WORLD F.I.V.A. RALLY 1986

Here is something for vintage car enthusiasts: a first day cover – again from Venda – commemorating the 1986 World F.I.V.A. Rally in the southern hemisphere. There were actually two rallies organised by the international veteran car association, F.I.V.A. (Federation Internationale Voitures Anciennes) that year – one in the northern- and the other in the southern hemisphere. The route of the latter ran through the then independent homeland of Venda, with the competitors stopping over at its capital, Thohoyandou.

Each of the stamps depicts an historical car: 1910 Maxwell, 1929 Bentley 4½ l, 1933 Plymouth Coupé, and a 1958 Mercedes Cabriolet. They were designed by A. H. Barrett, one of South Africa’s acclaimed stamp designers.

The date of this rally was significant for a number of reasons: 1986 was the centenary of the automobile; the rally would honour both Karl Benz and Siegfried Daimler – two pioneers of the motor industry; and it was the year in which Johannesburg celebrated its centenary!

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SONGBIRDS OF VENDA

Venda, which used to be an independent homeland, forms part of the Limpopo Province, close to the border with Zimbabwe. In 1985 this series of stamps was issued to highlight some of the songbirds that occur there. They are of special interest to me as two of them occur in my Eastern Cape Garden – much further south – while two others are similar to what occurs here.

Let us look at them on this first day cover from left to right:

The Heuglin’s Robin (Cossypha heuglini ), now known as the White-browed Robin-Chat, is restricted to the more tropical regions of southern Africa, preferring forests and dense bush, especially near water. They often mimic the alarm calls of other birds. It is the Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra) that occurs in my garden. It too prefers thickets and forest margins and is an accomplished mimic of other bird calls.

The Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus) is also a common visitor to my garden, where it mainly eats fruit as well as insects. A pair will sing in a synchronised duet whilst facing each other and bobbing their heads up and down.

The melodious notes of the Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus) can usually be heard long before this striking yellow bird swoops down from the tree tops to eat fruit or drink from the nectar feeder. They are mostly seen in the upper branches of trees and tall bushes.

We do not get the Kurrichane Thrush (Turdus libonyana) here. It prefers woodland regions in the northern parts of South Africa. It makes tuneful whistling notes and is also a mimic. Instead, we host the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus) which enjoys the many trees and bushes grown here. It makes a variety of flute-like notes which are very pleasant to listen to.

NATIONAL GRAZING STRATEGY

On the 5th May 1989, the South African Post Office issued a series of stamps to highlight the National Grazing Strategy. Internal postage for ordinary letters at the time was 18 cents and the image, designed by Denis Murphy, is a frightening one titled Mensgemaakte woestyn (Man-made desert).

The 30 cent one is titled Die aarde breek (The earth breaks) and depicts the same scene some years later, when most of the earth has been eroded away to form a deep donga (a steep-sided gully formed by soil erosion – an Afrikaans word that originated in the nineteenth century from Nguni donga, meaning washed out gully).

Here is an example of such a donga in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Before you blame the National Parks for negligence, bear in mind that this donga would have been on one of the original farms purchased to create this park.

Much is being done on farms, nature reserves and in national parks to curb the adverse effects of soil erosion. Examples include:

Planting Spekboom in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve:

The provision of gabions on top of and next to culverts under the road in the Great Fish River nature Reserve:

Breaking the flow of storm water run-off from the roads in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

A land rehabilitation project in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

Getting back to the stamps: I do not have copies at hand, but the 40 cent stamp, titled The helping hand, depicts a dam that has been built in that deep donga. The 50 cent stamp moves on by several years, by which time the dam is full and the area is grassed over – there is even a leafy tree growing in the foreground – I can’t help thinking this is wishful thinking combined with artistic licence! This one is aptly titled The land rejoices.

Let us all take care of the soil and the vegetation that covers it!

OENOPHILE

It has taken me a long time to become something akin to an oenophile – not as a connoisseur you understand, but simply as someone who enjoys wine along with pleasant company. Although my parents were not regular wine drinkers, they introduced us to wine from an early age. At special dinners we were allowed what would amount to a few drops in a liqueur glass so that we could join in with the toast for whatever the celebratory occasion happened to be. I wrinkled my nose at it.

Even once I had reached the legal ‘drinking age’ and was at university, I eschewed wine in favour of beer – or a soft drink! Beer tended to be far more thirst-quenching, and therefore satisfying, after a weekend spent hiking in the Natal Drakensberg or having expended a lot of energy playing in a squash tournament.

I had recently begun teaching when we attended a work-related dinner. The brief look of shock on the face of our host has remained etched on my memory: I asked for a beer in response to his “What would you like to drink?” on our arrival. What a social faux pas! He politely handed me a beer in a tall glass with a narrow base and only then did I notice that the men were drinking theirs from beer mugs and all of the other women present were delicately sipping white wine! To my uninformed eyes it looked such an elegant drink. I felt very raw and unsophisticated and allowed my beer to last a very long time.

White wine still tends to have a sophisticated air about it. I entered the ‘adult’ social world when ‘wine rules’ were still strictly adhered to: white wine with fish and chicken; red wine with beef and lamb. The prevailing custom also seemed to be that women had white wine before dinner. My problem was that I simply didn’t like the taste of white wine!

I can no longer remember when I was introduced to red wine. For decades however, it has been my preference: robust, dark red, and not sweet. Believe me, I tried the white varieties now and then but, compared with red, I didn’t enjoy either its bouquet or its taste. Red was the way forward and that choice sometimes made me feel awkward during early adulthood.

An example of this is a formal dinner we had been invited to. Our hosts had spared no detail with either the table settings or the menus. I did not miss the slight lift of an eyebrow, however, as our host filled my glass with red wine – all the other women present had opted for white!

Happily, times have changed and now we can choose white, red, or rosé without anyone turning a hair. We can now actually enjoy being an oenophile [from Greek oinos (wine) and –phile (love)] without fear of falling foul of any ‘laws’ of etiquette.

Price and occasion still determine my range, although I admit to shifting the limit as I age and my palate becomes more appreciative of the intricacies of wine. I am also happy to choose wine according to the labels; I have become familiar with different types and brands; and I regularly take note of ‘good’ wines tasted elsewhere.

Last year the South African Post Office commemorated the local wine industry by issuing a set of five small international letter rate stamps on 6th October 2017, designed by Rachel-Mari Ackermann of the SA Post Office. I can only show you four of them: the missing stamp depicts Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The stamp on the top left shows the Groot Constantia wines, Duke of Northumberland 1791 and Grand Constance 1821; next to it is the famous South African Pinotage wine – the first bottled vintage Lanzerac wines 1959; below left shows workers collecting grapes at Babylonstoren; and lastly a collection of wine barrels.

White wine? I admit to only venturing down that path about four years ago. I still take tentative steps, many of them experimental, and take careful note of what works for me or not. I am gradually gathering a repertoire of white wine I can serve with confidence. To me, white wine is best enjoyed in summer – they still battle to find a place in my winters.

MAIL-SORTING BY MACHINE

Isn’t this typical: on the 9th October 2017 the South African post office issued these stamps to commemorate World Post Day as well as the 50th Anniversary of Mail-sorting by Machine – today (2nd May 2018) is the first time I have been able to purchase them. I haven’t seen them on any envelopes in the interim either!

As you might be able to make out in the fine print, the artwork was done by Marli Grobbelaar, then a student at the Cape Town Creative Academy. The installation of the Siemens machine at the Pretoria sorting office in 1967 was so successful in speeding up the sorting process, compared with the manual sorting, that it was not long before machines were installed in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. One of the touted benefits of the time was the reduced number of returned items due to the greater accuracy when compared with manual sorting. Bear in mind that postal codes were only introduced in South Africa on 8th October 1973.

According to https://www.postoffice.co.za/philately/2017/sortingmachine.html  “A proficient hand-letter-sorter could sort up to 1 800 letters an hour, whilst each sorting unit of an automatic letter sorting system could sort from 90 000 to 150 000 mail items per hour, depending on the proficiency of the letter coding staff of 30.”

The second stamp depicts one of the Toshiba sorting machines currently in use at the Tshwane Mail Centre in Pretoria.

Mail-sorting machines are not the most scintillating objects to depict, so hats off to the artist. Does the less-than-attractive aspect of the stamps have something to do with the tardiness of them reaching outlying post offices? It is great that the post office has something to celebrate. Now, if only that could extend to actually delivering the mail – ALL of it – on time!

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

Gracious – look at the cost of postage 42 years ago – one could trust the post office to deliver in those days too! Because postage stamps were still widely used, they were an excellent medium through which to convey important messages, to encourage celebration, and generally to draw attention to various aspects of our society. In this case, Environmental Conservation was celebrated with stamps to coincide with World Environment Day in 1976.

Our recent visit to the Mountain Zebra National Park reminded me of this First Day cover for it features the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) along with a Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatis), the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus), all of which were regarded as endangered species at the time.

The stamps were designed and painted by the renowned South African Artist, Paul Bosman, who has been quoted as saying “I see art and wildlife conservation as a symbiotic relationship. Because art keeps alive the memories of wildlife in a natural setting, it stimulates a longing in the public to know that such scenes will continue to exist in nature.” This adds a dimension to the symbolic influence of such stamps, which would have been seen by many people from all walks of life.

WATER CONSERVATION POSTAGE STAMP

On the 7th March 1997, during National Water week, the South African Post Office issued a booklet of ten stamps illustrating a theme of water conservation. The first version – from which this stamp comes – contained a pane of ten stamps which were imperforate at top, right and bottom with elliptical perforations. The stamp on this envelope would have appeared on the top right-hand corner of such a pane.

It depicts a donkey cart bearing a container of water that has been filled by a hand-operated stand pump and bears the slogan SAVE WATER for all.

Slogans for the other stamps in this series are:

SAVE WATER for farming / gardening / health / and housing. All fulfill the function of drawing the attention of the general public to the need for conserving water as it is used in so many aspects of our lives. This is an important message as South Africa is a water scarce country which depends on rain for much of its water supplies – witness the low levels of storage dams in many parts of the country in 2017 as a result of the prolonged drought we have experienced.

Postage stamps have long been a vehicle for many campaigns as well as a means of educating the population about our natural vegetation, animals, birds, minerals and natural beauty, as well as aspects of social, cultural and economic interest. So few letters are posted these days that I doubt many people even notice what the stamps are anymore.