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Cape Town to BC & Beyond


From Cape Town to BC & Beyond.





Michael Klerck



a vonPeter Publication



Copyright © 2016 Michael Klerck




All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic or mechanical – without the prior written permission of the author.


Shakespir Edition ISBN:










Other books by the same author:


Where The Light Is – adult, literary novel.


The Key To Tantalis – fantasy/adventure for graders in true Narnia tradition.



View these at www.michaelklerck.com for details of the books & links to online bookshops. Available in e-book format for all devices and readers as well as in paperback, shipped worldwide.







This, and other books, are also all available

in paperback at major online bookstores, including

Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, etc.



a vonPeter




Michael Klerck was born in 1955, in Cape Town, South Africa and soon went on to spend a significant part of his childhood on the infamous Robben Island where his parents met during the war. He began writing at an early age, and concentrated for some time on writing short stories, one of which was published by Stand Magazine, Newcastle. He qualified as a teacher at the then well-known Graaff-Reinet Teachers’ College, and went on to do a Bachelor of Arts with English, Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Communication through the University of South Africa. He spent six years teaching in the former homeland of KanGwane, near Swaziland and began lecturing in tertiary education in 1987; since then he has been involved in a number of pilot teaching programmes ranging from Computer Graphics to Public Finance.


He is the author of a number of textbooks for the college market, including one on Public Finance that has enjoyed one of the longest uninterrupted runs in the college market since first published in 1996.


He has also had various articles published by Men’s Health, South Africa, and is the winner of the 2001 Mondi Paper Magazine Writer’s Award for work in the same magazine.


He is the author of the novel The Key To Tantalis, a children’s fantasy book, and his most recent is an adult literary novel called Where The Light Is.


He lives in White Rock, near Vancouver, British Columbia.

“… and then I took a long, long rest on Robben Island, when I didn’t do much travelling.” President Nelson Mandela, (at a gala dinner, in Cape Town, 27 September 1997)




One: from an infamous island to yet another former British Colony


British Columbia is 77.37% the size of South Africa; or to put it another way South Africa is only 22.6% bigger in size but has a population that is eleven times larger than British Columbia itself, and 1.5 times more than all of Canada, which is itself nearly 9 times larger.

British Columbia is a stunningly beautiful place.

But Africa can be a difficult place to leave.

Most lives, locations and situations present us with deep ironies and contrasts. This phenomenon would both torment and delight us when we compared our life in what is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world, Cape Town, to the excitement of a new country: Canada.

My wife grew up in Zimbabwe, now laid waste in many ways. Then, amidst a civil war; she slept some nights in the middle room of her house with mattresses against the windows, and travelled in convoy to school. Now years later, married and with small children we both sought to emigrate, from South Africa.

I myself longed to avoid the political turmoil of South Africa and its lack of safety. Something held me back, though and as attractive as the suburbs of Sydney, or Vancouver appeared to be, I was sure we were missing something right there in Cape Town. I was determined to find some direction.

I found myself clinging to my heritage – my original forefather arrived in Cape Town to serve as the Receiver of Revenue there in 1792.

One hundred and sixty three years later I set foot, in the arms of my mother, on the quayside of the small harbour on Robben Island, little knowing that I would spend the most impressionable years of my childhood there.

Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese royal, was probably the first to sail around the Cape in 1488; one of his captains, Jao del Infante, in Dias’s second ship, landed on Robben Island sometime after him “to molest the seals and penguins.”

Rob is, or was the Dutch word for seal, robbe being the plural, hence the name of the island itself: Robbe Eiland, sounding much like Robben Island to an English ear. Translations worked either way, of course, the Cape Colony being occupied by both the British and the Dutch and I am reminded of the little town called Hansop or Hensop, from the British hands up!

It seems that ever since then the island has, in different ways, been molested. Jan Van Riebeeck (the rather suspect looking employee of the Dutch East India Company, who in fact spent very little time at the Cape, but became the father of South Africa) and his successor saw the potential of the island as a prison. The British kept prisoners there and in 1845 Lord Charles Somerset had lepers moved to the island where they were to “live and die unwanted on an island of terror”.

Many ex-inmates of the prison, including President Mandela, see the island as a special place. So do I, but then from a slightly different perspective. The first four years of my life were filled with happy memories of the island as my home. Far from being just a prison, it was first an army and then a naval base where my parents met and were married.

While various nations of the world spoilt and abused it, there is no doubt that nature wanted it to be special also. My father, a naval officer at the time, with the sanction of Doctor Hey, director of Cape Nature Conservation, turned an area into a nature reserve.

A ‘Noah’s Ark’ berthed in the harbour sometime in 1958. My father stocked the island with tortoise, duck, geese, buck which included Springbok, Eland, Steenbok, Bontebok and fallow deer, Ostrich and a few Wildebeest which did not last long – all except the fallow deer are indigenous to the Cape. Many  animals remained for decades, until quite recently when a lack of management and culling of rabbits resulted in nearly all dying. This menagerie included three species of tortoise – the most recently discovered in 1998 – two Parrot Beaked specimens that remained undetected until then.

The Leopard or Mountain tortoises might have suspected the past terror; perhaps they had no intention of being a part of a future infamy, but they often attempted the swim back to the mainland. Boats would lift them out of the sea in Table Bay and return them to us. I have had all sorts of experts over the years tell me these must have been turtles. After years of searching I have been vindicated! Dr Ernst Baard of Cape Nature Conservation is adamant that this is one of the very few species of tortoise that does swim; they have a vastly increased lung capacity, compared to other tortoises, which makes them quite buoyant, in fact. So my memory served me correctly: the boats did return tortoises and not turtles!

None of the original twelve remain, according to a Flora and Fauna audit done by Sea Fisheries. Four more were introduced in 1995 – these seem to have more easily accepted their new home as they are still residents.

One resident brought across a large Leopard tortoise discovered in a friend’s yard in Newlands, Cape Town. He lived in our garden and grew big enough to climb over the wall and roam the island much like the sheep in Van Riebeeck’s time. As children we were able to ride his great frame comfortably, as did some smaller grown men.

The buck and ostriches seemed equally happy and the ducks and Egyptian Geese were assigned a home in the old quarry, which had, some three hundred years before, supplied the dressed stone for the foundations of the famous Castle in the mother city just across the water. At the time of my residence the quarry bristled with fish.

Not all animals were wild. Za-Za was a deaf Dalmatian – she joined my mother just before I was born and lived without the fear of traffic. My mother only had to stomp on the wooden floors of our house to summon her. I was reminded of her the other day when I walked into a local pub, and saw a young man with a Dalmatian called Za-Za. He had read about her in the South African Navy archives, bought a pup and named her after our original.

The dog I remember was my spaniel Lindy – soft and gentle enough to put up with my favourite pastime of sticking my fingers in her ears and sitting on her when she carried pups, and faithful enough to sleep under my pram and growl at anyone who came near. The island, as you can imagine, was her paradise – rabbits or wild hare and birds to chase with frantic, delirious excitement, but seldom catch.

One animal that was an integral part of my happy childhood, was a buck called Bambi. She came across on the ‘Ark’, alone and frightened. Her parents had been destroyed in a typical Cape fire. My mother assigned her to the empty chicken-coop (kippie-hok) at the bottom of the garden and she spent some time with us before being introduced into the ‘wild’. I fed her three times a day from my redundant bottles and the special childhood memory of her sucking my finger at the end of each meal lives with me. I can still almost feel her diminutive tail flicking through the air with uncontrollable excitement at the sight of me. Or was it just the milk in the bottle?

All the inhabitants knew each other well. There was no crime, and nothing can take the place of growing up in a completely safe environment. I call it an island mentality – the feeling of being part of a special community ran through to everyone. My grandfather, then a retired Colonel and near the end of his life, had a frightening experience while pushing me in a pushcart far from our home. He fell badly and could not get up. I lay on my side, still strapped to my seat and, while he struggled to rise, my only attempt at showing sympathy was a bout of uncontrollable laughter.

Luckily for both of us a member of the now disbanded Cape Corps drove past in a troop carrier, helped both the old man and myself up, and returned us to our home. I was recorded as being indignant at his ending what I considered a unique adventure.

My mother’s penchant for organising took expression in a massive carols by candlelight with a nativity tableau in which nearly all the inhabitants of the island took part. The naval tiffies (technicians) constructed large wings for the Archangel which consisted of real feathers, and the halo surrounding her tall frame was embedded with lights which she controlled by means of a switch. The stable and manger were constructed by volunteer sailors, carpenters and artificers. The floodlighting was provided by my father and the head of the public works department who both battled against a raging Southeaster. I, at the age of four, was the stable boy.

The feeling of apprehension and excitement as I walked into the floodlit stadium, leading Mary’s donkey, is still with me. The choir was given additional volume and depth with the naturally harmonizing voices of the black and coloured inhabitants. Few inhabitants sat in the stands – almost the entire island population was in the tableau itself – but we did get eager support from friends and family who came over especially for the event. The sound of Silent Night still today evokes the memory of the small children of the island walking up, hesitantly, to peer at the babe in the manger and deposit their gifts which were later dispatched to an orphanage in Cape Town.

Some inhabitants, including a few high-school pupils made the trip to the mainland each weekday on one of the two ferries – the Wolraad Woltemade and the Issie, named after Mrs Jan Smuts, whose husband, a former South African prime minister and international statesman, was the only foreigner to serve on Churchill’s war cabinet. I sometimes made the journey sans mother but with my Nanny to meet my grandmother under the old station clock at Cape Town station.

Today we smile knowingly at Capetonians revelling in the Waterfront, arguably the most breathtaking waterfront in the world. The ferries berthed at the Victoria Wharf and the harbour cafe was a familiar stop. Nothing can match a stormy sea on a Sunday afternoon and the prospect of returning to our haven after a weekend in the wild city. There were the sailing trips on Caprice and other yachts; catching crayfish from small dinghies, and the night-time fishing expeditions by torch.

Capetonians are famous for the appreciation of their heritage and the Navy, famous for its hospitality, decided on an open day. Navy and civilian inhabitants braced themselves for the influx of one or two hundred people. I can remember a great throng of many hundreds and the ferries and their exhausted crews were busy well into the night returning them to the mainland. A weary island population spent most of the latter part of the day in search of wayward Capetonians who had wandered all over, some thinking a night on the island preferable to returning to town.

I was familiar with the mechanics of the lighthouse – a special privilege for a young child, but just another part of life on the island. Mornings meant gathering in the library where my mother became, magically, a teacher and read to a class of pre-school children. There was a large swimming pool at the Mess. Knowing my love affair with water today, it is strange to vividly remember how frightened I was of it. My mother could no longer take my whimpering one day and hurled me in the deep end (I did have arm bands). She then couldn’t get me out.

My soft-spoken Xhosa nanny, Mary (ironically from the same tribe as Nelson Mandela who would arrive on the island just a few years later), and I walked the island: long, safe walks of discovery enriched by the crisp, fresh sea air every day come rain or shine. The bird life is still magnificent, and the view of Table Mountain cannot be matched anywhere. The island farm was a favourite and a visit to the milking sheds was not complete without a search for the resident mole snake who was assigned a ‘bunk’ in the rafters in return for a diminished rat population. I cannot remember whether it was assigned any rank though.

Near the farm were the remains of a beautiful private garden tended by the Matron of the leper hospital and which had flourished in spite of the fire which had destroyed that part of the island when the lepers were removed. The rambling roses and variety of shrubs seemed to grow in colourful support of the courage displayed by all the people incarcerated over so many years. It was a place many visited with quiet reverence.

We also visited the now famous quarry for long-term prisoners doing hard labour. Now that a plaque stands in honour of Nelson Mandela and other heroes, it is strange to admit that I remember sitting on a rock, as a small boy, and watching lonely sun-drenched men lifting, in slow motion as if to forever remember the pain, their heavy picks and shovels.

Although they were clearly out of bounds to us, I do remember having brief conversations with them, practising my elementary Xhosa each time they saw me. Nanny, probably born in the same region as most of them, struck up a friendship with many non-political prisoners who, surprisingly enough, walked the island with relative freedom in small work parties. Long conversations and much laughter resulted from these encounters. These hardened prisoners were, to me, just friendly men with whom I chatted on most days.

What of Nanny and me? – I suppose we were a woman and a child, full of chatter and laughter, and a sad reminder of home. I realise now that it was her own culture, her life that first introduced me to the very Circle itself.

Nanny is gone. Many of the prisoners are now well-known, immaculately dressed men, imprisoned in our television sets and who speak of the island with ambivalent reverence. My own personal claim to fame, and a wonderful dinner startler is that I was born there. The fact that I moved there when only a few months old and was, in fact, born in Cape Town, has never perturbed me.

My mother, however, often reminds me of my indiscretion. I put it down to poetic license; I’ll not change my CV for anything. She, in fact, like others, served in the Army there in 1942 and then again in 1946. She met my father there while visiting friends and they were married on the island in the Anglican church in 1952.

There can be no doubt that ex-inhabitants and visitors must wish for some safe sanctuary in the future. No development besides a careful reconstruction of the architecture and natural beauty can give any justice to its rich history and the many conflicting memories. The recent decision to turn it into a tourist attraction under the umbrella of the Department of Arts and Culture is, perhaps, the best choice.

There cannot be any doubt, either, that those friendly prisoners would have liked to have experienced the island as I did. Far from being just a “dumping ground for offenders”, as one editorial in a Cape Town newspaper portrayed it, the island has played host to a great deal of normality and even celebration.

Perhaps then, it is fitting to relate one last memory. One day a work-detail of prisoners arrived at our front door. I clung to my mother’s side while the spokesman for the group handed over a gift roughly wrapped in brown paper. They had heard from Nanny that Bambi had been released – I had lost a friend and they wanted to show some solidarity. They had carved, lovingly, and probably with very primitive tools, the gift of a wooden spoon.

The spoon took pride of place in the kitchen and always reminded me that along with the memory of a very special place, there are always memories of special people.

I have never had any doubt, somehow, that this truly unique experience has made me feel different; somewhat peculiar.

So you can imagine how difficult my task was to become in choosing a country to emigrate to. Leaving Cape Town is not easy. Johannesburg, perhaps, but not Cape Town.

My wife at the time said, “get me a job anywhere, as long as it brings us in a moerofalot (a great deal) of money, and is far from snow.”

We landed up in Canada. Go figure.

As they say, immigration is not for sissies.

We had no idea.


“I believe the world needs more Canada.” Bono

“When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.” Jane Fonda



Two: Oh, why Canada?


So we chose Canada. Why?

Why, indeed. Especially when one of our daughters had already moved to Australia, my stepbrother lived in Hobart, and at least four other school friends, and family members lived in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth?

We both adopted a superior attitude and made a rather hasty judgement that Australia would always struggle with water: it is a bigger issue than people realise. We felt we deserved the privilege of making such a judgement when choosing a country.

Life laughed at us in the sense that when we finally chose Canada it was only because the medical fraternity in Oz indicated that my wife would have to enter residency training, again, for her specialisation. She refused. I agreed – she had 21 years of medical experience as a GP, and had just come first in South Africa in her final exams. Being expected to enter a residency programme from scratch was more or less an insult.

Australia lost a superb doctor. Oh Canada!

It was also because I had sent out something of a distress signal, as most South Africans are want to do at a time like this. I had stumbled upon the website of the Fraser Valley (a region just south of Vancouver, British Columbia). On the site I had noticed the email address of the Head of Mental Health in the region. I had no doubt she would be impressed with my wife’s experience and qualifications. I sent her a one-liner and a CV.

Some four weeks later, 9 pm one evening, the phone rang.

It was a woman with “an American accent” – my first reaction. She wanted to speak to my wife. I handed the phone to her; she had been doing an FDA audit and had been working with many American medical personnel, so I imagined it might be from one of her colleagues in Washington DC.

It wasn’t: we would later find out, ironically, that the call was coming from a region called the Fraser Valley and closely bordering another Washington: the US state itself.

One hour later, barring another conference call with others at stake in the hospital and the region, and the “American” woman’s boss, she had been hired.

The Fraser Valley was just outside Vancouver, so as one might move to Somerset West, but talk about moving to Cape Town, similarly we were suddenly focussed on “Vancouver”.

Snow? Remember she had stipulated no snow.

We had no idea, in just about every way, what this potential move really meant.

From a positive angle: few if any people, least of all doctors, start in Vancouver. Almost without exception South African doctors do "their time" in the boonies - Canada's version of De Aar, Uitenhage (if they're lucky), Kakamas, Klaarwater or Clocolan. And, trust me, while some of them might reach 32 ºC on Summer days (and hotter if you are inland - think of the Karroo), we're also talking -20 ºC on most Winter days inland, and lower. See average temperatures further on.

Vancouver is to Canada what Cape Town is to South Africa; it is markedly unlike the rest of the country.



Canadians often say, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Yes, and no, I think. Of course it’s cold, but then again I have heard many ex-South Africans say they were colder in Bloemfontein. I can certainly remember minus temperatures on my father’s farm in Ladybrand in Winter.

Vancouver, weather wise, is Cape Town on steroids. It can reach 32 ºC on extreme days in Summer (all-time record of 37.8), with around 275 fires burning in the forests north of the city (reminding me of February on the Cape Peninsula) and the “average” daytime temperature in Winter here is probably around 7 ºC, dropping below zero on most nights.

In fact if you're used to the Karoo, or the Free State in Winter, -3 to -10 C isn't that bad at all. When I used to smoke I could sit on my stoep in a t-shirt for a ciggie at -10 ºC just long enough to finish the cigarette, and then retire into a warm house, but then I do have a thick skin.

Many north americans understand the word stoep and also pinkie; many do not know the Dutch arrived in New York to do business, just as they did in Cape Town. I suspect they fled when they saw the first “Indians”.

But, it rains: something like England almost all Winter. Vancouver and the geographical area surrounding it is a rain forest. Not tropical, of course; temperate, if I remember my geography from Mr Waller at SACHS, in Newlands, Cape Town; but trust me, it rains. And that means dark, grey skies.

If you want open, blue skies and sunshine, settle on the prairies - Edmonton or Calgary (Alberta), or Morden (Manitoba) - I only mentioned this town because we know a South African family there. They love it. Blue skies. Sunshine. Low temperatures in Winter? Sure: -35 to -40 ºC.

You need lots of sunscreen - if the kids play outside, they will need it for their faces, and this play can take place at -20 ºC , and lower, in strong sunshine. As long as there is no wind.

Just one of the myths about Canada is dispelled with the table of stats further on that shows that Durban has fewer days of sunshine than most Canadian cities, and there is even a town in Canada that, potentially at least, annually sports less snow than many towns in South Africa during cold winter spells. So much for sunny South Africa.

The sun might shine brightly in many cities in Canada in Winter, but if you cry, or your nose runs, it freezes. A doctor friend often tells the story of returning from a late night call; he had stupidly left his jacket at home, thinking he would be travelling from his garage (many cars are plugged in, or the garage itself is heated for an easier motor vehicle start) to the underground of the local hospital. When he returned in his small VW Golf, he found his street snowed under – he was unable to get into his driveway, so he parked across the street. He looked long and hard at the front door which was about twenty metres or so away. There was little he could do, besides phone his wife, wake her and the kids up, so he took the plunge, exited the car and “ran” through the snow to the entrance. It was so cold that he only just made it, and with his arms almost freezing he was barely able to find his keys to open the front door. He described it as agony, and with the fumbling of the keys and the painful manipulation of the front door handle he recalls how he actually had visions of himself collapsing and dying on the threshold.

That’s Canada, mostly. But not Vancouver, thankfully.

Records lows are around -51 ºC. Osoyoos, Canada's only desert. Yes, I said desert: this little city sports a record high of 41.5 ºC. In 2009, our first year here I have a video of my daughter lying on our couch in South Surrey/White Rock, with a fan on her and a thermostat reading of 34.5 ºC.

Some people much prefer the extreme cold, but rather with the blue skies, to the somewhat mild climate of Vancouver and surrounding regions that can be depressing during a long, grey, wet Winter. If you really dislike Cape Town because of its winters, don’t come to Vancouver.

But Vancouver has the same cosmopolitan feel to it, surrounded by the sea and with lots of mountains, just like Cape Town. Just about everybody wants to live here. But be prepared to have equity of at least R3 million to buy a small town home; of course with interest rates hovering around two and a half percent, and a good income, this is relatively doable.

Mental health had suffered a blow in 2008 for some reason, not important here, hence our arrival in what some jokingly call the “Miami beach” of Canada.

We were lucky.

Few make it to Vancouver, or its surrounds. Few doctors, traditionally, even initially try to find a position here, but instead as I have said, do their “time” in the prairies. And then, if lucky, find something in BC.

We had been “chosen” and “won” a position in what is arguably the most sought-after province, and region in BC – working in the fastest growing city in North America: Surrey. And living in South Surrey with property prices soon to rocket. Mountains to the north, farmland to the east, and sea to the west and south meant land is becoming more and more expensive. The property growth over the next seven years would almost mimic that of Cape Town itself, where, in the life of our 19 year old daughter, our Meadowridge property, bought for R350 000, would fetch nearly two million Rand.

Perhaps not quite that kind of growth.

But startling for Canadians – even those who have lived in Vancouver and the surrounds all their lives and are aware of the location’s special offerings, voice their dismay that few if any of their children will be able to afford a new home, the average price of which in 2015 had exceeded $1 million. That’s R10 million.

Of course everyone blames the Chinese.

While there is some truth in the reality that after making millions selling us everything from our televisions to our toothbrushes, many arrive in Vancouver and South Surrey, and buy property with bucket loads of cash, it is somewhat doubtful they are responsible for the property ‘bubble” that Canadians have been waiting to see burst since our arrival in 2009 – I know people who after their divorce stashed their cash payout away in some investment account, and pay someone else $17 000 a year in rent, rather than buy (in case the market comes down).

Did I say Canadians were cautious? One even quoted figures to me showing that his mother had bought a condo in Montreal in 1989 and "she cannot even get what she paid for it, now." Of course condos are not single family homes where the growth in Vancouver and South Surrey has been around 40% plus over the last five years.

Vancouver is nothing like the rest of Canada. Cape Town is nothing like the rest of South Africa.

So the bubble hasn’t arrived and the Chinese are blamed even more ferociously.

In fact Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. produced figures that were much lower than many Vancouverites claim: approximately 2.4% of Toronto condos are owned by foreigners, and only 2.3% in Vancouver. In some neighbourhoods in Vancouver this rose to 5.8%; nothing comes close to the figures people bandy about.

This is reminiscent of Cape Town also, with President Zuma wanting to restrict ownership of property by foreigners. Samuel Seeff from the well-known real estate company I worked for, briefly, in 1995, claims that in fact less than 3% of owners are foreigners.

“Even across the richest and most expensive residential real estate strip favoured by foreigners, the Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl, just over 10 percent of all sales last year were to foreigners,” Seeff said. Here, top exclusive properties have been going for R10-25 million. I always do a double-take when I read something like this: as an ex-Capetonian I suddenly realise that the average Canadian professional could pay for one of these properties in Cape Town relatively easily with the cash sale of their home in South Surrey/White Rock, BC. But this comparison belongs to another section and debate.

The truth is everybody wants to live in Cape Town and the same goes for Vancouver.

But make no mistake, the Chinese and their money have arrived.

It is not uncommon to see young Asian boys (many here would rather not classify anyone by race or country, and so feel that the term Asian is more acceptable, neglecting to follow the logic that any classification is either helpful or it is not) – because sixteen year olds can drive here – strut their new found testosterone in Lamborghinis and Ferraris. When a new driver has passed their theory test, and has driven with an L on the back of a car for a year (with only one parent in attendance), they then pass on to being able to drive with a green N sign on the back of the vehicle, allowing only one passenger plus one family member (but without the parent).

I thought I had seen everything until I was passed by a young man (looking around nineteen), and driving a McLaren 675LT.

Without wanting to incite those believing in the appearance of The Biblical Beast, somewhat anxiously quoted from the book of Revelation, as the person who will rule the world before Christ returns and whose mark is none other than 666, I was intrigued that this McLaren actually sports a brake horsepower of no less than six hundred and sixty-six.

Let’s be quite clear here, that’s 666 bhp. And with torque of no less than 700Nm – probably enough to tow six eight-berth caravans and still throw the driver back into their seat, while pulling off in third-gear.

The power inherent in this motor vehicle is only some 25% less than that of an average formula one racing car.

I must admit, he was driving quite sedately and respectfully past the local Macdonald’s 24-hour outlet. Let’s give credit where credit is due, and with his green ‘N’ sticker prominently displayed on the back window.

So that’s where the money for just about everything in your home goes.

I stopped to catch my breath, and chuckled when I remembered using a quote in my Public Finance textbook from P.J. O’Rourke (an American political satirist): “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

I was grateful that this young Chinese boy drove with respect on this occasion and quite obviously without any alcohol. But we’ve had disasters, trust me. Lamborghinis wrapped violently around highway barriers, concrete medians and lampposts. And many grieving parents. And divorces.

In a country that has only just, amazingly, and daringly adopted a speed limit of 120 kms/h. And then only on very selected highways (none to be found anywhere near Vancouver itself).

Despite the challenges of this vibrant, but very expensive city (imagine having your car towed away for incorrect parking, and having to fork out R1,350 ($135) for the towing, and another R1,500 for the ticket), we have always been acutely aware that we were very lucky to find a position here.

It is often touted as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in (and one of the best, vying with the top five regularly) yet is almost last when it comes to the median income, compared to other cities in Canada.

It is not for nothing that many claim BC stands for Bring Cash.


table=. =. |=.
p<{color:#BFBFBF;}. City |=.
p<{color:#BFBFBF;}. Median total annual income in CA$, 2013 |=.
p<{color:#BFBFBF;}. % of national median | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Canada |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 76,550 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 100 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Calgary |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 101,260 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 132 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Edmonton |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 98,480 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 128 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Regina |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 93,670 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 122 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Saskatoon |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 90,840 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 118 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Victoria |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 84,500 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 110 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Winnipeg |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 77,770 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 101 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Vancouver |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 73,390 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 95.87 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Montréal |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 73,250 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 95.68 | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Toronto |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 72,830 |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 95.14 | =. |=\3.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 1. Census families include couple families, with or without children, and lone-parent families.

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table [+ 111-0009+]. Last modified: 2015-06-26. |

This is what we had escaped, though: I had made contact with a recruitment agent in Alberta and was looking at the small town of Brooks. We were offered a large unreceiptable check (cheque) as an enticement. I got suspicious. When I Google-earthed it (the town, not the check) from space, and zoomed in, I noticed a large area. A very large area; somewhat larger than the town itself. On closer inspection I realised it was a holding-pen for what looked like many thousands of cattle.

Brooks sports the largest cold meat processing factory in North America.

They say if you have leather in your car, within two years it smells of polony .

They all keep their windows closed because of the smell, which permeates even their curtains. Few houses have curtains – mostly blinds. And few, if any, Canadians open their windows, so you’ll be okay, said some.

Get ready to walk into homes that have not been aired all Winter (except with air from the furnace – make sure you know where the filter is), and where the temperature is around 22 ºC. It feels like someone swiftly pulling four blankets over your head, especially when you’ve spent time outside in minus temperatures.

My mother was German and obsessed with fresh air, so I keep some windows open throughout Winter, much to the dismay of my Canadian friends, except Hernan my Paddington Bear friend from Peru. While a staunch, faithful and proud Canadian, we have much fun comparing our lives from our respective countries with that of our Canadian experience.

In truth, my family and I had landed with our bums in the butter, and it took a while to realise how lucky we were.

I have spent a week in Toronto. Apart from finding a Belgian pub with many genuine Belgian beers on tap and fabulous mussels, I felt I was in Jo’burg: somewhat dismal. And it is much colder than Vancouver.

The Miami Beach of Canada in about 45 minutes drive South of Vancouver, on the Washington State border, and is called White Rock. Just about every Canadian dreams of retiring here, or perhaps also downtown Vancouver around False Creek. I had lived in White River, Eastern Mpumalanga, and now in White Rock, British Columbia. I taught for twelve years in Muizenberg, on False Bay. So my reminders of home are both White Rock and False Creek – the main inlet downtown Vancouver which affords spectacular walks, views and living.

You can imagine the pressure on the housing market. It has resulted in young people moving elsewhere to find work and affordable housing. It is a huge problem that grabs national attention at times: the poor plight of Vancouver: too much money.

If you’ve made up your mind about Canada, Vancouver is where you want to be: bring cash. Lots.

Otherwise move to Australia.

Having said that I have a doctor friend from Barbeton, South Africa (which is as close to Hawaii in climate as one can find), who loves Calgary which is the Texas of Canada and the centre of the oil industry - cowboy hats and large belt buckles are the most common attire and it seems everyone owns at least one horse. But if you're in any way environmentally concerned, know that Alberta, our provincial neighbour, which has no provincial tax which was set in BC at 3% in 1948, but is now 7%, is also the supplier of the world's dirtiest oil. It has been the most wealthy province up till now; but with rapidly falling oil prices and more discoveries in Dakota and Texas, and the US claiming they could be self-sufficient within the next few years, Alberta is facing a struggle unless they can either find cleaner oil, or change their exports.

I might avoid choosing this province for now, unless you have word about a new resource, or the emergence of solar energy (which would be a great idea because Calgary alone has more hours of sunshine per years than Durban, South Africa).

Because so many people start their Canadian journey in small towns in the middle of nowhere, all you will hear about is snow. It can be fun the first Winter, but when all you see of the world is through stark beautiful white vistas, day after day, it becomes a bit much.

Some weird, scary and bias-smashing facts are in the table further down.

But don’t think that South Africa is necessarily always preferable. Unless you hate snow.

Cape Town, Perth and Durban all actually have fewer days of sunshine than most Canadian cities, and it actually rains more in Perth, and Newlands in Cape Town than in most Canadian cities. What I find particularly weird is that Cape Town with only 249 days of sunshine per year comes a dismal second to even Vancouver which is an overcast city in the middle of a rain forest climate. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a significant psychological factor here.

So much for sunny South Africa.

In 1886, thirty cms of snow fell in my favourite Karoo town, Graaff-Reinet – almost as much as Vancouver’s annual snowfall.

Here I am, circa 1977/8, in Graaff-Reinet with my favourite person from the little jewel of the Karoo, Beth Pienaar. We drove out of the town for about 5 kms, and then had to turn around the snow was so deep; motor vehicles could simply not go any further; two student friends lost their way and barely made it to a farmhouse. They emerged only three days later.

On 18th July, 1909 Johannesburg saw 40 cm of snow – 7 times more than the annual average for Osoyoos, Canada’s only desert. Osoyoos, by the way, is the place to go for good wine, and spectacular vineyards. It’s not quite Vergelegen, but it is worth a gettaway, and it sports a lake that’s swimmable for 6 months of the year and boatable all year round (the water is relatively warm).

On September 7th-9th 60 cm of snow was recorded between Harrismith and Van Reenen – more than [_ 50% more than the average for Vancouver _] itself.

If the minus temperatures alarm you, it is interesting to note that Sutherland in the Cape often descends to minus 20 ºC regularly.

Of course these snow facts in South Africa are unusual; in most places in Canada it snows every Winter; but these stats certainly go some way towards realising that reality is often very different to our preconceived notions.



table=. =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. City

Province |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Hottest month average |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Coldest month average |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Population |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Climate

Classification |=\2.
p<{color:#FFF;}. Days of Sunshine p.a.


|=\2. p<>{color:#FFF;}. Annual rainfall in mm/inch |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Average annual

Snowfall in cm/inch


| =. |=. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   | =. |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Calgary

Alberta |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 24 ºC

75 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -3 ºC

26.6 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 1,097,000 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Dry humid Continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 333

4.06% > Durban |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 419

16.50 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 128.8

50.70 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Winnipeg

Manitoba |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 26 ºC

78.8 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -12 ºC

10.39 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 663,617 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Extreme humid Continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 316

26% > Cape Town |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 521

20.15 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 113.7

44.70 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Vancouver

British Columbia |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 18 ºC

64.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 4 ºC

39.2 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 603,502 (city)

2,313,328 (metro) |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Temperate Rain Forest |=\2.


[* 16% > Cape Town *]


|=\2. p<>{color:#FFF;}. 1457

57.35 |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 44.6

17.56 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Ottawa

Ontario |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 20.8 ºC

69.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -10 ºC

14 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 883,391 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Semi-continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 304

23% > Cape Town |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 920

36.21 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 175.4

69.06 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Regina

Saskatchewan |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 23 ºC

73.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -11 ºC

12.2 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 193,100 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Dry Continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 322

23% > Cape Town |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 390

15.35 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 100.2

39.45 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Edmonton

Alberta |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 23 ºC

73.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -15 ºC

5 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 895,000 (city)

1,278,000 (metro) |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Warm Summer Continental |=\2.
p<{color:#FFF;}. 325 |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 476

18.73 |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 123.5

48.62 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Toronto

Ontario |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 21 ºC

69.8 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -3 ºC

26.6 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 2,615,000 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Humid Continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 305 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 831

32.71 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 121.5

47.82 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Brooks

Alberta |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -11 ºC

12.2 ºC |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 18 ºC

64.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 14,185 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Semi-arid climate |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 330 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 348

13.70 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 71.7

28.23 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Montréal

Quebec |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 21 ºC

69.8 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. -9 ºC

15.8 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 1,650,000 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Semi-continental |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 305 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 1000

39.37 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 209.5

82.57 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Osoyoos

British Columbia |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 29 ºC

84.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 0 ºC

32 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 4,845 |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Arid Biotic Zone (desert – the only one in Canada) |=\2.
p<{color:#FFF;}. 306 |=\2.




|=\2. p<>{color:#FFF;}. 5.4

2.12 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Durban

Kwa-Zulu Natal |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 28 ºC

82.7 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 20 ºC

68 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 3,012 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Humid sub-tropical |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 320

3%< Brooks, Alberta |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 1,009

39.71 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 0.0

0.0 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. Cape Town

Western Cape |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 23 ºC

73.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 13 ºC

55.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 3,750,000 (metro) |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Mediterranean |=\2.


16%< Vancouver


|=\2. p<>{color:#FFF;}. 475

18.70 |=\2.
p<>{color:#FFF;}. 0.0 | =. |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Perth

Australia |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 25 ºC

77 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 13 ºC

55.4 ºF |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 2,020,000 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. Mediterranean |=\2.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. 265 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 867.5

34.15 |=\2.
p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}. 0.0

0.0 | =. |=\2.

|=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=\2. p<>{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |



So much for the weather. What of society? The two quotes at the start of this chapter go a long way towards giving a good description of what it is like to live here.

This can only be described as a very gentle society. Everybody takes their time, seldom states things exactly as they are and if you’re into the excellent personality test by Marilyn Manning Ph.D. that I found useful in my classrooms for decades, with divisions of personality clearly demarcated into Driver, Expressive, Analytical and Amiable (Amicable), then Canada falls squarely into the Amiable category.

Never walk into a Driver’s office with chit-chat; have your information and thoughts clearly prepared. Preferably written down. State your case clearly and concisely. Offer solutions and expect an answer within seconds.

Not so an Amicable. With them, one sits down, offers some tea, notices the picture of the kids on the wall; offer some sympathy. Talk about the weather, and when things have progressed warmly, then perhaps talk about the possibility of mentioning the subject you need to broach. Canadians would generally rather tell you what you want to hear, than offer any challenge.

Like all Amicables they avoid all conflict. Drivers on the other hand don’t mind it at all, and in some cases seek it out. Especially when they know they’re right. When an Amicable knows s/he is right, they make you think it was your idea.

Canadians are very gentle people.

But there is one thing they would rather slit their throats than do, and that’s offend anyone. Offence is a big no-no.

I do get the feeling that some take this too far sometimes (at least their feeling offended). I shall not easily forget the day I approached the manager of a bedding shop to ask her opinion about mattresses (South Africans should not take any of their bedding or beds to Canada: it share’s another planet with the US and nothing matches, not the size, shape or classification).

Leave all your beds, bedding and electrical appliances behind.

I had bought a solid foam mattress and found my nights hot and sweaty, and so people were steering me in the direction of natural latex (rubber). She was remarkably (and in many ways typically) most considerate and very helpful – we explored the world of foam, traditional spring and latex itself; she seemed overly keen to assist me, so much so that when customers approached her and she referred them to another shop attendant, I felt somewhat uncomfortable about this and began to apologise (something Canadians are known to do ‘all the time’). She was adamant that our conversation was quite appropriate and continued to advise me about my dilemma. I felt very grateful and began to view her as a particularly gracious person.

Especially in the light of the fact that she didn’t even sell mattresses.

What happened next was something of an introduction to a darker side of the Canadian psyche. A security guard from the shopping complex approached her. I, mindful of my intrusion again, stood back and said: “please don’t let me stop him…”



Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party. Like: “Keep it down, eh?” Robin Williams



Three: Living above the party


Moving to Canada means you will be living right on top of the United States of America. Make no mistake about this. You’ll be in for lots of fun and some surprises too.

Most Canadians think Americans are nuts.

Canadians are known for being super friendly. And super cautious.

Waiting in a queue (line-up) at the supermarket can be frustrating for some. It could mean a longish wait while the cashier engages with the shopper at the cash-register. Exchanges about the weather (always) reminds one of the British and their obsession.

One can understand this, especially when one hasn’t seen the Sun for six days, and it decides to peek out from behind dark, grey clouds, and you can be sure Sharon from Safeway is going to say something like, “…beautiful day we’re having…?” A mushroom or two might pass between them and then, “so how are the kids, back at school after the break? Yeah? All good?”

I could be forgiven for thinking that Sharon is probably family of the shopper until she asks me the same questions. I was a bit taken the first time it happened to me; “do you know my kids?” I asked her, quite surprised.

“Oh, no…; how old are they?”

“One’s in grade 5 the other in grade 7.”

“Oh, yeah; high school next for the older one, eh?”

Canadians are mostly mocked for their addition of “eh” at the end of most sentences. This is not entirely different from the hey coming from most South Africans.

“Do you walk them to school?” she asks, looking at me.

By this time the last mushroom has passed between us and I feel the conversation is only just beginning. I feel I should perhaps halt the exchange and ask if I can fetch more. No – my kids don’t like them. Perhaps some more eggs.

“No, no…” I say, trying to focus again. “They need to walk only two blocks. Actually…,” (and this is me – open my big mouth – why didn’t I just leave it at that, eh?) “…I see so many parents walking their kids to school. Like from down the road. Why?”

“Oh my God; a kid was abducted. So since then parents kinda take precautions, you know… .” She stops and smiles at me. “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I look down, unnerved.

My first taste of violence in Canada.

“Yes, thanks. Sorry…” (I feel almost Canadian: they apologise for everything) …did you say abducted. My God, here?” I am thinking of Ocean Park where we lived.

I then, instinctively, think of Cape Town – the Cape Flats; Johannesburg.

“Yeah,” she says packing the last of my mushrooms.

“When?” I ask, thinking that perhaps I missed something on the news.

“Oh, let me see…” she says, “…will that be Visa? She takes my card. “I think it was somewhere in Ontario around 1999. Yeah, end of the nineties.”

I clutch my mushrooms and saunter away, somewhat confused.

Canada is a land of extreme caution; but caution can lead to a degree of fear. I tried hard to imagine how and why parents who left their front doors open would worry to walk their kids three blocks to school, because someone was abducted fifteen years before. Three thousand miles away.

Fear. A very interesting phenomenon that pops up again. And this time it’s related to guns.

But back to the phenomenon of friendliness: I have never experienced any region or country more courteous, friendly and well mannered than Canada.

Every now and then I playfully, and with a sense of celebration and utter amazement, test the psyche by standing with a blank look on my face beside the road, looking as if I might, perhaps, want to cross the road.

I have an image of what South Africans or most of the rest of the world, for that matter, would consider to be a mega pick-up truck coming down the road: we’re talking V10, twin turbo diesel with four wheels at the rear. That’s six altogether.

The driver is a young male, 20 perhaps; often with a Starbuck’s coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

He stops. Perhaps I am thinking of crossing. Perhaps not. But he stops and waits. He will wait for me to make up my mind. This does not happen anywhere else I have been.

I flew to Swindon, for my daughter’s wedding (actually her husband was also there).

I was clearly not prepared for the traffic reality: apart from the delightful drama of the wedding itself, I discovered that the British who invented the steam engine, and had the largest motor car industry in the world before BMC decimated it in the 70’s, have all but eradicated the concept of pedestrians. I was almost slaughtered a number of times. How to make a UK driver blind? Put a pedestrian in front of him/her!

On one occasion (there were others) a motor cyclist actually overtook a line of cars at a pedestrian crossing with the green light in my favour, swerved around them, and me while I was still walking on the crossing, and then managed to find the dexterity, and the time, to release his hold of the left handlebar, lift his hand towards me and give me the finger. Perhaps the stag party the night before had taken its toll; I looked up. Sure enough the traffic light was red, and the green walking symbol was in my favour. This kind of incident happened again while I was there.

I could not wait to get back to Canada: the world’s largest old age home.

We’re super careful here. There are often more lifeguards walking around the pool in South Surrey than people in the water. Someone falling over in a faint because they spent too much time in the sauna would result in at least seven whistles being blown and the entire pool being cleared. 911, a couple of fire-engines, and if anything looks a little dicey, perhaps even a medical evacuation helicopter too.

There is some similarity to Australia.

When I visited my brother in Hobart and stayed in Blackman’s Bay (where we enjoyed the privileged of swimming with a family of dolphins in the shallows) we decided to make the journey across the island by car.

A rough overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport delighted me, but also resulted in my son falling off the top bunk onto the floor of the cabin, much to his sister’s delight.

We picked up the modest Toyota Corolla and set upon the long drive down to Hobart; thankfully driving was similar to South Africa, so I soon felt at home; by this I mean the driving position on the road and the traffic signs: hardly any noticeable difference.

Halfway there I discovered a significant line of cars behind me; no one tried to overtake. I assumed I was doing something wrong: either driving too fast, or on a section of the road where overtaking was forbidden – not something that would have deterred most drivers in South Africa. In fact a common response there would be to wait for the excitement of a blind rise before engaging in an overtaking manoeuvre. And preferably at high speed.

I phoned my brother.

“Hey, Boet. Nobody wants to overtake me; what am I doing wrong?”

“What speed are you doing?”

“I’m doing 110 km/h, like the sign said.”

“That’s why; nobody will overtake you,” he said with a chuckle. “This is not Africa, Boet. Just do the right thing.”

This is something you hear in Canada all the time; in fact I often get the sense that a Constitution is unnecessary, because the overriding mantra in society is simply to make sure everyone does the right thing. And the majority of Canadians do.

I am sure this must be the overriding reason so many South African come here to catch their breath.

So I slowed down and pulled over onto the shoulder slightly. It made no difference. No one overtook me.

When we reached Hobart we met up with him and he drove with us to Blackman’s Bay. “Careful, here comes a school…” I looked at him blankly. “You need to slow down to 40.”

“Forty kms/h because it’s a school?”

“Yup, even though the school is closed.”

I raised my eyebrows.

But then I was from Africa where drivers speed up when it rains, and taxi drivers mount the sidewalks, or venture into oncoming traffic when in a hurry to get their passengers to work. It escapes them, of course, that this approach often means they often arrive, lifeless, at a destination other than their work or their homes.

But, forty kms/h; perhaps a little anal? Okay, I thought, this is not Africa.

My brother laughed.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Canada and found that driving past a school until 5pm means slowing down to thirty km/h.


And so Sharon from Safeway had shown me what it is to be really friendly, and the speed limit past schools had shown the way of a society that takes care of its children. In fact everybody.

I love the Canadian friendliness, but at the expense of being un-Canadian (I now have to include myself because my citizenship-ceremony took place not very long ago) I must say that ventures down south across the border have meant encounters with people, in my view, just as friendly.

But America is a very different place.

It’s as though America is literally on a different planet. They don’t even have orange flicker lights (turn signal indicators) on their vehicles. They are red.

This despite the fact that red indicators can be found only in North America, and nowhere else in the world. Despite, also, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publication, distributed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which stated in April, 2009 that “The advantage of amber rear turn signals is shown to be statistically significant.”

Imagine, red indicators: is that a broken brake-light or what?

Who knows?

But this is a mild irritation compared to some startling facts and trends about and in the US.

They have guns. Many.

In fact there are more guns than people.

Not even South Africans have as many guns and shoot each other as much as Americans do.


Nobody knows, except that the majority cherish their constitutional right to “bear arms.”

It is perhaps a “right” more appropriate for the era in which the constitution was written: it came into force in 1789; or, perhaps, when the Second Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, and which claims that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

What for? Probably because they had to fight their way into the interior – in fact the similarities of the Dutch arriving in New York, as they did in Cape Town, and then trekking in their ox-wagons with a gun in one hand and the Bible in the other, are startling.

No, not so much.

We love to blame the British for just about everything; from boarding schools to colonial plundering, but this time they are more or less responsible for giving the United States of America a good reason to entrench gun ownership in the much talked about Second Amendment.

There is no doubt this amendment was strongly influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which sought to protect the rights of its people after the English Roman Catholic king, James II who ruled not only without the consent of Parliament, but also attempted to disarm all Protestants, and was overthrown in 1688 in The Glorious Revolution. What a twit. And we’ve been paying every since. And so, it was much less against the “Indians” that this amendment sought to secure protection for its citizens, but in fact against the British monarchy itself.

It is perhaps deeply ironic that while the US sought to protect itself against the monarchy of ruling Britain at the time, they are famous for their jealous resentment that they don’t have their own.

But perhaps its more the fault of the father of their nation, George Washington who stated in his first State Of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1790: “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.”

Pity the gunmen who shoot kids in their schools don’t listen to the second part of this.

Perhaps Hitler is to blame, “To conquer a nation first disarm its citizens,” he said in 1933.

You would need to be afraid of your government, and foster conspiracy stories to be constantly packing guns; and trust me, they do. In many ways America is the source of most conspiracies.

Either way, whoever is to blame, the United States of America, in many ways, still lives with a psyche of the Wild West.

The US comedian and Oscar award-winning producer, Steven Wrightclearly indicates this in his delivery: “When I was crossing the border into Canada, they asked if I had any firearms with me. I said, Well, what do you need?”

What this quip does, if nothing else, is put the American psyche clearly in the bullseye.

The Shooters Grill, in Colorado, which carries a 4-star rating on most sites, and offers a Ruff Neck burger which includes lettuce, tomato, red onion, fried Jalapenos, Habanero Jack cheese and bacon, with fries and a Coke (of course) for just $9.89, encourages its waitresses to carry a gun on their hips.

And they all do. One might be forgiven for thinking that this display is nothing other than a cynical reflection of the world’s perception of the good ol’ US. Perhaps not, when you discover they are loaded.

As Melinda D, from Aurora, quoted by Yelp, below her 3-star rating, says, “When I think Diner/Dive this is the type of place I imagine. American, Gun and Christian decor is throughout with the waitresses all wearing a gun, plaid shirts and shorts.”

The owner Lauren Boebert, a 28-year-old former Miss Junior Colorado and self-described born-again Christian, insists the guns are no gimmick:

“It’s a way of life. When you walk into Shooters you are walking into America,” she said, a compact Ruger 9-millimeter tucked into the small of her back. “This is what America is.”

This is partly why so much of the world thinks America is nuts.

If you think the Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, Colorado is a startling example of this extreme paradigm, then watch Michael Moore at the beginning of Bowling for Columbine (a movie in which he investigates the notorious school shooting on April 20, 1999 during which two senior students murdered 12 others and one teacher, before committing suicide).

He responds to an advert in a newspaper that entices people to open a new bank account. He does so inside the bank, and then claims the special offer: a brand new shotgun. I assume that the US is the only place in the world where one can not only receive a gun as an incentive to open a bank account, but where one can in fact walk out of the bank itself, sporting the offending weapon on one’s shoulder, as a gift from the bank itself.

In Obama’s term of office not one week has gone by without a mass shooting in the US – this, defined as one with four or more people killed. In fact there is a school shooting every single week.

The bottom line is that the second amendment does not seem to be doing America many favours; recently Aaron Heselhurst, on BBC morning news, broadcast the “staggering” fact that in “the last 43 years, more Americans have been shot by another American – shot and killed by another American – that all of America’s soldiers killed in wars in the last 240 years.”

Who’s fighting whom?

But calling America gun-crazy is not necessarily helpful.

Canada has 30 times more guns per 100 residents than South Korea, and more than twice as many as Angola, Mauritius, South Africa and Gabon, in Africa. Also twice as many as Turkey, Denmark and almost three times more than Italy.

According to the National Post (Canada), Jan 23, 2012 “…each registered gun owner in Canada had an average of 4.14 guns in 2010, up from 3.72 guns per registered owner in 2006.”

The most frightening thing is that while there are more guns in America than there are people (112.6 per 100 residents), Canada has only a slightly smaller proportion of families to guns themselves, so that, with approximately 14,000,000 (fourteen million families), there are an estimated 11,000,000 guns. That’s almost one per household.

With 115 million families in the US and their estimated ownership of 347,000,000 guns means that there are approximately 3 guns per family there.

Only three times more, per household, than Canada.

I once heard an impassioned American mother claim, on the radio, that there are eight school-shootings for each week of the year in America. If you’re moving there, there’s no point in trying to pick your kid’s school carefully. It’s a Russian Roulette gamble whatever you do.

The main difference, of course, is that until now Canadians have not gone around shooting their fellow citizens.

For 2014, in Canada, the number of gun-related deaths was zero, with one incident at York University in Toronto. In Mexico one. There were one hundred and forty-five deaths in one attack by the Taliban on a school in Pakistan. Contrast this with eight school shooting every single week.

Imagine living in a country without a single gun-related death: Japan in 2008. But then most of them fall on swords, perhaps.

As John Lennon said, imagine.

Personally I believe that the conclusion Michael Moore comes to in his documentary, Bowling For Columbine, is probably the best answer as to why Americans shoot so many Americans: fear. This would also explain the plethora of conspiracy theories that abound there.

The media seems to feed the population on diet of fear; and watching American television seems to bear this out.




table<>. <>. |<>\8.

Firearm-related deaths per 100 000 population per year.


| <>. |<>. p<{color:#D9D9D9;}. Country |<>. p={color:#D9D9D9;}. Deaths


100 000 |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. # of guns


(except Japan) |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. # of guns

Per 100 residents |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. Homicides |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. Suicides |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. Population

in millions |<>.
p={color:#D9D9D9;}. Actual deaths per year | <>. |<>.

|<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   | <>. |<>. p<{color:#222;}. Australia |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.86 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 3.45 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 21.7 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.11 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.05 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 23 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 197 | <>. |<>. p<{color:#222;}. Austria |<>. p={color:#222;}. 2.95 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 25.5 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 30.4 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.18 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 2.68 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 8.4 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 247 | <>. |<>. p<{color:#222;}. United Kingdom |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.26 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 42 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 6.6 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.05 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.17 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 64.1 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 166 | <>. |<>. p<{color:#222;}. South Africa |<>. p={color:#222;}. 21.51 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 67 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 12.7 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 17.00 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 3.81 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 52.98 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 11,395 | <>. |<>. p<{color:#222;}. Canada |<>. p={color:#222;}. 2.22 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 10.7 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 30.8 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 0.51 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 1.60 |<>. p={color:#222;}. 35.16

(almost exactly 1/10th of the US) |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 780 | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#222;}. United States |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 10.5 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 347 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 112 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 3.55 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 6.70 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 318 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 33,390 | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#222;}. Japan |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 0.06 |<>.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 762,000 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 0.6 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 0.00 (2008) |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 0.04 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 127.3 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 76 | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#222;}. Sweden |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 1.47 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 2.86 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 31.6 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 0.19 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 1.20 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 9.64 |<>.
p={color:#222;}. 1 417 | <>. |<>.

p<{color:#222;}. Source: Wikipedia; www.thetruthaboutguns.com


While South Africa has approximately 8 times fewer people than the US, they had only three times fewer gun-related deaths than America.

Not something to be particularly proud of.

But then they don’t need guns, necessarily, to kill people. They have road accidents that do this perfectly well enough, by killing the same number of people every 3,56 days that Norway takes a full year to do: more later.


Most Americans are famous for being only vaguely aware there is another world beyond their borders. Al Capone once reportedly said: “I don’t even know what street Canada is on.”

One might be forgiven for thinking this was his simply being comedic, but I have heard an American woman once ask, “Canada? Is that a state of the US?” So don’t bank on it.

Coming from South Africa, one of the most regular observations by many people from the US I have endured over the years has been: “so you guys still have slaves over there?”

I can only think they were referring to the abhorrence of Apartheid, and this obviously always made me feel deeply ashamed.

And this often reminds me of an engagement with a group of Australian exchange students, around 1970, when I was about 15. I had been invited to a braai (barbeque) at a friend’s home, and inevitably the conversation leaned towards sport, Apartheid, and the boycotting thereof.

We, repeating the scripts of our parents and white society of the time, would offer the “obvious” rebuttal: “why do you guys have to boycott us in sport? If you want us to change, help us by engaging with us on the field.”

The reply was usually varied, but always carried a defiant refusal, heavily encased in a shroud of tangible moral superiority.

However, strange facts appear, quite often when least expecting them. Melissa Hogenboom (BBC News) reported in 2012: “There are, shockingly, more people in slavery today than at any time in human history… . The estimated number of people in slavery – 27 million – is more than double the total number believed to have been taken from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade.”

Another fact emerged one day only to make me proud: on 1 December 1834 slavery came to an end in the Cape Colony, whereas it took another thirty-one years for The House of Joint Resolution in the US to propose the same abolition – from the US National Archives website: “Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I take great delight in telling my American friends that South Africa abolished slavery long before they did.

As for Australia, quite another sad, but delectable fact emerged in the foggy mist of exploration and discovery; sad because of its devastating effect on society, and delectable because it went some way to levelling the playing fields.

Douglas Adam (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), once said: “Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson.”

Now, I happen to be a huge fan Jack Nicholson, and frankly fell in love with Australia (even if they do drive at 40 km/h past their schools, as opposed to the 30 in Canada), but I was more than horrified to discover that it was not until 1967 that most Aboriginals were classified as are the rest of the Australian population.

Until then, 1967 (let me rub it in) they were all regulated under the Flora and Fauna Act. Nineteen sixty seven. In the context of many world events and developments, this is not so long ago. I was twelve years of age.

I’d love to go through a worm-hole and present this to the superior Australian exchange students at the party.

While South Africa copied America’s policy of separate but equal from their deep South, and simply strengthened laws set up by the British, thereby segregating black people and, sadly, as with Australia, made the privileged, feel they were inferior, it did not view them as something less than human. In fact if you listen to the somewhat politically unpopular scripts and realities of many farmers and others in South Africa at the time, it is one of the strangest anomalies that, while the South African government of the time sought to separate its people, herding blacks away from the cities and attempting to keep them in their traditional areas”, they were, by some accounts, somewhate generous when it comes to land – certainly a very politically incorrect view then and now as most black people feel they are entitled to all of Southern Africa as they were there first.

Britain, having already declared an entire country to the Tswana people (Bechuanaland when I was at school, and now Botswana) was not the only one to acknowledge the presence and importance of this group – the SA government, under Apartheid laws, allotted even more land to them in the form of Bophuthatswana (gathering of the Tswana people) – the first area to be declared by the government to be an independent state in 1961.

It certainly was not an insignificant location or without economic potential, as many people would have the world believe of these Bantustans.

In fact it had a surface area of 40,000 square kilometres, only marginally smaller than Switzerland (41,284 km² and The Netherlands (41,850 km²). Bigger than Taiwan (36,125 km²), Belgium and Lesotho (30,355 km²). While it was true that only ten percent of the land was arable, Bophuthatswana was the richest homeland state with platinum mines that accounted for two-thirds of the total platinum production in the Western World. It was also rich in asbestos, vanadium, granite, chromium and manganese (Wikipedia).

As I said, a somewhat strange anomaly for a government widely known for dispossessing black people. As an old Afrikaans speaking aunt of mine once said: “The truth is, the Afrikaner man and the average black male are very similar, they are both people of the land, with a love for their animals, large women and meat. And both find it very difficult to leave Africa.”

While some readers might view these observations as my finding some way to justify Apartheid, nothing could be further from the truth.

What is clear, is that the notion of whites grabbing all the land from the blacks depends almost entirely on what side of the fence one is on (and not necessarily a rabbit-proof fence either) – especially in light of the fact that when the British arrived in Port Natal, Shaka, who was personally responsible for killing more black people than any other king or white person in history, and is seen as a genocidal maniac by most historians, showed a keen interest in the Brit’s technology, not only gave Port Natal to them, but spent much time observing them while they settled.

He was also responsible for the great scattering (Defeqane) of black people eastwards and southwards, and because of this the truth is African tribes populatde many areas of Southern Africa as a result of this, and not before. If anyone owns much of South Africa, it is probably the Bushmen, ironically the only race or tribe that Shaka left quite alone (my view is that with his interest in “technology” he valued their ability to stay alive and adapt to their environment, and so spared them for observation, but there is no evidence to support many of my views, least of all this one). There is also clear evidence that had it not been for Afrikaner trekkers (pioneers who trekked north to get away from the British in the Cape Colony), Shaka might well have slaughtered many more black groups and tribes in his desire to move south and extend his kingdom.

The scattering itself resulted in tribes coalescing in order to escape Shaka’s wrath; in this way it is deeply ironic that many bantustans, or homeland were naturally created in defence against him.

Their original formation or traditional lands was certainly not the invention of the Apartheid government.

I do not think that the shame of Apartheid was necessarily about land, especially considering that when it comes to land the old truth about comparing apples to pears comes to mind; how does one dialogue or negotiate with a people who had no land ownership? This was true also in North America, and while it is shameful to see how white colonialist have decemated the first nation populations there, it is also true that when they landed they found settlements that moved and migrated. How were they to implement a system of land ownership when none existed? The melding of two conflicting ideologies and approaches to land have, as one might have expected, resulted in catastrophic outcomes both in North America and Africa.

My feeling is that the real shame came in the way most white settlers viewed and treated black people; they were made to feel inferior in every way and I still cringe when I remember white owners (business and land) treating their workers.

I well remember a friend of my parents, studying medicine, visiting our home and giving “evidence” of how they were anatomically and physiologically different. Looking back, I am not sure why we came to the conclusion, therefore, that this meant also inferior.

It was certainly very close to the viewpoint of Australians that their own indigenous people were not exactly human. While we might vie for status and levels of blame, it must be true that we as Europeans have cause catastrophic social and emotional damage in the last two centuries.

But was in the context of the time, few realise.

The Apartheid government did not discriminate against blacks.

They discriminated against everyone.

And so did the entire western world: my grandmother could not vote. When I mention this to young non-white students today they are mesmerised by disbelief.

English speaking white people were treated with some disdain also. While there were teacher’s training colleges for non-white people around Cape Town and an abundance for Afrikaans speaking students, because I was English speaking my only choice was Graaff-Reinet, some nine hours away by car. And then the college itself was bi-lingual – frankly we were just tolerated. If we did not give evidence of being able to speak Afrikaans immediately, we suffered at the hands of senior students who often acted in a barbaric manner. All students were beaten mercilessly during initiation which included keeping us awake till midnight, and then being woken at 5:30 am, with gruelling physical “games” and insulting and demeaning activites. One such activity included being summoned to the hostel bedroom of a senior student; when commanded to enter we were made to pick up a matchbox off the floor, either with our mouths, or with the cheeks of our buttocks. Of course this was done alternately so that we did not realise the significance of what we were doing. Our actions, albeit incomprehensible to us, were matched with peels of laughter from the senior students.

Humiliation was the order of the day. And this dark nature of Europeans found a soft target in black people.

It was the era in which people believed that to control a group one had to belittle them. And boy, did the Afrikaner find ways of belitting us all, English more so, but Afrikaans too. The army itself was the main focus of young men, as had been for centuries before in Europe, and it was believed that the only way to mould people was to break them down first.

This was not the way of Africa; if anything being a child of African parents, and especially of Bushmen was a privilege in this regard – the Bushmen parents encourage, teach with games and laughter, and never spank their children. I suspect it was the superior white education that taught black teachers to cane their children. I certainly grew up in a world of corporal punishment; one such memorable day in high school resulted in my receiving no fewer than seven cuts – four during one session and three in another.

Protestant Europe was, in many ways, brutal: the movie, Babete’s Feast is a brilliant focus on the grim, sad attitude to so much of Life. A women prepares, at great expense to herself during war in Europe, a meal as a gift to a group of towns people who had sheltered her; the final meal, eaten without any mirth or even smiles is indicative of the psyche that most Protestants adopted and believed was God-like, at the time.

It was this overly strict, and mirthless approach they brought to Southern Africa, make no mistake

Black people tend to imagine it was all about them.

It was not.

It was the West itself immersed in dogged and misguided over-strict religious beliefs, and gross social intolerance.

As a Dutch friend once said, “Only an English mother could be content to send her children to boarding school instead of having the privilege of watching them grow up in front of her.”

And it was the Victorian, Protestant English that arrived in Southern Africa riddled with their strict codes of conduct and adherence to class structures.

Australia, no less, evidences the results of this even today. As a working class people (many of whom were sent to Australia as prisoners), they suffered the slings of abuse and class separation in England. When I visited some time ago, my wife and I commented again and again how prevalent there existed the psyche of aspiration: everyone seems to aspire to being middle-class. Deep down it is forbidden to be upper-class. And the imprisonment of so many founders of the country were, obviously by virtue of definition, trying to escape the lower-class. The notion of a tall-poppy syndrome if evident everywhere. Wikipedia explains this term: The tall poppy syndrome is a pejorative term primarily used in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. This is similar to begrudgery, the resentment or envy of the success of a peer.

Don’t flaunt your wealth or achievements in Australia. You will be cut down, just like a tall poppy plant, it’s that simple.

Graaff-Reinet Teachers’ College was controlled by the Protestant Dutch Reformed church of the time, many factions of which banned dancing (as did the Baptists), and having any fun on Sundays was out of the question. When temperatures climbed above 30 ºC in the January I arrived at the college, and finding most of the town shut down one Sunday, I remember putting on my swimming trucks, grabbing a towel and attempting the walk down the road to our college swimming pool. I was stopped by another student who asked where I was going; I felt it should be obvious, but was put in my place when told that the pool was closed because it was a Sunday.

As a white male, I could not go into a pub or bar and have a drink with another white female, not even my wife. The Apartheid government did not even allow married professionals, such as teachers, to pay into the government pension fund. And we’re talking about their own women: whites.

Europeans did not invent discrimination when they arrived in Southern Africa and saw black people for the first time. It was a part of everyday life back home, and they brought it with them. They came from a region, a continent on which factions, language groups, cultures, etc. stuck to themselves. Italians at one end, and the French at another.

Segregation was a part of their experience. It had nothing to do with black people per se.

Believing this, ironically, gives black people the credibility Europeans did not in fact allot to them.

The real shame, for me, was a system that made others, and others being mostly, but not exclusively black people, feel inferior.

My personal shame and confusion includes, for instance, my black Nanny putting me on her back during the riots in 1960 (even though we were living on a military base very far from any insurrection) – she had listened to the news and was terrified. My parents were out that evening and Nanny strapped me securely on her back, as black mothers always do with their children, and was ready to flee.

I have no idea where she thought she might go with me, as we were far away from any public transport, but in her mind she was ready to escape, and she was determined to keep her charge, me, safe. I remember this as if it happened yesterday. I remember, also, the kiss I wanted to give her in gratitude when she finally put me to bed; the wry smile, and the excuse that this was not what a black person could do with a white child. I hugged her instead and remained, all my life, sad at the real and cruel affects of segregation and racial division itself. Something that was certainly not any South African invention, but a regrettable reality in many parts of the world, especially the Deep South of the US where segregation was rampant.

The mechanics of Apartheid and political unrest were rooted in many everyday causes, such as the fact that the western world saw communism as a threat (I often think that the US reacted far more dramatically than even the Apartheid government itself, at times). It was a great pity that when the ANC saw no other way of establishing itself, it turned to communist countries. Had they been in the US, they would certainly also have been banned, and all locked up.

John Edgar Hoover, the head of the newly formed FBI, and whose picture taken, while giving a speech on November 17, 1953, in Washington, looks uncannily like John Voster himself in front of a microphone – probably one of the most hated of all Apartheid orchestrators, but who, in an ironic gesture, visited many African heads of state in a desire to foster detent (with great success) – was terrified of communists.

It was certainly not unique to the Apartheid government who’s newly founded Protestant faith (within context of centuries of Roman Catholic dominance) was to be protected at all costs, in their minds, and were certainly guilty of echoing “Hoover’s increasing concerns about communist threats against the United States led to the FBI’s secret intelligence operations against anyone deemed ‘subversive’.”

On 1 January, 1920 Edgar “sent out the arrest orders, and at least 6,000 people were arrested and detained throughout the country,” according to Tim Weiner in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI.

Hoover did not get permission to bug Martin Luther King because he was black, but because he believed he had joined communist groups. And the Apartheid government arrested Mandela, not necessarily because he was against them, but because he had planned to commit subversive actitivies against the peoples of South Africa, black and white – charges, many of which he pleaded guilty to in court, resulted in decades of imprisonment. The resultant banning of the ANC and their allies the SA Communist party, included a banning also of pictures of Mandela himself which meant that many of us didn’t even know what he looked like until just before his release.

And so discrimination, and brutal treatment either by tradition or by disdain was rampant during this era, and was also part of the historical makeup of Europe.

To excuse the founders of Apartheid using the above as evidence is irresponsible; but to claim their attributes, their orchestration, their founding of such a reprehensible system was entirely unique in its evil, and out of context of the rest of the world is plainly untrue, and something no one should do, simply because in so doing it gives them unique credibility.

When I arrived in Switzerland in 1987 my Swiss cousin told me there were still cantons that did not allow women to vote. And this is one first world nation everyone looks up to.

Brutality, as I have indicated, was part of everyday life back then. My step-father, an Afrikaans speaking man, and who grew up in Ladybrand – a small town responsible for no fewer than two South African State Presidents – suffered similar brutality as a child. On returning to the farm in their ox-wagon having gone to pray for rain, he inadvertently commented, when seeing rain finally fall, and flatten their crops, that they had perhaps prayed too hard. Big mistake. His dour and gravely devout Protestant mother chained him to a pole and insisted his father whip him. On turning sixteen he asked her for some rugby boots; before then he had gone barefoot all his life. Poverty was the norm of the day for this cultural group – not only did the British disciminate severly against them, but the Great Depresssion had meant untold suffering. He recalled many hours spent at the side of the road with a live sheep, in a desperate attempt to sell it for a shilling (approximately twelve cents). He had no takers and had to return to the wrath of his mother.

She did buy him rugby boots, and when she encountered him putting them into his satchel to take to school, she quickly removed them and made it quite plain they were to be used for Sunday church only. Thankfully he did manage to rise above this somewhat barbaric upbringing and become a Rear-Admiral in the South African Navy, and sport on his chest the only Military Cross in the navy – an army medal for bravery during WW2.

One of the most memorable claims he made was that we in South Africa mostly suffer with an inferiority complex – he was referring mostly to Afrikaners who were demeaned, beaten, outcast and frankly almost made to feel less than human, as did, perhaps, the Australians of their aboriginal peoples. Even as recently as this new, enlightened, free century in South Africa English speaking peoples still look down on Afrikaans schools where children attend without shoes, and see them as low class.

South Africans have always believed everything in Europe was better, and that everything in North America is bigger and better. Having now lived in North America for some time I can tell them this is simply not true. South Africa was not only the arena for terrible social practices, but has also been the author, the founder or orchestrator of many superb laws, inventions and social endeavours that far outstrip most countries in the world.

It’s not just about Gary Player, Mark Shuttleworth, Chris Barnard, two Nobel Peace Prize winners living in the same street in Soweto. Or probably the only country in the world to produce two Statesmen, and of such stature that they held the world in the palms of their hands.

It’s more. Sometimes big things, sometimes small.

Having visited the famous Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, the waterfront in Sydney and False Creek, and Granville Island in Vancouver, I am proud to tell this little, struggling nation that you should hold your head up with pride. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town outstrips them all; in fact if you combine all of them in one place, the V&A would still leave them standing.

Dinner at the Hard Rock Restaurant at Fisherman’s Warf reminded me, again, that some things are not necessarily better in America; and many decidedly worse. It was, as one might expect, full – we battled for a table, but eventually found one in the corner, giving us a good view of the comings and goings. When we were finished I asked our tatoe-bedecked server for the bill. Security in South Africa demands that one never lets one’s credit card out of sight: what is normal there is for the server to bring the portable card machine to the table, quite similar to what one might be forgiven for thinking would happen in most first world countries. Instead he walked off with my card. It took me a few seconds – ten perhaps – to realise neither he nor my card was at the table. I asked my friend who happened to have spent many years working in America, where he had disappeared to.

“Oh, he’s gone to process your card.”

“What do you mean? Why doesn’t he bring the machine over here?”

“They probably don’t have portable machines.”

I decided to run after him; when I found him I asked what he was doing. He explained that he had to process the card at the central point. I told him I was not happy. He shook his head and asked why. I was unsure as to whether to assume he was almost mocking me, and gave him a graphic explanation of how easy it is to take a picture of the front and back of the credit card, and thereby have full access to funds. Mine.

I probably offended him because he did not look too happy about it.

“Why can’t you bring the machine to the table?” I persisted while I watched him at work with my card.

“We process only here and bring the slip for you to sign.”

I stared at him, taking a few long seconds to fathom the significance of this.

“Sign? Customers have to sign a slip? You’re kidding, right? Don’t you have pin codes?”

Wait for it.

“No, not yet. We don’t use the chip on the card; you have to sign.”

If, as I get older, I discover that Life itself is more about irony than anything else, this is just one of so many examples I have encountered: America – the west coast especially – with Apple, Silicon Valley, etc. – is practically the birthplace of the motherboard and the computer.

In fact the headquarters of Intel is, as the crow flies and without deviating for a bite to eat, 67.12 kilometres from the Hard Rock restuarant at the entrance to Pier 39. That’s 41.71 miles (because America is not yet metric).

America does not have chip technology. Anywhere; not just at the Hard Rock.

And here I was thinking they were somewhat behind because they have no tap-technology like Canada: there most machines allow credit card holders to simply tap the card against its upper face, and the process is instant.

My father was right; we have struggled with inferiority complexes. And only travel encourages South Africans to hold their heads up high.

The Afrikaners as a result of the oppressive, disdainful and downward-looking British colonists, the blacks at the hands of the Afrikaners and the broader white society who were duped by their Protestant theologic rulers into believing they were superior to black people.

Gollum-like, the oppressed perpetuates the psyche of the oppressor, believing perhaps, it was something precious, because it was so powerful.

Australians in the know sometimes hasten to add that the fact their Aboriginees were not included in any census until 1967, and were regulated under the Flora and Fauna Law does not necessarily mean they were classified as Fauna. The fact is it was a bad idea (even though, some say, in the best interests of the Aborigines at the time). And it has led many, as you might imagine, to believe it was intended to have the rest of the population see them as nothing other than animals.

This was borne out in a somewhat startling comment by as Ozzie (even for a South African), when my sister-in-law travelled with her family to Ayers Rock some years ago. She and the family stopped at a gas (petrol) station in the middle of nowhere. She asked how far the next stop was and whether they would make it on one tank of fuel. In the ensuing conversation the garage owner, in giving advice, felt free to also include warnings about Abboes, and said something to the effect of: “You’ll see a few Abbos around now and then, and if you hit one just go right over him and drive on…” He paused and then quickly added, “but then you’ll understand this ‘cause you’re from South Africa, right?”

I came from a society and a cultural group (not exclusive to language) that harboured black women (who clearly paid for it by working for them), often shielding them against their own culture that was in many cases not kind to them either. We paid for much of their clothing, school fees for their children, and in many cases fought for them and their families on all fronts; we certainly didn’t drive over them on some lonely road.

When their husbands beat them after discovering they had taken some form of contraceptive, it was to us they came for advice and help.

I shall not forget watching, from my classroom in the rural bush of the then Eastern Transvaal, in the eighties, a woman leopard crawling to a partly hidden mobile clinic provided by the Apartheid government and the province – there to receive her monthly injection so as to prevent yet another pregnancy. I shall also not forget my shock at this sight, nor my students’ bellowing laughter mostly, I assume, at my reaction. It was always this type of encounter with my students that made me realise two things: how sad that we were so far apart (the aim of Apartheid no doubt), and how privileged I felt in the time we spent together sharing our lives with one another in the classroom.

Most encounters were a revelation to both of us.

Events took place within the context of a reality at the time, political, cultural and religious.

To point to Apartheid as something uniquely grotesque on its own is nonsense.

To try and justify it, on the other hand, as something benign is shameful and demands apology. Instead all events need to be viewed within the context of history itself.

My mother had a friend who was as a flying doctor in what is now rural Kwazulu Natal. He was known for being a good doctor and something of a miracle-man (mostly because, I assume, he arrived from the sky), but I like to think, also, that he saved many lives.

But he had a quirk that would, today, be considered the most extreme example of human rights abuse. If a woman arrived in theatre for whatever reason, he would consult the Theatre Sister all about her (in rural Africa, someone holding such as important position would have intimate knowledge of everyone). If the patient was of a certain age and had more than a certain number of children (presumably three or four) he would, with the agreement of the theatre sister and nurses present, automatically sterilise her. Without her consent.

It was for this reason, perhaps, that he was also considered a miracle-man.

I have no doubt these African nurses would have joined the throng of those who lined up to cheer me, and subsequently visit me in the ward when I chose to have a vasectomy. My herosim was further entrenched when I chose the option of a local anaesthetic: I was practically raised to cadre status and they made it quite plain they would give anything to have their own men venture on the same path, in consideration of their freedom.

For this and many other reasons, it was not an event that I shall easily forget.

The anti-room was cold and I now understood why the nurse had hurled a blanket at me as the orderlies wheeled me to theatre.

I had been waiting for three hours and simply couldn’t grasp why a simple cut and snip (everyone says it’s just a cut and snip) could possibly take this amount of preparation. I lay waiting. Doctors, surgeons, registrars and an endless stream of nurses kept appearing at the foot of my bed to say hello and ask whether I was having a local or a general. I thought of writing ‘local’ on my forehead, but somehow could not deprive each enquirer the joy of hearing from the horse’s mouth that I was going to have a local. Thank God no one giggled, or smiled into their shoulder. It was a bit late anyway – I was in the anti-room and starting to shiver.

I had made the final decision some months before while driving to Hout Bay for an evening stroll on the beach. I had had occasion to turn around and look onto the normally vacuous back seat of our Camry. I had not been prepared for the 16 arms and legs. I turned to my wife, raised my eyebrows and decided that was it. No more.

Two weeks later I was in the urologist’s rooms staring blankly at him while he stared back at me. I had assumed that beause my wife worked in the same hospital, she had told him why I was there. She had not, and we continued to stare at each other until he raised his eyebrows and leaned forward ominously. It dawned on me, suddenly, that he didn’t have a clue.

Now, how on earth does one go about telling another man that you’d like him to cut your balls open and make you sterile? I could think of absolutely nothing else, so I simply said that my wife wanted him to cut them off. God knows why I thought this might be funny, but it was all I could come up with at the time. He didn’t budge. Was he used to this last desperate attempt to hold onto one’s manhood or was he schooled in subtle reverence for the Freudian unconscious? The intern, who sat next to him, seemed determined to emulate his mentor’s every move and stared at me even more determinedly. No, I decided, he simply doesn’t look the type to pick up this kind of transference stuff. Thank God I didn’t bare myself totally by saying it was a joint decision.

Two minutes later I had an appointment for 06:00 the next Tuesday. I arrived thirty minutes late and they sent me home. I drove home wondering how much more difficult this was going to be to explain to everyone, than it had been to simply tell the urologist what I wanted him to do. Was I going mad? Could I possibly remind myself that I was like this always? Or did I have to admit that the impending full frontal attack on my sole piece of valuable merchandise was getting to me; just a bit? It was after all what the mothers’ of my children had married me for. It was, after all my primary reason for existence – as someone once said “every institution of man, from music to education, from the stock market to golf, everything we have done or built, and are to become, is just a sophisticated way for a gene to make another gene.”

It’s a kind of a man’s thing to giggle at this. After all it’s true. And now I was voluntarily offering up, onto the altar of public scrutiny, funding, research (don’t forget the intern) and family planning, my sole reason for being. I told my wife the truth – I was late. She did laugh; so did the others.

It’s cold as hell. And if another nurse comes to ask me whether I’m a local or a general, I’ll probably tell her to ….

“Hello, my name is Me-ree-um,” The voice next to me was decidedly welcoming, warm and quite reassuring; the face very black. She hauled out a clipboard from somewhere between the bed and her green coated frame and announced, as if she understood all of the frustration the endless enquiries had brought me: “You are lawcul!” I wanted to kiss her. I had no idea what was to come. Before I could lean over to express my relief in some way, she said, “Ah you aalled-jick to Betta-dien?” Only for a moment did I faulter. “No,” I said, now so eager to get things going that I would have said anything.

She looked at her chart again, “Mmmm…” she said, turning her head slightly away from me, the way one does when thinking deeply. For a black woman in a post-Apartheid situation, I thought she was being quite brave. Believe me, I had no idea. I was soon to feel the bravery should be rather accredited to myself.

“I em going to pent you…” she said, looking straight at me. And then her eyes moved slowly down my chest, over my stomach and onwards. “Down there…” she said, raising her eyebrows sharply in deference to what she was about to do to my lonely, and soon to be abandoned allies. Is this how it all ends, I asked myself? Do woman finally have all the control?

“No problem Miriam,” I said smiling, feeling somewhat disconsolate. She disappeared, and for a short time after this I secretly, in some deep recess, hoped that she would be too busy or that, perhaps my urologist would come whistling in and dispense with all niceties and snip away. Quickly.

I was wheeled in further. How deeper can one go into the hospital? I wondered. I had already come through so many doors, passageways, examinations, pre-op question sessions, changes of clothing, introductions. A gathering of black nurses here and there, with “Local?”

Another two doors, and there we were. Now it was cold. One very large light; a number of fully cloaked frogs were milling around.

“Oh, hello Andrew…” I said to my urologist who came whistling in and then just as quickly disappeared. What had I said? I was alone now, all alone. Just at that moment I could have sworn I heared my mother’s voice, “it’s alright darling, it’ll soon be over.”

This has just got to be a female conspiracy.

Miriam suddenly appeared. With four quick movements she covered me from neck to toe with four different froggie cloaks. I didn’t feel so lonely anymore. When I raised my head I realised I looked like a sacrifice on the altar itself. But something bothered me: the difference in temperature took only two seconds to make me realise what it was. You guessed it. All was covered except for the offending members, now exposed entirely to all interested parties.

And Miriam.

“I’m going to…”

“Yes, yes. Okay, “ I said, and then instantly regretted my display of slight impatience. Perhaps Miriam was new; perhaps this was her first time. I raised my head to say something that would make it up to her, but it was too late. She stood, cloaked, in full-frog regalia; poised like Joan of Ark herself and armed, sword-like, with a large paintbrush which I remember through the mirage of anxiety, to be at least one metre long. In her other hand she held what looked like a small container. For just a brief moment she stood, motionless, as if I, the very enemy of the Church itself, was about to be purged, plunged into purgatory and forever purified by the very pronouncement of God himself. And as if to confirm my anxious interpretations of these events she dipped, like some penitent priest, the brush into the Holy Grail and retrieved the precious fluid – the great cleanser, the healer, so that it dripped, like blood from the edge of her sword-like instrument.

It hit me like a cricket ball, in full toss: Wham!

“Shhh…” she said almost automatically, as she began to “pent.”

Miriam was no novice. She knew what she was doing. Her quiet, gentle voice was a practised and artful mechanism to still me. Is this what her executioner had said to her, when as Joan of Ark in her previous life, she was burning on the stake?

And then I had to put my foot into it. I just had to, and a true to nature condescending reaction appeared, so naturally: “So where did you train?” It was the only thing that came to mind, and was intended to be a desperate attempt to defocus. But then, surely a man of my intelligence should know not to engage in any kind of verbal discourse when a strange women is attending lavishly to ones otherwise hidden, otherwise private, and otherwise much warmer private possessions.

“I was in exile, in Tanzania.” She stopped while she said this. Suddenly the thought struck me – what if she decided to take out the whole struggle revenge thing on me? I felt dizzy from self-inflicted trauma, but immediately rallied when she dipped the paintbrush into the chalice, for what seemed to be at least the fourth time and continued to paint; the motions reminding me once again of the priest who lavishly swings the burning incense at each member of the congregation – determined to have them thoroughly cleansed. Slap, slap, – up and down, and then down and up. Diagonally, sideways, sideways; pause. Did I miss a spot? Sideways, sideways. She stopped just long enough for me to begin a lengthy sigh before she walked around to the other side and, as if the ‘Bettadien’ could not possibly cover my whole Colossus, she began the procedure all over again. I suppressed the urge to groan.

After what seemed like an hour, Miraim announced triumphantly: “I em finished.”

Believe me, quite a bit came to mind, not least of all, are you quite sure; I mean, don’t you want to carry on just in case you missed a spot…; ar you quite sure!?” I was beginning to feel like John Cleese and stared at the large light in disbelief.

Suddenly they all appeared. Peering over the side of the table at Miriam’s adornment. I could almost hear her beaming with pride. And this over something I had spent most of my life hiding from everyone.

“Ahah!” said Andrew, “what the hell is that?” I raised my head sharply to see what he was looking at. It wasn’t me. Against the wall was some strange contraption that looked suspiciously like the thing I saw in the movie with the twin gynaecologists who got up to all sorts of tricks with their patients.

“O, dis vir die ginekoloog later…” said another froggie, this time male and from the other end of the cultural spectrum. This was real Rainbow stuff.

“Phhufff…” said Andrew, “take it out.” He ordered. “Gynaecologists!” he said looking at me, with my two balls firmly in his hands, “They’re just a bunch of Poofters. Okay, now just a small prick.” The pun did not escape me. “This is the only thing you’re going to feel.”

It was the worst thing he could have said. I bucked like a horse.

He still had to get his fingers inside, find the connection, cut the tube, tie it and put it back. On both sides. And here I was about to launch myself into the air, and up against the light from just one needle. He did it again. I coughed and then John Cleese came to mind again: don’t talk about the Germans! What if I cough while he’s inside? Remember all the things they could tell from squeezing your balls in the principal’s office once a year while you had to cough on the only day of term you didn’t have a cough? Oh God, what if I get an erection! And then I found myself wondering whatever possessed me to think that this was even possible? It was Andrew’s voice again, and what sounded like, “Pass me the vasco-byclamp, please.”

I was starting to regret my local option, and was now quite prepared to have my heroic status withdrawn for the comfort of being able to fall asleep and then awake with even a dimished crowd of groupies at my bed.

I suddenly realised he was already in. I felt nothing except a strange etherial presence that was not even uncomfortable. I was later able to bash myself once again while bragging about this bravado … just a little sensation, you know; nothing much. When a close female family friend pointed out how similar it was to having a number of hands reaching down inside one during a Caesarean, I smiled humbly, with even more proof that this was ultimately a female conspiracy.

My head was firmly horizontal, and I could only detect disjointed movements around me. It was Miram to my left, at eleven o’clock, fiddling. She handed Andrew something. I felt his slight impatience. “That’s not a vasco-byclamp; the vasco-byclamp, I always use it,” he said taking his one hand away. Please don’t take your hand away. Miriam then, to show how urgent the matter was, fiddled even louder with whatever she could find in what sounded like a large, empty bed-pan. The surgical instruments clattered away like staccato gunfire while she searched vainly for this essential, life-saving tool Andrew was demanding.

There was a sudden flurry at four o’clock, almost next to my head, “Oh, vok, ek is jammer, Dokter, hy moet iewers hier wees.” And Four o’clock began to frantically open drawers and close each with a meaningful thud. Miriam was clattering away in the bed-pan, Andrew jerking ever so slightly at my diminutive delicates, as he turned around to give directions. This time I did begin to groan, ever so slightly.

Suddenly here was another large green presence at my head. Five o’ clock. It was David, my wife’s gay gynaecologist. “Hi there,” he said as if just popping in for tea.

“David!” I said with a whimper. I raised my hands to latch onto him for support.

“Keep your hands under wraps,” bellowed Andrew. I obeyed instantly with a cowering look.

“Oo – hier is hy. Ek is jammer, Dokter, dis my fout,” said Four o’clock. The clamp had arrived. Jerk, jerk. Andrew was having difficulty recomposing himself, facing the right way, holding on to the snippet of tube he needed to work on and also manipulate the clamp into whatever position was necessary.

I had never been so pleased to see a gynaecologist. Talk to me! While he did, I stared keenly into his eyes, smiled, laughed and acknowledged everything he said, although for the life of me I can’t remember a word. In retrospect I realise that I had felt nothing and notions of discomfort had been almost entirely psychological.

Suddenly it was all over. Andrew and his crew dissipated into the ether through the door and I was wheeled back to the ward. On the way out, Miriam raised her right hand to say goodbye. I could have sworn she sedately made the sign of the cross.

On the way back to the ward I felt like a rock-star – one corridor was lined with an entourage of nurses – mostly black. Much to my embarassment some of them even clapped, and I found myself hoping none of them would break out with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika . At first I didn’t get the significance, but then one of them leant over : “we uh proud of you; if only you could tell our husbands about this you have done!”

And then it struck me: I was a hero – at last I had done something significant for mankind. Bring me a stadium, bring me a micro-phone, and I will tell them! I heard myself saying.

My wife had assured me that I would experience at least two of the following: bruising, swelling, pain and discomfort. I am happy to report that I experienced very little of any of this, although I was determined to impress the family with a self-imposed cowboy gait for as long as I could get away with it.

Notwithstanding your own personal neurosis, I can highly recommend this course of action in an attempt to save the world and yourself from more arms and legs. And debt. I can now put those smelly, rubbery things away, forever, and for once contemplate sex without having to back it up with another couple of endowment policies.

If nothing else the experience sure puts you in touch with whatever side it is in you that is lacking.

And God’s messenger makes an appearance as well.


The overall burden placed on black women by many cultures in Africa is tedious, heavy and very often life-threatening; a burden often placed on them by their own men. If it were not enough that they are responsible for doing all the farm and domestic work, which includes the cooking and child-rearing, they are often required to endure the guilt and pain of hiding, from their husbands, attempts at contraception. In addition to this many have to endure the further pain of having their young girl children (from some cultural groups) circumcised.

Athough this is not particularly encouraged in Southern Africa, Africa itself is home to some eight million girls who are subjected to circumcision every year. And we, in the west, have given ourselves permission to take a moral stance, and judge this as being a barbarous practice.

Of course today, the flying doctor, would be arrested. But it was not in our world that he operated; it was in quite another.

A world in which just a few decades before, in the Boer War, two republics in Southern Africa, at war with Britain, had witnessed the implementation of the very first concentration camps, by the British army. The British had already implemented a scorched earth policy, and troops were forced to destroy crops, burn homesteads, farms and poison wells, in their attempt to intimidate the population and break the supply lines of food.


As if this were not enough they implemented the incarceration in what were first called refuge camps: the unspeakable conditions in these camps (45 in total) caused the death of 4,177 women, 22,074 children under the age of sixteen and also 1,676 men – f one in every 5 people – inciting decades of hatred for the British (and therefore, misguidedly, most English speaking people also), a distrust one may find even today, some 116 years later.

Perhaps it was here that segragation began, because some 115,000 black people were detained in separated camps; some 15,000 of them also died.

In all 81% of all fatalities were children. ^^1^^

These conditions persisted despite the efforts of Emily Hobhouse, an English lady from Cornwall who bravely took on the army and the government of her own country and fought for the inhabitants, delivering some aid and much needed solace.

“What most distressed Hobhouse was the sufferings of the undernourished children. Diseases such as measles, bronchitis, pneumonia, dysentery and typhoid had invaded the camp with fatal results. The very few tents were not enough to house the one or more sick persons, most of them children. In the collection Stemme uit die Verlede (Voices from the Past), she recalled the plight of Lizzie van Zyl (c. 1894 – 9 May 1901), the daughter of a Boer combatant who refused to surrender.

“The girl died at the Bloemfontein camp. According to Hobhouse, (she) was treated harshly and placed on the lowest rations. After a month, she was moved to the new hospital about 50 kilometres away from the concentration camp, suffering from starvation. Unable to speak English, she was labelled an ‘idiot’ by the hospital staff, who were unable to understand her. One day she started calling for her mother. An Afrikaner woman, Mrs Botha, went over to comfort her and to tell her she would see her mother again, but ‘was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance’.” 2

The extent of her compassion and hard work meant that Afrikaners, especially the women she fought so hard for, rose above their intense hatred for the British and not only was she, a daughter of England (the much-hated enermy), awarded honorary citizenship by South Africa, but remained a personal friend of Mrs Steyn, the wife of the last president of the Orange Free State. Mrs Steyn collected the somewhat vast amount of £17,000 towards Emily’s humanitarian efforts to feed and house children in central Europe after the First World War – a war Emily protested vigorously against. Unbeknown to Emily Hobhouse, Mrs Steyn was also instrumental in raising some £2,300 “from the Afrikaner nation” which allowed Emily to purchase a house in St Ives, Cornwall.

Had I known these facts as a young man in the South African Navy, I might have stood more respectfully to attention, while exercising at sea, with both the President Steyn (a type 12M frigate built by Alex Stephen & Sons Ltd, in Glascow), and the Emily Hobhouse a Daphne class submarine, commissioned in 1971. She was known to be the deepest diving submarine at the time, with a test depth of 300 metres (modern American nuclear attack submarines have a test depth of about 150 metres more). I cannot help but think this was in deference to Hobhouse’s ability to delve deeply as she did in exposing the atrocities in the concentration camps during the Boer War. In another twist of fate, and perhaps only in accordance with my own poetic licence, it is noteworthy that when the present South African government took over in 1994, the Navy renamed her (the submarine, not Emily Hobhouse) SAS Umkhonto, which is the Zulu word for spear. She, one of the few voices to expose the atrocities caused by her own nation, was by no doubt a spear in the side of the British government and army during this painful time.

This war was, typically of South Africa and its predilection to stage world-class events and, like so many countries, horrific outcomes, shameful escapades, and many firsts, not only the first time a concentration camp was used, and the first time, in the West, guerrilla warfare was adopted, to the detriment of the British army, but it was also the first war in history to be filmed.

My grandfather turned sixteen when his father, a Boer Commander went to war. He followed him on his horse. His father turned around, saw him and sent him home. He escaped again. This time my great-grandfather devised a more permanent punishment, and incarceration and imprisoned him in a boarding school. For some enlightened reason, I like to think, he sent him to St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown. This is not just any English church school; founded in 1855, this private Anglican school was and remains to this day probably a little Eton on the African continent. A bastion of England away from home.

The telegram from my grandfather, that is now housed in a cabinet in the foyer, reads as follows: “Leave for front tomorrow, have wired twenty five pounds. Your credit my son’s school fees next quarter, don’t let him leave unless you have my permission for it, further school fees will be safe, best regards.” Sept 1899.

As one historian commented, “only in South Africa can one send one’s son to the school of the enemy, and on tick.”

What is even more remarkable, yet so typical of the quirky, unique and ground-breaking events, good and bad, that seem to characterise South Africa and why so many find it impossible to leave, is that my grandfather, Willem Jan Klerck managed not only to assimilate a culture that must have been quite foreign to him, but did so with notable success. He became Head Body.

And this during a war in which his father was fighting the very founders of the school he led for his senior year.


While a study of history often results in the unfolding of fascinating stories, and finds ways of linking people and places together, we will also believe of history what we want to believe and in most cases we seldom allow facts to interfere with our perceptions, cherished beliefs and notions. It is a cherished notion, for example, that Queen Marie Antoinette unthinkingly dismissed her starving peasants by telling her advisors to give them cake to eat. Also that the excesses of the court of Versailles, a palace that was seen to be the seat of extravagance was her fault. In fact while Versailles, which is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, has 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, and 67 staircases must have consumed huge amounts of money, so that poor Marie Antoinette was dubbed the Queen of Deficit, she tried hard to tone down the services, and reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions that were based solely on privilege. But the nobles, many of whom lived there were not so keen. If anything it was very much their greed that drove the people of France to despair.

What I find interesting is that it is upon these cherished beliefs and misconceptions that democracy itself is based.

We will believe what we want to believe of America: the conqueror, the abuser, the manipulator of nations.

But whatever you think of the US, it is in many ways the greatest nation on Earth. Its freedom and Constitution, albeit with the (in)famous Second Amendment, has allowed California to be the 5th largest economy in the world, and more innovation and technological development comes from here than most countries in the world put together.

Returning to the owner of Shooters, while this kind of person probably believes Jesus is coming back soon while also carrying a loaded gun all day, she is almost certainly also warm, genuine and very friendly. In most cases just as much as Canadians are.

America’s GDP is more than 1.7 trillion US$, which is $14 trillion more than Germany.

In fact Mercedes Benz sells more cars in Los Angeles than in the whole of Canada itself.

All the way down the West coast, cities are awash with the headquarters of international companies that have changed and improved the lives of people all around the globe: Seattle, alone, accounts for Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Expedia, Nintendo and more. And of course Fraser.



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p<{color:#F2F2F2;}. Country |<>.
p={color:#F2F2F2;}. GDP

millions of US$

Source: Wikipedia (International Monetary Fund) 2014 |<>.
p={color:#F2F2F2;}. Population

Source: Wikipedia/World Clock as at November 2015 |<>.
p={color:#F2F2F2;}. GDP Per Capita

Geary–Khamis dollar, or International dollars |<>.
p={color:#F2F2F2;}. % of USA @ $54 370 per person | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. The World |<>.
p={color:#F2F2F2;}. 77 269 168

Seventy seven trillion, two hundred and sixty nine billion, one hundred and sixty eight million |<>.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. 7,379,098,130


|<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}.   |<>. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. One might use this as an efficiency factor, with the US as a base.


And while wild stories and realities exist (such as the reality of guns), cities such as San Francisco make even Canadians envious.

While Bono is somewhat famous for saying: “I believe the world needs more Canada. And Jane Fonda for, “when I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like”, the truth is that most parts of America have a charm and a grace that is unthinkable to those who have made up their minds about the wildness, the religious backwardness and the insanity that exists there, as elsewhere.

I can think of fewer places that have enthralled me more than San Francisco. More even than Victoria, the capital of British Columbia which I visit as often as I can, and which, with its brick buildings, overflowing hanging baskets everywhere in Summer, and a thoroughly British flavour and atmosphere (with even the occasional Bowler hat), always reminds me of my beloved mother-city, Cape Town where my family arrived in 1792.

Approximately seventy-five percent of all Canadians live within 160 kms of the US border. And many of them, like myself, cross each week to buy mostly groceries, fuel and beer when they can.

More than one bottle of wine at a time, or a case of 12 bottles (12 Oz) and you’re in trouble. If you fill up once a week, buy a case of beer and a few groceries (crossing from the Lower Mainland in Vancouver), you can save as much as $20 per tankful. While gas (petrol) in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver can be as much as $1.30, it can drop to as much as $2.39 per gallon across the border. If one takes the US gallon @ 3.755 per litre, this translates into $0.63 US cents, which at the time of writing is $0.83 CA$.

A saving of $0.47 a litre, or around $20 a tank. That’s around R220.00 saving for one tank (small car). Not to be sneezed at.

Especially when one considers that the median (half-way point between the lowest and highest) total annual income by family for the entire Canada is less than $6,400 a month.

It is no wonder, then, that Canadians spend some $21billion annually – this of course decreases when the Looney (the nickname for the Canadian dollar) decreases in value which it has done by some twenty-five percent since our arrival here.


Canadians travel south because it is warmer and goods are cheaper; it’s that simple. Around 500,000 of them own property in Florida alone (if you want super boring, go to Florida: part of it make even De Aar seem exciting). In the preceding twelve months leading up to March 2014, Canadians spent 13.8 billion USD on properties south of the border. That’s $18.15 billion CAD (Financial Post, February, 2015).

That’s staggering, but is, in fact, only fifteen percent of all international sales. A pity South Africa finds it difficult to control its crime rate – the Looney would be very welcome there, I imagine.


There is not only a saving in gas and groceries. The Financial Post cites more: “Forrester (a research company) compared the cost of shipping a six-pound box from Toronto to Vancouver, a distance of 4,370 km, using Canada Post’s Xpresspost service against shipping the same parcel from New York to Los Angeles, a distance of 4,443 km, using the U.S. Postal Service’s priority mail service. The U.S. shipment cost US$11.30; the Canadian shipment cost a whopping $40.63.”

Apparently we look to the south for more than just warmth.

The small town of Blaine, Washington (just a few kilometres from White Rock), exists almost entirely to serve Canadians. The freight/postal service company I use has more than 30,000 customers. That’s six times the population of the town itself which is just under 5,000. Not only do many travel across the border to post packages back home and to family all over the world, saving around 30%, but many use these “postal boxes” to have goods shipped there (say from Amazon.com which offers free shipping within the US). At $12 a year for the “box” and $2.50 a pop (each shipment), a quick dash across the border to fetch something can often result in large savings.

To be honest, waiting for seasonal sales and mark-downs in Canada itself is often just as rewarding. Be sure to declare the goods when returning. Strictly speaking there is no allowance when returning the same day, but in most crossings the border guards do not seem to be concerned about a tank of gas (petrol), some groceries and a small case of beer. Twenty-four or more hours away gives one an allowance of $200 (no alcohol or tobacco), and forty-eight hours or more, $800 and 1.5 litres of wine and 8.5 litres of beer. Never lie. Always tell the truth, especially if you have a Nexus card.

The Nexus card is arguably the second most valuable travel document/card other than a Canadian passport (or a US visa).

Get one: $50. Both the US and Canadian government sites declare that “Nexus is designed to expedite the border clearance process for low-risk, pre-approved travellers into Canada and the United States.”

The process is lengthy and somewhat startling, but that card is worth its weight in gold. Not only are there special lanes for motor vehicles at each border crossing, but as a Nexus holder you will receive special line-ups (queues) and much faster customs clearance at just about every American airport – very useful when travelling. In fact many customs clearance portals sport a retina identification machine, negating the need to even make a verbal declaration to a customs official.

At first I wondered why so many of my Canadian friends did not have one. They often cited that Nexus line-ups were sometimes longer than the regular lanes. This is true. But only on very few occasions. The truth is that many do not like to pay the fee, they simply could not be bothered, or do not cross the border that often. There is another reality: you have to be squeaky-clean. Unpaid parking tickets, bad debt? Forget it. A police record? Don’t even mouth the word Nexus.

But if you have one, don’t ever lie, or change lanes at the last minute or carry a non-Nexus friend of family member in the car with you and try to pass through the Nexus booth.

Most border guards demonstrate an entirely new meaning to the word anal. Don’t mess with them.

They do differ, though.

Sometimes I get “Hi Michael, where are we going to today?” And I recite my weekly mantra: “… Oh, just a tank of gas and some groceries,” said with a smile, clutching my South African passport and the large US visa in case they want to view it, and hoping for a friendly “have a nice day!”

This is most often the case.

On another occasion, after waving my Nexus card towards the scanner just before the booth, so that when arriving the guard knows who you are (and I always assume, most details about you), I got this terse reaction:

“What are you supposed to show me other than your card?”

I falter for a second, my head spinning. Show him? Aaah…

“Sorry, I have my passport here – do you want to see it?”

OMG, was this a mistake? Do you want to see it?

“You’re supposed to declare your passport. I should not have to ask for it. I could take your Nexus card away, and ban you from entering the US for up to five years…”

I feel a desire to hide under my seat, and I start stammering slightly.

“I am ssorry, sir. I will mm-ake sure I do next time…”

“On your way…,” he says tersely and slaps my passport back into my palm.

The vast majority of Americans are much friendlier, though, and I have no doubt Canadians learnt the standard smile and have a nice day at the end of just about any interaction on any street or in any shop; or did the Americans learn this from Canadians?

So you might want to live as close to the border as possible.

Make sure you have health care insurance. America is not Canada where it is relatively free. You do not want to end up in a hospital down there. A broken leg, from a fall, for instance, can cost you as much as $25 000 – that’s a cool R350 000.

Few know why. Forbes.com (2012) says that the annual spending on its physicians, per capita, is “about five times higher than peer countries”: $1 600 compared to just $310 in most other developed nations.

So if you’re a doctor you want to work in the US.

But be prepared to spend hours each week in court defending yourself.

Perhaps rather come to Canada; it needs doctors, protects them so they can work efficiently, and pays them well.

Remember my observation about how Canada looks after its children? Well this does not translate well when it comes to studying, especially for medical students.

An article written by Karen Born & Irfan Dhalla in 2011 quotes a survey that claims that out of 14,100 students studying medicine, some 3,600 are doing so overseas and not in Canada; “…enough to fill about 6 Canadian medical schools.”

The article goes on to say: “The same survey found that more than 75% of Canadians studying medicine abroad say that they did so because they were not able to obtain a spot in a Canadian medical school. Competition here in Canada is fierce. Although there has been an expansion in medical school spots across Canada in recent years, only about 25% of applicants are accepted. In the United States, 43% of applicants get into medical school.”

Sadly this does not show a consideration for Canada’s youth and future tax-payers. Having spent some years in the Caribbean or in Australia it is quite likely they will consider remaining – a loss to Canada. This is the sad aspect. The utterly bizarre is that should they wish to return, Canada expects them to rewrite their final examinations – at great expense to the student – thereby gaining a fully trained doctor, not only without having contributed a cent to their training, but then adding insult to injury by charging them to return before being able to practice. And profit for the province and Canada; this then seemingly entrenching the established view that in so many ways it’s all about money here. Money, money. Vancouver is the most expensive city in the world, according to many reports. Property taxes increase often, and a surcharge for fuel in the metropolitan area means that British Columbians pay $0.40 more for gas (petrol) than do their Albertan counterparts. In addition to this Alberta has no provincial tax.


table=. =. |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. City |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. Average Price of Houses |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. Monthly mortgage payment |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. Property Tax |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. Income required |=.
p={color:#BFBFBF;}. Income required at 2005 rates (6%) | =. |=.
p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Canada |=.
p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $433,649 |=.

|=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}.   | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Calgary |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $465,047 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $2,026 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $236 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $88,578 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $111,679 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Edmonton |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $365,520 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $1,592 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $244 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $72,617 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $89,972 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Regina |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $331,161 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $1,443 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $378 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $72,028 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $87,400 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Saskatoon |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $349,322 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $1,522 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $366 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $74,546 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $90,966 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Winnipeg |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $270,605 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $1,179 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $274 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $58,235 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $$70,110 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Vancouver |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $857,015 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $3,570 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $251 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $147,023 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $190,581 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Montréal |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $344,273 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $1,500 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $237 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $68,884 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $85,012 | =. |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Toronto |=. p={color:#c0c0c0;}. $587,505 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $2,500 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $354 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $113,009 |=. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. $143,182 | =. |=\6. p<{color:#c0c0c0;}. Source: Daniel Tencer, The Huffington Post; posted 01/11/2015 am EST All prices in CA$

Numbers calculated for five-year, fixed-rate mortgage @ 2.99%

NB: Many sources quote Vancouver’s average house price has risen to $1 million – R10 million ZAR. This probably refers to downtown Vancouver, and the figures above to the metro region.

Canadian average – source: CREA – Canadian Real Estate Association.



1 SAHO: South African History Online: www.saho.org

2 Wikipedia: Emily Hobhouse.


Cape Town to BC & Beyond

  • Author: Michael Klerck
  • Published: 2015-12-18 04:05:14
  • Words: 22894
Cape Town to BC & Beyond Cape Town to BC & Beyond