SA 2018: ‘Being’ White in Macassar

This is not a post about the Indonesian port, neither it is a planned tourist trip. This is where the Google showed the nearest shop between Somerset West and Raithby, South Africa.  Last night we were the first family to arrive at the Country Guest House under a start lit sky.  And whilst our friends were changing flights from Dublin to Istanbul and onwards to Cape Town, we wanted to surprise them with a fridge full of kids-friendly snacks.

And so we asked Google Maps and the Google Maps showed Shoprite. The mobile screen (which I had to grudgingly hold upright to navigate my husband) promptly highlighted a blue line leading to the nearest grocery store. As the line got shorter and our car drew  nearer, the name of the village showed up on the right hand side reading MACASSAR, followed by several civic buildings, including the local council, dentist and health centre.

Macasar Village Down Town Protest 25 May 2009_1

We drew through what looked like a housing estate, not unlike many inner city places in Birmingham UK, into a small market street with an open parking lot. The cash point was right by the grocery store, we saw the machine as we were parking up. It was only when the machine started counting the notes we realised everyone was looking at us. ‘We are the only White people here’, my daughter stated the obvious. ‘This is weird’, she expected a reaction, but everything is ‘weird’ in the world of teenagers and so I pretended to busy myself with a shopping trolley.  In the country with a history of forced resettlements, segregation and controlled movements of people we suddenly became acutely aware of the colour of our skin.

We went about our business pretending not to notice the unwanted attention, some of us managing better than others, looking for Pringles, chocolate milkshakes and sun cream, only the suncream was nowhere to be seen. And then that thing happen, (that thing that always happen if you believe in simple acts of kindness), somebody noticed our we were ‘out of place’  and immediately emphasised. A guy stacking shelves left his cans of tomatoes and walked across to us: ‘Looking for something?’, he smiled broadly. ‘We can’t find any sun cream’, I pleaded. ‘Follow me’, he said and at that moment it seemed the odd feeling evaporated.  They did not stock much sun cream, he explained, but we found a dusty bottle nevertheless. They did not sell any beer, he added, but the next door ‘liquor store’ did. He located a manicure set that no one has asked for in a while. In the end, we have left the Shoprite with enough baby bells to last us for weeks!

Macassar beach

Macassar, I later read, was a village with a bit of a reputation for political action.  Situated on sand dunes not far from the popular Strand, its residents protested against relocation of people from the informal settlement Nomzamo into their midsts. They had enough of their own housing and schooling problems, let alone share their place with any newcomers. Macassar, similar to its namesake port in Indonesia is largely inhabited by Muslims with proud history of fishing and boat making skills. The sand dunes, though attracting spectacular flock of flamingos, did not manage to establish its reputation as an attractive tourist destination. Its Pavilion features in ‘the most amazing images of the abandoned beaches in the world’ on Pinterest.

Still, its PEP retail and a clothes boutique (where a young Chinese student was being trained in how to use the till) provide excellent bargain for the fair skinned who are in need of sun glasses, swimming costume or hats.



SA 2018: Winery Road

Whilst some of you wake up early to defrost your cars, we sit amongst the vineyards eating French toasts smothered in maple syrup. It is only 8.30am but the sun is already high, making our bare arms and legs look beautiful despite the lack of tan. Glancing across the table, the Helderberg Mountain seems even closer now that we’ve seen it in daylight. Grape wines hang over our heads and we couldn’t care less that Aussie flu is quietly sneaking into UK. Not today, not for the next three weeks. We are spending the North-European winter in South Africa, starting at 96 Winery Road.

Our first time outside of Europe (ever, ever in our 40 something years, with a bunch of good friends and kids that are up for adventure) – I can’t help boasting.

The Country Guest House may have a boring name but is nothing but for those who like to see the making of South African wine up close. Ken Forrester vineyards surround not only the 15 tourist accommodation cottages but sprawl far up the Raithby road. Small taster bottles of  the white, red and pink ‘petit’ are in every room, not to mention the cellars of the 96 Winery Road Restaurant that stock the full range of Ken Forrester varieties.

All that remains now is to start exploring the history of this rather posh part of Western Cape between Stellenbosch and West Somerset.  Originally inhabited by Khoikhoi people,  I struggle to find original place name for this geographical area on the internet.

Embarrassingly, I find that the term Helderberg Mountain is relatively modern, replacing the older Hottentots-Holland Mountain.  The term ‘you are speaking like a hottentot’ rings a bell with a derogatory phrase people used in Czechoslovakia during my childhood, describing  someone who couldn’t express themselves very well. Little did I know that this was a term coined by the European settlers who found it difficult to follow the click sounds of the Khoisan language and therefore referred to them as ‘stutterers’ (hottentot in Dutch/German). That just about sums up the attitude of the era everyone would rather forget.

But Ken Forrester pledges to be a modern, post-apartheid kind of winery business that treats the land and its people with respect. Everyone who looks after us, be it in around the cottage, breakfast cafe or restaurant seems happy enough, but you’d make a mistake to think they grew up in South Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi are the two most frequently quoted places of origin for staff who are clearly overqualified for their jobs.


Apart from wine groves there are lemons, limes and a tree nursery of some kind. A couple of understated lakes, one of which is  good enough to fish in.

Tall African pines dominate the landscape in the distance and our 9 year old son wants to go fishing again. In the absence of any advanced equipment, Margaret, the Malawi cleaner advises on possible bait of corn from an unfinished pizza. She tells us her Dad and her little daughter, both of whom she hadn’t seen for a good couple of years, love fishing. But it’s ok, she assures me, though there are no jobs, there are luckily no wars in Malawi.

We chat, hang our wet swim suits on the wooden fence, then walk in the direction of the Helderberg Mountain to sit by the lake, attempt fishing (& catch nothing) into the evening (8pm-ish! December) sunset.

To be continued…