I used to be an avid stamp collector – never serious enough to warrant being called a philatelist – from a young age. The range of subjects depicted not only on South African stamps, but the excitement of finding stamps from other parts of the world thrilled me in the days of no internet, no television – and no cell phones! As Christmas approached the pile of mail my father brought home increased in size and interest: Christmas cards were posted from so many places that piqued my interest enough to enjoy receiving a stamp album, hinges, as well as a magnifying glass as gifts. I would happily spend time carefully soaking stamps from envelopes, waiting for them to dry, and then sorting them. Like most beginners, I began by sorting stamps into countries – doubtless guided by the printed albums of the time.

Then I realised my real interest lay in themes. I sorted my growing collection into categories and gradually became aware of narrowing my interest to mainly environmental themes. Along with this came a desire to develop a set of themed stamps into a narrative, which the stamps would illustrate. I found some of these the other day which included the development of agriculture, how elephants have been used by humans, and the clan totems of the Tswana people as depicted on the stamps of the then Bophuthatswana. During the period we lived in that ‘independent’ homeland, I discovered a particular richness in the stamps of the various homelands that pitted the map of South Africa.

There used to be a rich diversity of topics featured on the stamps that adorned even the most mundane postal items. Look at the corner of this envelope franked in Port Alfred, a seaside town not far from where we live. We still regularly received mail in 2017 – alas hardly ever any more.

There is a mixture of two series of stamps on this envelope: of the eight stamps used, five come from a series launched in September 2010 that featured the Richtersveld conservation landscape. This area, in the north-west of the country, is the eighth World Heritage site in South Africa. The Richtersveld was returned to the Nama people under the land restitution programme and is maintained as a conservation area. The stamps were designed by Jolindi Ferreira, who was a student at The Open Window School of Visual Communication, in Pretoria, at the time. The ones here depict a Grey Rhebok, a Namaqua Sandgrouse and a Namaqua Chameleon.

The other three stamps, designed by Sacha Lipka, are of beadwork artefacts held in the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town. They show a Zulu neckpiece of lion’s claws, a beadwork angel, and a beadwork cell phone.

With so little in the way of actual mail finding its way around the country, I have probably not purchased postage stamps for the past three years at least. Looking at these ones makes me realise how much we miss!

Note: Click on the photograph for a larger view.


There have been a number of lizards and geckos in our garden of late that I dug into my box of commemorative covers for this one from Bophuthatswana (now North West Province) featuring lizards.

The Common flap-necked chameleon features in the drawing, while the date stamp shows the Common striped skink.

According to the notes in the envelope the 11c stamp features a Yellow-throated plated lizard, which has a very long tail and lives in a hole dug at the base of shrubs or trees, or under rocks or logs.

The 25c stamp shows a Transvaal girdled lizard, which is a rock-dwelling species found at fairly high altitude. It feeds almost entirely on insects.

The Ocellated sand lizard graces the 30c stamp. This quick and slender lizard inhabits the drier sandy areas of the bushveld, retiring quickly to its burrow when disturbed.

The large, mainly nocturnal, gecko – Bibron’s thick-toed gecko – is featured on the 45c stamp.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the names of some of these reptiles may have changed over time.

Here is a closer view of the stamps:

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.


We all know that Geological Time is measured very differently from the time we measure daily by virtue of clocks, watches, and a calendar or even by watching the passing of the sun. The International Union of Geological Sciences held their 35th Annual Congress in Cape Town in 2016. I bold that date for this prestigious event was commemorated by the South African Post Office in the form of international postage stamps – a good choice in terms of exposure.

These stamps are finely detailed in colour and what is unusual about them is that on the back of the sheet are black and white drawings with the key to what each stamp reveals.

Behind the times? Well, the first time I set eyes on these stamps was about a month ago when I finally managed to wiggle some international stamps from the post office – this is in 2018! Where have they been in the interim? Languishing between the pages of stamp books because so few people actually buy stamps anymore? Did someone forget to send them to post offices outside the main centres until the event was long past?

This is symptomatic of a postal service that seldom delivers anything on time – if at all!


The homeland of Venda in the north east of South Africa close to the Zimbabwe border was granted independence in 1979. It also bordered the Kruger National Park and its capital was Thohoyandou. All the homelands were re-incorporated into South Africa in 1994. Of interest to us is that the area is home to several species of aquatic birds and this first day cover from 1987 features two ducks, two geese and a teal.

The first of these is what used to be known as the Knob-billed Duck but is now known simply as the Comb Duck (Sarkidiornis melanatos). These large ducks have a speckled head with contrasting blue-black and white plumage. Only the males sport a rounded knob on the bill, which grows larger during the breeding season. I have only seen them in the Kruger National Park, where they are a common resident. They can also be seen perching in trees and are known to breed in the same tree trunk in successive seasons.

The next is the rather elegant looking White-faced Duck (Dendrocygna viduata) – appropriately known as Nonnetjie-eend in Afrikaans, for it can fleetingly be compared with a nun’s habit. These dark brown ducks have a white face and throat and finely barred flanks. The neck of the female is tinged with russet. Thanks to their distinctive three-note whistling call, they used to be called White-faced Whistling Ducks. Flocks of these ducks occur in open water and they nest on the ground in thick vegetation near water. I have occasionally seen them in the Addo Elephant National Park, but mostly in the Kruger National Park.

The Spur-winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is one of the largest waterfowl, with the males weighing up to 10Kg. While it is a predominantly black bird, its bill, face and long legs are a pinky-red. It nests in dense grass, or in a shallow scrape in the ground. They prefer moist habitats such as dams, vleis, pans and large rivers, although fly some distance to feeding grounds.

The Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) has a distinctive chestnut patch on the chest (giving rise to its Afrikaans name, Kolgaans – akin to a target) and a broad chestnut rim around the eyes. They are common residents all over South Africa, frequently claiming small pools or dams for their own use and aggressively chase away others during the breeding season especially.

The commemorative cover features the Red-billed Teal (Anas erythrorhyncha), which is readily identified by its dark cap, pale cheeks and definitive red bill. These common residents are seen around dams and waterholes all over South Africa. They usually occur in either pairs or flocks, rather than as single birds. They nest in dense vegetation close to water. It is interesting to note that the males depart before the young can fly.

Reference: Complete Photographic Guide: Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.

My dearth of waterfowl photographs shows a gap that simply must be filled!


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!