Justin D. Fox
South African author, photojournalist, lecturer and editor
With Both Hands Waving: A Journey Through Mozambique (2001)Edit
- There’s a word the locals use for a backpacker: pachiça. It refers to those who carry their baggage or bundles on their heads. In the old days it applied to slaves – the dispossessed who were forced to make the long trek to the coast. Just then it seemed as though the old word had found a perfect match in these coast-bound, tourist slaves.
- I realised too that I had been slave to the nostalgic dream of a pre-war Mozambique passed down as family lore. I had been a pachiça, carrying a pack of saudades handed down through grandparents, parents and siblings. Along the way I’d shed much of the baggage and forged my own relationship with the place, bred a new set of experiences to feed my progeny, or those who cared to listen.
Cape Town Calling (2007)Edit
- Perched on the southern tip of Africa, far from the centre of anything, many writers have lamented the cultural backwardness, the oppression of living in a divided city. Even as Cape Town evolves, grows more cosmopolitan, holds its first Picasso exhibition, becomes an international convention hub, acquires its very own fashion week ... I still can’t help feeling the old unease. Is it the parochialism and cliquishness that outsiders comment on, joking that only third-generation Capetonians are really accepted? Is it the self-satisfied airheads basking at Camps Bay cafés, flicking golden curls and agonising over which cocktail to order? Is it the smug self-sufficiency that comes with having so much beauty on your doorstep that you don’t need to connect with your neighbour? Is it something to do with the schizophrenia of the city not being quite African, of holding onto Europe’s apron strings, of not knowing who or what it really is? Or is it the crime, that ubiquitous topic of so much conversation and so little action, which makes this one of the most violent cities on earth?
- But then again, Cape Town is an old lover. There are good days and bad days. Mostly, I think, I have made my peace. On the stormy days – perhaps a Cape Times report on gangland rape, or Sol Kerzner’s promise of a Noddyland hotel for the Waterfront, will trigger my unfaithfulness – Potchefstroom and Perth look suddenly greener. On the good days – maybe a school of Heaviside’s dolphins playing outside my window, full-moonrise from Signal Hill or a spring morning so unutterably blue it demands to be drunk, not written about – life here seems unrepeatable anywhere else in the world. As in all relationships, the dialogue is never over.
- Many grand notions and titles have over time attached themselves to this place: a paradise at the southern tip of Africa, the world’s richest floral kingdom, a maritime fulcrum between West and East, a European outpost at the foot of the continent, the Tavern of the Seas. But the two names that are the most potent are also two of the earliest: the contradictory claims of this being both a Cape of Storms and a Cape of Good Hope. The tension between these ideas encapsulates many of the tensions of this city.
- Legend has it that the first Portuguese navigator to round the southern tip of Africa, Bartolomeu Dias, named this stormy peninsula Cabo das Tormentas. However, King João II rejected Dias’s name in favour of one that would be more inspirational for the Portuguese people: Cabo da Boa Esperança. The turning point for the Lusitanian caravels would spell untold riches in the East. But the dialectic between the two contending titles is as virile today in a city whose promise is limitless and whose socio-political storms act as a sea anchor.
The Marginal Safari: Scouting the Edge of South Africa (2010)Edit
- After Gordon’s Bay, I was into veld, snaking towards Koeëlbaai on the R44, the prettiest road in South Africa. The way, now, was open, free of traffic, buildings, humans. My spirits lifted. On the left were towering cliffs, the fynbos was green and I rolled down the window to let in the fragrance. Far below waves crashed against granite boulders, their booming sound reaching me moments after each detonation. I was self-consciously taking it all in, relishing it, this road that would be mine for many weeks to come.
- Jumbled black rocks adorned an otherwise pale, flat landscape of salmons and khakis. Mountains rose in distant ridges. Out there in the Namaqua sea, I found myself thinking of South Africa as an island. Like Robinson Crusoe, I was walking its perimeter, noting the extent of my domain, checking for cannibals, finding fresh water. Sure, there were 47 million others who might make such a claim, but theirs were no more valid than mine, only similar. Beating my drum, singing the land, proclaiming it mine from coast to coast.
The Impossible Five (2015)Edit
- My Impossible Five would be: Cape mountain leopard, aardvark, pangolin, riverine rabbit and (naturally occurring) white lion. These animals had survived into our modern age largely due to their elusiveness. Their ‘impossibility’ was their tenuous insurance against extinction. They were still wild and free, most of them living outside national parks, still occupying the same territories they had for millennia. As such, they were symbols of wilderness – that wildness once everywhere, and which is now drastically curtailed and shrinking by the day.
- Their continued presence, even if never seen, was a comfort, a kind of ecological money in the bank. If they disappeared or were driven into contained environments, our human species would be far poorer for it. I began to think of my creatures’ impossibility as their saving grace – our saving grace. In this light, it didn’t matter if I found none of them, and my mission was a complete failure. As long as I knew – we knew – they were still out there, that would be enough.
- We are part of nature and it is part of us. Everything about our species, from the shape of our teeth to the size of our brains, has been fashioned over millennia by our interaction with the plants and animals around us. What’s more, our sense of beauty and our greatest artistic achievements have been crafted in response to nature. Our yearning for wilderness is a hankering after the place we have come from, and from which we have become alienated in the headlong march of so-called progress.
- The end result of our current path is the extinction of Homo sapiens. It is imperative that we cherish and protect wild places and the creatures they harbour. To harm them is to harm ourselves. All of us are sailing through space together on the same fragile, leaky ark. We are dependent on our shipmates for far more than their meat and hides, their horns and scales. Both our continued existence, and the wellbeing of our souls, hinge on the complex matrix of life around us.
- We must affirm that the wilderness is not for sale. Its creatures are not commodities, and must never be viewed as mere ‘natural resources’. Even a single pangolin scale should be treasured. Each one is, in fact, priceless.