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.



South Africa is beset with rolling blackouts, thanks to ESKOM’s inability to provide a steady supply of electricity to serve the whole country’s needs at the same time. This is not the forum in which to rant and rave or to dwell on the whys and wherefores of the situation. Suffice it to say that having no electricity at odd times of the day is something we have had to become used to and make the best of.

On the lighter side, the lack of power has naturally made ESKOM the butt of many jokes. A lovely video clip has done the rounds depicting everything from hair dryers to photocopy machines running on gas – a sense of humour is essential here. Circulated via e-mail too is the cover of a recipe book purporting to be from ESKOM. Tongue-in-cheek, it depicts in some versions a fire, braai grid, meat and tongs – no electricity required!

Braaing runs in the blood of many South Africans. A good place to witness this is in the Kruger National Park, where every campsite and chalet has braai facilities. The major picnic areas have gas braais for hire – they are well used too for cooking anything from early morning breakfasts to lunches in the middle of the afternoon. An aroma I always associate with these places is the sizzling of boerewors, sosaties and steaks.

There is a memorably distinctive sweet smell emanating from the local hardwoods used for real braai fires in the rest camps – still the preferred method for cooking meat (and a surprising array of other dishes) outdoors.

As darkness descends across the veld and the first of a myriad of stars begin to twinkle overhead, pinpricks of light appear all over the camping area. Flames flicker at first, then long fiery tongues take hold of the wood. Conversations brighten along with the flames. At last the coals are ready … the feasting begins.

And at home? Braais continue to be popular. Kitchen makeovers have increasingly included gas hobs at least, and even non-campers have taken to owning a portable gas cooker of one kind or another. Candles are evident in every home. At times camping and outdoor shops have run out of supplies of lamps – the demand for them is so great. Torches are kept handy.

This morning our ‘load-shedding’ was between 9 and 11:30, which was not too bad for breakfast was over by then. As wielding an iron, washing machine, vacuum cleaner or computer was temporarily out of the question, I used the opportunity to soak up the mild sunshine in the garden while enjoying watching birds with a clear conscience.
The garden is lit up by a swathe of yellow canary creepers, bright orange Cape honeysuckles, orangey-red aloes, pink hibiscus, and pale blue Plumbago blossoms.

What a delight. Of course this is very different when ESKOM switches off our power at night!



A few days ago I witnessed the joy of a schoolgirl who had just passed her driver’s licence test. She was ecstatic and told everyone she met about her success. Wherever she walked she was surrounded by squeals of delight and given hugs of hearty congratulation. She was still smiling broadly the next day.

What personal freedom is wrapped up in that licence to drive! Wherever one goes in our town – at whatever time of the day – one will come across learner drivers earnestly looking in all directions at every stop street, again and again regardless of the build-up of vehicles behind them, before proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Some drive painfully slowly up the steep hills. Others tend to hog the middle of the road as if using the white line as a guide to straight steering. They are difficult to pass and we all have to exercise patience, knowing that we too have been through that process.

Such freedom! Learning to drive is one of the rites of passage we go through that lead towards our independence and being able to take charge of our lives in a way we never could before. As an aside, it is interesting to note how quickly the willingness to walk from one end of town to another fails when a new driver has ready access to a vehicle. The sooner one obtains that important licence to drive, the sooner one can take off.

The open road awaits with adventures during and at the end of every journey, no matter what the reason is to travel.

Over the years we have driven through Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. We have criss-crossed South Africa over steep mountain passes, crawled around torturous corners, dodged potholes, churned through sand and mud, and shuddered over corrugations.

By following the arteries of roads we have experienced the pulse of this country in places as different as the Kalahari Desert, the Garden Route, and the diversity of the Lowveld; explored the Western Cape, marvelled at the scenery in the Free State and enjoyed the mellowness of parts of KwaZulu Natal.

We have driven through days so hot that the tar has melted in places and mirages have tricked our eyes with hallucinatory floating mountains or pools of water where none can possibly exist. We have found ourselves driving through snow that transforms familiar landscapes into the unfamiliar. At times we have had to travel past fiery sunsets into the darkness of the nights that swallow up landmarks and reduce the world to what the headlights show.

I too embraced the girl who had just obtained her driver’s licence and wished her well. She feels the world is her oyster. Having a licence to drive will help her to explore it in time.