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Blacks don’t caravan, thought Fikile Hlatshwayo when her family presented her with the idea of travelling across SA towing a caravan.

“But I had no choice,” she writes. “Either I stayed miserable and severely depressed in my secure home, or I joined my family to enjoy the beauty of our country in the most affordable way. I gave in, but it did take a lot of convincing!”So began a three-month holiday in which the family covered over 10,000km, visiting over 25 caravan parks across all nine provinces. Later they extended this, travelling over 25,000km and to more than 60 caravan parks in SA and Swaziland. Hlatshwayo, it seems, is now hooked.

Diagnosed as clinically depressed before the start of her trip, Hlatshwayo notes that depression is often perceived as a “white” disease. “In isiZulu, there is no word for depression. It is a sickness that carries a lot of stigma and is often associated with weakness, worthlessness and mental disturbance,” she writes.

Just as Hlatshwayo found through caravanning and meeting SA’s mainly white caravanning society that there are many ways in which black and white are similar, white depressives will tell Hlatshwayo that depression carries stigma even in their circles. Hlatshwayo’s candour on the subject is welcome, and refreshing, for all.

Writing is almost always a form of sharing, or of wanting to share, and it is more than evident that this is Hlatshwayo’s main aim with recording this fun traipse through SA’s many places of natural attraction. They cured her of depression and of scepticism about caravanning.

“The beauty of this type of therapy is that it is priceless and accessible to anyone,” she writes. “It does not matter who you are; anyone is prone to depression, rich or poor, but we often ignore it ... I survived all the mammoth pain through a reconnection with nature. Out in the wild, life surrounds you! The trees, flowers, birds, blue skies, rain, stars, sun and fresh air [are] all one needs to spiritually reconnect to your inner self and find a reason to live.”

Full of detail, including chatty reviews of every campsite mentioned, this is an engaging tale of transformation through Hlatshwayo’s openness to moving out of her comfort zone.

While she experienced some disconcerting brushes with the stereotyping that still pervades SA society — washing her family’s dishes in an ablution block, she was asked by a couple how much she would charge to do theirs — she found herself pleasantly surprised at how a love of nature removed the usual barriers that separate black and white in SA. When her father joined the family in Pilanesberg National Park she was surprised at how often he would disappear, only to be found having coffee with neighbours, employing his fluency in Afrikaans to make friends.

Hlatshwayo’s account is full of her own thoughts on the state of SA, and what should be done to improve race relations, entrepreneurship and immersion in each other’s cultures, so that the reader feels he or she is simply having a coffee with her in a camp chair under the shade of a camelthorn tree. This is one of the most realistic, yet optimistic, books to come out of a nation that is at present, and with reason, generally somewhat maudlin.

Along with the candid chatter on depression, cycling accidents, racism and finding joy and healing in nature and family come snippets of engaging information, such as that there are 13 otter species in the world and that the eland is the world’s largest antelope species.

“I realised travelling brings freedom and stimulates introspection,” she writes. “I reflected on those many years of hard work in the office, slaving to become wealthy because I had been convinced that money was the sole determinant of happiness ... My life is now complete because money no longer drives me but time with my family does.”

This is not a new sentiment, but it is a touching one, full of enduring truth made more compelling through Hlatshwayo’s enthusiastic willingness to tell a deeply personal story openly and honestly.

Hlatshwayo’s account is a worthwhile read for anyone who loves caravanning, those who have had the thought of a caravanning trip even cross their mind and people who think they would hate it.

It’s true that SA’s campers are mostly white people or foreigners, but that is slowly changing. For whites, here’s a reminder of the reasons why it is loved, and a caution not to expect that every not-white person in a campsite is “staff”. For those who believe caravanning is not in their culture, Hlatshwayo offers a compelling argument for it to be tried at least once.

There have been many ugly incidents this year in which racism has been “outed”, and much debate over whether barriers between black and white can be overcome. Looking at the riots in the US after the police killing of two men this month, it can seem hopeless.

Here’s hope.

Blacks Do Caravan
Fikile Hlatshwayo