22 April 2013

An Easter outing

We pick up Heather at 9am. The sun is blazing, the long weekend is upon us, it's time to get out of town. Hartebespoort Dam is easy to get to, so that's our aim for today. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, so the little town is busy by the time we get there, the main road clogged with visitors. As the closest resort to both Jozi and Pretoria, Hartebespoort consists of holiday homes and retirement communities. It's all very Afrikaans, as Heather points out, although I can't really tell, a white South African looks like another to me.

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The signs of autumn are upon us
We have two destinations in mind today, perfect and easily digestible both: the newly renovated cablecar going up the Magaliesberg and the film set of the comedy musical Pretville (Afrikaans link).

Hartie's Cable Car

Cable car first, to avoid the after lunch crush. But when we get there, a queue is already building, the car park full of SUVs and bakkies. Stuart gets tickets while we start queuing up the stairs. The lift was built in 1973 with Swiss equipment and know-how, but closed down in the 80's, only re-opening last year. It's a pretty nice renovation, with a few shops and cafes, clean toilets and an organised system to maximise passengers. A ticket collector checks the queue to match groups to always fill each carriage with six people. Everyone is happy to jump the queue. We wind our way up the ramp until we enter the station hall, a big room open at the end where the carriages slide in and out on overhead wires.

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The lift cars are small, green and glassed in. They keep moving as passengers get out and in. We have to swap seats to balance each other's weight, then the car slides off with a big whoosh like a fairground ride. Suddenly, at great speed, we are above the car park, and then above the wild hills. Underneath is a thicket of green trees, red earth, yellow rocks. We gain height and the valley unfolds below us. In the distance the green-blue of the dam blazes in the sun. Behind it low hills point the way to Joburg, while to our right and left the eroded slopes of the Magaliesberg step away from us in geometric uniformity. Below me I can make out a thin path winding uphill. Above me the slack lines of the cable connection hold us in the air.

The threesome opposite us, a couple and their lady friend visiting form Cape Town, smile at our excited exclamations at the view. The visitor was not impressed. Having the table mountain cable car on your doorstep, this must be a comedown. I am intrigued: by the sheer cliffs we pass and the trees growing stubbornly out of a tiny crack in the rocks; by the possibility of seeing animals; by the loud fresh green against the harsh dry red soil.

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The ride is over too soon, and we step off the moving cart at the top station. A walkway guides us around and up the hill with pointers along the way. It's hot, with children jostling to climb the rocks on the edge of the hill, nervous parents holding on to their hands to prevent fatal falls. Haartebespoort spreads below us in a hot haze. We can just make out the sailing marina, the main road and blotches of retirement estates.


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Pretville's hairdresser set

Next we backtrack to Pretville, the film set for a 50s Afrikaans musical. It's an incongruous place, a fake ice-cream coloured confection used to film an all-singing, all-dancing spectacle of history white-washing. While the Group Areas Act was being designed to force families from their homes, the diner served milk shakes and the pharmacy treated babies with colic.

An innocuous-looking police car is parked in the square, dinky and cute. I have the overwhelming sense that it is missing a black offender of the pass laws in the back. The car repair shop lacks an oily labourer, and the tiny prison tucked away behind the children's clothing store really should have been staffed with ANC supporters. The place feels like a lie, all of us white people (unlike the cable car, there are no actual black faces at Pretville) wandering about this movie-glossed version of a reality that never was.

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the sweet shop
Unlike the photos in a photo book I saw recently, where the poverty of mind and life, the harsh conditions of the Karoo, the wiry stubbornness and hateful relationships with blacks was clear and unmistakeable, here all the issues have just been airbrushed out of the picture. I guess the 50s in South Africa is just not a a historical period that lends itself to bubblegum entertainment.

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On the way home, by way of irony, we passed Diepsloot, one of the biggest 'informal settlements' just north of Joburg. This woman was cutting straw from a fallow field across the township to sell as roofing material. No pink here.

You can see more photos on Flickr:


1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you wrote about this...I'm not sure I will ever get to it.