Dr. Livingstone, I presume…
If you should ask me about my favourite part of South Africa, my answer would likely be the last place I have been to. But there are some very special places that I always dream of going back to. One such place is the Northwest corner of South Africa, the outermost edge of the Northern Cape Province bordering Namibia. I have a special love of the Northwest. I love the simplicity of miles and miles of – nothing. Only an expanse of flat, dry country, dotted with some red Kalahari sand dunes.
Driving from Johannesburg all the way to Port Nolloth on the Atlantic seaboard can be very tiring. The way there takes you on the N14 via Upington and Springbok, over fourteen hours of straight driving. By the way, if I say Port Nolloth is in the Northwest corner of South Africa, this can be a bit misleading, because to get there from Johannesburg you actually head towards the Southwest.
Moffat Mission Station. All pictures © Ina de Klerk
The Mission Station also has an interesting history. From what I remember, the first missionary was killed. Scottish missionary Robert Moffat then arrived in 1820 with his wife, both sent by the London Missionary Society, and built the famous Moffat Church. This building was completed in 1838 and is still in use today. Another legacy of Robert Moffat is the Setswana Bible, translated and then printed by him on a printing press that is still on display in the mission schoolroom. It was the first bible that was ever printed in Africa.
As missionaries do, the Moffats developed a lovely garden, and it is told that their daughter Mary loved to sit under an almond tree in that garden. Although the almond tree is now just but a stump still standing, the garden is still lovely, still my favourite place to rest. The heat in the Kalahari can be severe, but even in August, during the South African winter when the trees are still bare, I always find time in my journey to go and find peace, rest and quiet, right there in Mary Moffat’s garden.
In those days Kuruman served as the “Gateway to to the Interior of darkest Africa,” according toThe Rough Guide to South Africa. Everybody wanting to explore Africa’s interior sooner or later made his way through Kuruman. So did David Livingstone. He would take time off his journeys of exploration and stay right there at the mission, where he lived in a small room behind the main administrative building. Here he met Mary Moffat and fell in love with her. It is told that he proposed to her right under her favourite almond tree, before they set off to explore more of Africa.
The elder Moffats eventually returned to England in 1870, but the mission carried on until 1950, when it fell victim to the Group Areas Act of the newly elected Afrikaner government and their newly instituted policy of apartheid. The mission school was closed and decades of multiracial worship at the mission church came to an end.
From Kuruman, I continue my trip to Namakwaland [the English spelling is Namaqualand, but in Afrikaans it is spelled Namakwaland]. Namakwaland is famous for its flowers, and it is these flowers that are usually the reason for my trip. If they have good rains in May, which in South Africa is late autumn, then by early August – when spring is hinting from around the corner – the land is covered for miles and miles with a carpet of colour. A vast expanse of the most beautiful flowers you can imagine!
Nothing to me is quite as beautiful as the flowers around Springbok in August, waiting for me every year at the end of the long road.
The fabled flowers of Namaqualand