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Ms. Smith shares images from South Africa

Ms. Smith shares images from South Africa

Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 8:00 pm

The Delphian Review Club recently met at the home of Betty Smith.
A delicious chocolate cake was provided by co-hostess Emily Elliston.
Ms. Smith gave a PowerPoint presentation on her 2010 trip to South Africa with a group of Tennessee Master Gardeners. The group arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, after an 18-hour flight from Washington, D.C. The first day was spent recouping from the trip and shopping. She said it was impossible not to notice the guards armed with rifles patrolling the market. They were able to observe many of the items sold at the market being made on the premises. She said the group was skeptical of the origin of some of the items assuming they were made in China. However, they discovered that these items were indeed made in Africa, but most were imported from Kenya.
South Africa is known for its bead work. The industrious Africans take little bits of “trash” and produce interested and often beautiful items. Ms. Smith returned with small guinea fowl, which is indigenous to South Africa, made from a mango seed. She said elaborate bowls woven from colored telephone wires, which would sell for around $5 at street markets in South Africa, are selling for $40 at the gift shop at the Birmingham Botanical Garden.
She said South Africa is a country of extremes. It is stunningly beautiful with pockets of abject poverty. Security measures are everywhere, which include homes surrounded by high walls topped with broken glass or razor wire. The group stayed in Sandton, the financial district. Many five star hotels were built for the World Soccer Games but they have been taken over by squatters so downtown Johannesburg is rarely visited.
The first full day of the tour was spent exploring Johannesburg. This included a tour of Soweto the home of two Noble Peace Prize winners, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. In many ways, the story of Soweto is the story of South Africa; this is where the seeds of South African freedom took root. The tour included all the major points of interest, such as the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Freedom Square, Hector Pieretersen Memorial and Nelson Mandela’s former home. This sprawling township was the scene of the tragic riots of 1976. Despite crowded, chaotic conditions, there is a tangible sense of community in these neighborhoods which the ordered walled suburbs lack. After touring Soweto, the group visited a garden center outside of Johannesburg and the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden.  
The next day the group flew to Cape Town. The first stop was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This is one of the world’s premier botanical gardens. While in Cape Town, the group explored Table Mountain, a world heritage site and home to more plant species than are found in the whole of the United Kingdom. The viewing decks offered breathtaking vistas of Cape. Several exquisite private gardens were on the Cape Town portion of the tour. Also on the itinerary was the Cape of Good Hope which is the most southwestern point in South Africa. This is where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean converge. South Africa does not experience any natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes. Although Southern Africa is at the southern end of the Eurasian-African landmass, it was an isolated region before technological advances of the past few centuries. Ocean current impeded regular access by sea. The South African coastline has few natural harbors. Those in the Cape peninsula and Durban are notable exceptions.
The group also toured the Cape Winelands, the quaint colonial town of Stellenbosch, and Pretoria where they visited many extraordinary private gardens as well as botanical gardens. The tour culminated in the Africa bush where the group stayed at Pilanesberg National Park. The Pilanesberg National Park is malaria-free and borders the entertainment capital of South Africa, Sun City. It is almost perfectly circular because it comprises the area of a 1,200 million year old volcano crater with a small lake in the center. The park exists within the transition zone between the dry Kalahari and wetter Lowveld vegetation, commonly referred to as “Bushveld.” Unlike any other large park, unique overlaps of mammals, birds and vegetation occur because of the transition zone. Virtually all the animal species of southern Africa exist here, including healthy populations of lion, black and white rhino, elephants, buffalo and leopard.  
A few interesting facts about South Africa are:
• Almost every family in South Africa speaks at least two languages. Most speak three: English, Afrikaner and one of the indigenous languages.
• There are an estimated 22,000 different species of plants in South Africa. This makes up nearly 10 percent of all the plant species on earth. South Africa is only country that can claim to have one of the world’s six floral kingdoms completely within its borders. This diversity is due to the fact that the ice ages never reached as far south as South Africa.
The same tour group and tour hosts from the University of Tennessee are offering a tour of the gardens of New Zealand in December.

Published in The Messenger 5.03.12

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