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South Africa Beyond diamonds and wild animals
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Yes, I did enjoy very much the exciting experience at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which is regarded as one of the finest conservation areas in Africa offering all the major species, though I was not lucky enough to meet big lions and quick leopards. But what impressed me most about South Africa were its splendid architecture, its unique geography and its enthusiastic people.

A ‘Europe’ in Africa

Somebody said South Africa looks like a small United Nations in terms of its diverse buildings. That’s somewhat true. You can see nearly all the European architectural styles in that country.

I saw a typical Dutch-style house when I was visiting a wine company in suburban Cape Town; it featured white walls covered by a roof of thick grass and was equipped with large kitchens and reception rooms. South Africa is first mentioned in literature dating back to 1488, when the Portuguese sailor Bartholomew Diaz first found the Cape of Good Hope. Some 160 years later, Dutch migrants settled and established the first European colony. So most of Dutch-style houses we can see now are in the Western Cape.

The style changes in downtown Cape Town, though. The city is dominated by the gothic-style architecture which can be seen in The Company Gardens and along many streets with European names. Close to those tall buildings are many simple one- or two-story houses which, as I was told, were built for servants and slaves 100 years ago. The houses had no address numbers at all. People later painted those houses in different colors to identify them. Those houses now look a little odd but are interesting. The city flourished as French, English, American, Portuguese, Austrian, Spanish, Swedish and Prussian people arrived. The building styles became diverse then. The Victoria buildings emerged and more and more modern buildings were constructed to suit the local climate.

In Johannesburg and Pretoria, the buildings look more British. I saw them in Justice Square, where some famous buildings are located, including the former Congress Hall, the Supreme Court and National Post Office, and on some old streets. Another impressive piece of architecture I was shown was one of Sir Herbert Baker’s masterpieces — the Union Building, constructed between 1910 and 1913. And the most amazing building might be the Palace of Lost City in Sun City, three hours from Johannesburg. The buildings, along with a big man-made tropical rain forest, looks more splendid than any real palace.

Now I must mention Soweto. After visiting the fascinating Apartheid Museum and being moved by it, I found myself in a big township where a large number of small houses are located. I was told that this is the famous “Black City” — Soweto, the largest black community in the world covering 100 square km. Nearly 4 million black people live there. Among the houses is the old residence of former President Nelson Mandela. Though crowded, the houses did not look as bad as I had expected. A local guide told me that the houses were much better then before, as the government had allowed the blacks to buy their own houses and given them subsidies to decorate the houses. Still, I saw many crowded slum dwellings made of sheet iron near Johannesburg Airport. The poorest people must live there, I guess.

Fantastic southernmost point

South Africa has an area of 1.22 million square kilometers and a long coastline of 3,000 km. A part of the scenic coastline can be seen at Cape Town, which might be the most beautiful city in the world. When you see the pure sky, the blue ocean, the white sand, the colorful buildings, the charming harbors, the strangely-shaped mountains and the unique confluence of two oceans, you might agree with me.

Take the famous Table Mountain. It is a stone mountain with its peak reaching about 1,000 meters above sea level. The mountain looks very strange as the top is flat and seems to have been cut by God. This makes it look like a huge table hanging above Cape Town. People have to ride a cable car to get to the top since it’s very difficult to climb. Nearly 20 million visitors, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, have reached the peak this way since the cable car opened to the public 79 years ago. While standing on the peak, you can enjoy the fantastic scene of the whole of Cape Town, the blue sea around the city and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. I saw a group of little dassies sitting on a crag beneath where I was standing. I was told those are the closest relatives of elephants!

Some 52 km south of Cape Town is the magic of the Cape of Good Hope. A big lighthouse and the statue of Jan van Riebeeck, the first Dutch settler, came into my sight. I carefully checked the famous signpost on Cape Point to look for a sign pointing towards Beijing. Unfortunately, I could not find it . I had been told it was there before and don’t know why it had disappeared. Another unbelievable thing I saw was a long line between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. The colors of the two oceans looked a little bit different.

People like speaking Chinese

Contrary to what I had expected, most of the people I met in South Africa were very nice and friendly. News stories about a group of Chinese being attacked in South Africa earlier this year had scared many Chinese.

I, along with the others from Chinese media, were very happy to see the smiling faces. To my surprise, many South Africans spoke a few words of Chinese. When we were touring the Justice Square in Johannesburg, a friendly young fruit vendor shouted at us: “Chang chang! Chang chang!” (“taste” in Chinese). “Ni hao” (“how do you do” in Chinese) was heard very often not only in hotels and restaurants, but also in shopping centers and some companies. At a restaurant run by a group of Zulu natives in Soweto, we were moved by the enthusiasm of Zulu waitresses. They took pictures with us and one of them gave me her e-mail address so I could send copies to her.

What further surprised me was that many people there knew about Shenzhen. The first South African I met was Schoeman Du Plessis, the counselor of the South African Embassy in Beijing. He looked happy when I introduced myself, and said: “Shenzhen, a beautiful city. I was there last year with the foreign minister and met your mayor.” I heard roughly the same words later from Themba Maseko, CEO of Government Communication and Information System, and Majila, a director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Once an official in Beijing asked Maseko which city in China he liked most. He answered without hesitation: “I know most of you come from Beijing or Shanghai, but I want to say Shenzhen.” “Why?” I asked.

“Shenzhen is an amazing young city with fast development. The success of the city can be attributed to right planning, excellent execution and strong support from the Central Government. South Africa is also a young country. I believe we can learn from Shenzhen in many ways,” Maseko said.

(Shenzhen Daily May 5, 2008)

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