Hello, I hope you are well and in good spirits. Thanks for taking the time to check out my article. As you may already know, a few of the locations featured in this publications are featured in my novel, Eteka: Rise of the Imamba. For this post we’ll be highlighting South Africa, with a focus on Johannesburg and East London. As always, here is a brief overview of South Africa itself.
Geography, Economy and Culture
Bordered by Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana to the north, and both the Indian and South Atlantic Ocean’s to the south, South Africa is one of Africa’s “powerhouses” with regards to economic and cultural output (South Africa has the highest GDP in Africa). The official currency of South Africa is the Rand, and as of the time of me writing this, 1 SA Rand = 0.100 USD, or in reverse 1 USD = 10 SA Rand’s. South Africa has a very diverse economy, with key strengths in tourism, mining, financial services, automobile manufacturing, energy and telecommunications. South Africa is considered one of five major emerging national economies, the letter “S” in the acronym “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
I wonder what the acronym would change to if a country like Ghana made it into the BRICS five. GBRICS? BRICSG? CRIBSG? I’ll have to think on that one (my sad attempt at humor).
Football (soccer), rugby, running, cricket, boxing and swimming are sports that receive national attention in South Africa (South Africa hosted the most recent World Cup tournament in 2010). South Africa has also made many successful appearances at the Olympics, with athletes like Chad De Clos and the now infamous Oscar Pistorius.
South Africa consists of many different ethnic groups and races. You’ll find a majority of black Africans, and other races (White, Indian, Asian, etc). The country has eleven official languages (Afrikaans, Swazi, Ndebele, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu, Northern Sotho, Sotho and English. There are also many other local languages spoken along with pockets of people (mostly white and Asian South Africans) who speak other foreign languages like German, French and Urdu).
Historically, South Africa was one of the last countries to be completely “freed” of foreign oppression (the apartheid system was officially banished from South Africa in the early 1990s and South Africa’s democratic government was formed in 1994). A little background: The Portuguese were the first to discover the South African region in 1488. Then came the Dutch in 1652 followed finally by the British in 1806. In between these waves of foreign settlements, there were many guerrilla style resistance movements by local Africans. Also, a rift began between certain sects of the remaining Dutch settlers (called Boers) and the British over control of the South African territory. In fact, 2 wars were fought between both groups in the 19th Century. The rift between the two groups grew even more as the British fell in favor of abolishing slavery, and the Boers did not. This all led eventually to the Boers gaining “independence” from Britain and instituting the harsh system of apartheid in South Africa, which for many years included the prohibition of black Africans from buying land, barring blacks from military service and skilled jobs, forcing blacks into planned townships, not allowing blacks to vote, legalized discrimination, you get the picture. The Boer leadership was formed under the NP political party founded by General Barry Hertzog (the NP party came to power in South Africa in 1948). Black resistance movements also began to come into being, culminating into the formation of some organized parties, the most notable being the ANC (African National Congress — Nelson Mandela belonged to this party). For many years the apartheid system wreaked havoc in South Africa (e.g. The Sharpeville massacre, one of a series of events that made resistance movements change their tactics from peaceful to armed). The Cold War also played a significant role in why the apartheid regime was able to maintain control of South Africa for so long. The United States is believed to have wanted an ally in South Africa in its ideological battle with the then Soviet Union, and as such was sympathetic to the apartheid regime for strategic reasons. Only when the Cold War ended, did the United States revoke its support. Only after these events, combined with the release of Nelson Mandela after over 25 years in prison, international condemnation and economic sanctions from the global community did the apartheid era come to an end in 1990, and officially became a thing of the past. South Africa’s first democratic elections were held in 1994, with Nelson Mandela becoming South Africa’s first black president.
Fun fact: Nelson Mandela was an avid boxer in his younger days, and with all he had to experience then it’s easy to see why the sweet science of being a warrior appealed to him:
So how does South Africa factor into my novel, Eteka: Rise of the Imamba?
Johannesburg, East London and Sophiatown are featured in Eteka: Rise of the Imamba in some very exciting scenes set during the 1990s! Below are some detailed insights on each location:
Johannesburg (aka Jo’Burg) is in my opinion the most popular city in South Africa. In fact, I hate to admit it, but for a long time I thought Johannesburg was the capital of South Africa!
Fun Fact: Unlike most countries in the world, South Africa has not one but three national capitals: Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein.
Johannesburg is to South Africa what New York is to the United States. It’s the largest and most populated city in South Africa (it’s also the largest city in the world not next to water), it sits in the wealthiest province, and is the epicenter of one of the largest gold and diamond trade routes in the world. Johannesburg also contains the urban area of Soweto, which has so much cultural and historical relevance regarding South African history.
Fun Fact: The name Soweto is literally an abbreviation that means South Western Townships. Soweto was originally made up of minorities/blacks who handled much of the manual labor for the many industries of South Africa, most notably with gold and diamond mining. It was considered a separate “ghetto” by the apartheid regime and was not made a part of Johannesburg until the 1990s. Soweto was at the center of many of the resistance movements during the apartheid era.
Fun Fact: Majority of District 9, the 2009 independent sci-fi movie directed by Neill Blomkamp, was shot in Soweto. In fact, District 9 was partly inspired by the events that transpired during the apartheid era (segregation, oppression, social ostracism, etc). It’s a good movie, I recommend you watch it if you haven’t seen it:
Sophiatown, a suburb in Johannesburg, was in many respects the cultural hub of Johannesburg, similar to what Harlem was to New York during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
Fun Fact: During the apartheid years, residents of Sophiatown, predominantly black, were forcibly removed from their homes while Sophiatown itself was demolished and rebuilt for whites only under the name Triomf. In 1997 the name of the city was changed back to Sophiatown.
Johannesburg enjoys a tropical climate. It also has some great architecture, featuring some of the tallest skyscrapers in Africa:
East London on the other hand is a city located on South Africa’s south east coast. East London was originally designed as a supply depot for the British colonists as they battled with local resistance groups. It was later settled by other foreigners, most notably Germans. Today East London is a vibrant city, boasting an automobile manufacturing plant and a good collection of 5 star beach resorts. The massive waves on East London’s beaches are a major attraction for surfers around the globe, although the waters there are also known to be shark infested (there have been a number of Great White shark attacks there):
UPDATE (2017): South Africa is currently going through alot of internal struggles. Gold production is on the decline due to depleted reserves, they have power issues due to an outdated electricity grid, and high unemployment rates, endemic corruption and immigration issues due to its open border system which have led to recent xenophobic attacks and protests.