Flamingos, the President, and AK47s (Botswana and Joburg).

This is part 3 of the road trip of a life time: from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, then across the bridge to Livingstone, Zambia and back again. If you like that social justice stuff, check back later. If you like travel, stay tuned. Part 1 is here (Vic Falls) and Part 2 is here (Livingstone).


Botswana was very open. And flat. In the Number One ladies’ detective agency, there is a line where she says, “You can walk for a very long time in Botswana and still not be anywhere.” This is true. There are less than 2 million people. But it’s beautiful. There are termite mounds, and donkeys, and warthogs. We saw a herd of 18 elephants, just on the side of the road, taking a bath in a lake.

Flat, golden pans in Botswana.
Flat, golden pans in Botswana.

We stopped at Nata near the Makgadikgadi pans, huge flat areas, salty from the sediment of lakes that dried up. Some parts are completely grassy, some are open, dry, white, salty sand, and some still have a thin layer of water. We saw some birds walking on the water, only to realize they were stepping in puddles so smooth and still they looked like a lake. We saw hundreds of flamingos in the bird sanctuary that evening. Every thing felt open, and free, and big. I love the rolling green hills of the Midlands, but being somewhere wide and flat and people-less helped my soul expand a bit.

The president's camp
The president’s camp

The president of Botswana was also camping out (we have good taste) but we tried two different ways to meet him and both failed (one was the ignorant tourist approach, but his guards played the “ignorant guard” back, and acted as if they were just there for a fishing trip. With AK47s. You know. That’s how we roll. Then we tried the flat out and ask approach a bit later, but were told when the president was in camp, he didn’t want to be disturbed. If we saw him out and about, that was another matter).

After Botswana we stopped in Joburg to visit the Apartheid Museum. Every. South African. Should see this. It was a work of art. From the moment you approach, it’s concrete block structure feels like a prison. On your ticket, you’re randomly assigned “white” or “non-white” and you can only enter through your specific door, separating up the group (kind of traumatic). Then you’re taken through displays showing the build up to apartheid, life under apartheid, and then finally freedom.

There are some parts you don’t forget:

Walking into a room dedicated to those who lost their lives in detention (you could be detained without trial for over 180 days)- a stark grey room, with solitary confinement cells on one side, a long list of names of those who lost their lives at the back, and a noose hanging from the ceiling for each one.

from apartheid museum website

Walking past an armored vehicle, through a dark room with huge screens showing the violence of the 90’s (the Afrikaaner right-wing resistance, the ANC and IFP battles, the protests), and into a small narrow room where you could listen/watch interviews of people who were present at the negotiations for our first election. The room has memos from the negotiations, our constitution draft, crossed and marked with ballpoint comments, but through huge glass window  you can still see the massive screens showing footage of the violence that was happening outside these talks.

Staring at a display of AK47s that were turned in at Mandela’s request to throw our weapons into the sea, now decommissioned, broken down into bits.

from the apartheid museum website
from the apartheid museum website

Walking down a corridor and seeing photos of that first election day: A white guy standing by a NP sign in an ANC shirt, an IEC official visiting someone in the hospital so they can cast their vote, lines and lines of people snaking across the grass…

Then walking into the final room, where the pillars of our constitution are standing, and seeing the preamble to our constitution, and seeing how far we’ve come

from the apartheid museum website


We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to —

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

We’re heading home. Victoria Falls is still ringing in my ears, I’m thinking about those broken down AK47s, and the line from Handel’s Hallelujah chorus is playing as we drive through the waves of golden grass:

The Kingdom of this world

has become,

the kingdom of our God,

and of his Christ!

And hoping, hoping, for that moment when the whole world will stand at the edge of Victoria falls, and throw their AK47s down, down, 3kms below and watch them splash like tiny little pebbles, and then get caught up in the terrible awe, and joy, and celebration of the smoke that thunders around the glorious throne of God.



2 thoughts on “Flamingos, the President, and AK47s (Botswana and Joburg).

  1. Thanks so much for writing this. As someone who shares my ‘two worlds’ you express so well so much that is important to me. Thank you and have many more happy travels, whatever ‘world’ you find yourself in.


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