north-westerly direction.

The Zulu leaders, Ndlela and Tambuza, decided that the first Zulu regiment to attack would be the Abafana (boys) with their black shields.

Sunday the 16th of December was a bright sunny day.  The first attack started just after sunrise but neither the Black Shields, nor the White Shields could push through the defences.  The 470 Boer shooters had a wide range whereas the area narrowed for the approaching Zulus.

By 12 o’clock in the afternoon, the battle was over.  The laager was surrounded by dead and dying bodies.  Many of the wounded fled into the river which caused the water to turn red, giving it the name, Blood River.


Today is The Day of the Vow.  I am a descendant of those Boer people and I have the choice to honour it or not.  My children are English-speaking South Africans and identify themselves in that manner.  I do however, on the 16th of December, tell them the story of Blood River, for them to do with as they please.