22 Sep 2015 – ZS/GP-001 Suikerbosrand

by vk3arr

28 years ago, I left South Africa as a young boy, as unrest took over and the country began a descent into chaos, followed by the painful process of renewal post 1994. Up until now, I had not returned, for various reasons (mainly financial). The time had come to rectify that situation.

I decided I’d like to take my father back, and so we planned, 6 months in advance, to take in the sights and sounds, and visit family and friends still remaining. I hoped to reinforce the memories I had of my time in South Africa – a surprising amount, given I left just prior to my sixth birthday.

We landed on Monday evening, and were taken to our lodging place – my cousin Aileen’s house – and we settled in. The next day, we decided we’d take on the nostalgic task of returning to the old house, and seeing if the old lady who’d looked after me when I was a kid was still there living next door.

We took an interesting route to get there, basically due to the fact that my Dad’s sense of direction is not as good as it used to be, given the changes in Johannesburg in the time since he’d last been there (9 years ago).

We got there in the end, and, of course, it was smaller than I remembered, despite the owner after us basically doubling the size by putting on a second storey.

Seriously, this place was HUGE as a kid.

Seriously, this place was HUGE as a kid.

The lady next door wasn’t there, and we soon found out why. Another lady was out watering some plants, so we asked her. It turned out Aunty Mary (our name for the lady next door) had been attacked in her home, tied up and beaten and left for dead in the bathroom. She had survived, but her daughter wouldn’t let her live in the house on her own anymore, and had made her move into the daughter’s house.

The lady had contact details for the daughter and the son, and so we took those down. She also phoned the son (Johnny) to let him know we had been looking for Aunty Mary.

The first day in Johannesburg was interesting and challenging. My memories of the area we lived in were decidedly suburban. Low fences, kids playing, trees, community. What I came back to was different: barbed wire, electric fences, spikes on the fences and gates, no kids playing and no sense of community. The South Africa of my childhood wasn’t safe – certainly not “Australia”-safe – but there wasn’t a perceived need for locking ourselves away.

After Johannesburg, we headed down to Heidelburg, where my grandfather and other relatives were buried. Heidelburg is not as severe security wise as Johannesburg was, but I couldn’t help noticing that the cemetery had more perimeter security than some military bases in Australia. Presumably to keep the live people out, and not the dead people in.

A quick tour around the graveyard found the ancestral resting places. The whole area was a bit Australian, due to the importation and planting of Eucalypts at the turn of the last century. The trees hid the fencing, and the whole thing looked idyllic. A nice resting place.

Given we were now in Heidelburg, and Suikerbosrand (ZS/GP-001) was just around the corner, I took the opportunity to activate it. There are two mountains in Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, although at least one appears to be incorrectly marked according to the park map. I had hoped to get at least one in, maybe two, but timing was against us, so we aimed for one.

Entry to the Nature Reserve cost about 50 Rand ($5) for the two adults and car. After that, you follow the nature drive around. We entered from the north. After a while, we arrived at the high point, and set up.

It is worth pointing out that you are not permitted to stop your car or get out while on the nature drive, so unless you’re willing to hike in, I can’t actually see how anyone could legitimately activate these summits. The point, in the end, was moot.

The ground is scrubby, so it was impossible to find something to attach the Buddistick to. In the end, I had to resort to a different kind of antenna support (while winding the power right back).

The Antenna Support

The Antenna Support

40m was a bust – I could hear a Mozambique station but couldn’t break in, and no one responded to my CQs. I had limited phone coverage too, making it hard to post spots. 20m yielded nothing as well, so I was about to go back to 40m when The Antenna Support complained of a bad back.

Recognising that pushing my luck wasn’t a good idea (the Support is showing the signs of age), I packed it up, we reversed, and then we left. We saw a small amount of wildlife, a few birds that Dad remembered from his childhood, and avoided driving over a snake (I believe I have mentioned my father’s Voldemort-like tendencies: snakes come and find him).

First attempt, failure.

The other story has a happier ending. Just before we went to Cape Town, and finding ourselves in the area again, we phoned up the daughter of Aunty Mary, to discover she was back (temporarily) at her old house. Her son now lived there, and she was visiting. So we went over, and she recognised us instantly.

Aunty Mary and me, 28 years on

Aunty Mary and me, 28 years on

We went inside, and there, sitting on her couch, sunlight streaming in, looking out the window at our old house, I saw a glimpse of the old South Africa. Pure suburbia.