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Struik Travel & Heritage

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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

“Underground Astronaut” K Lindsay Hunter Shares Her Homo Naledi Expedition Story

Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindLittle Village reporter Genevieve Heinrich recently caught up with K Lindsay Hunter, one of the “underground astronauts” who formed part of Lee Berger’s all-female expedition team to unearth the now famous Homo naledi remains from the Rising Star Caves in the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site.

Hunter shares more about the expedition, as well as her background, training and thought-processes when she heard the call for a team of scientists to embark on what would be the adventure of a lifetime. When asked what it feels like being “neck-deep in one of the most profound scientific discoveries of our lifetime”, the biological anthropologist says:

“Honestly, my dearest wish at this point is to take either a long nap or a long horseback ride. I am passionate about outreach and communicating the science and excitement to classrooms, but being in the spotlight as an individual has not been something that I was prepared for, or have enjoyed.”

Hunter reveals that she is coordinating a book about the experience and the work of an underground astronaut and will aim it at inspiring school-age children. Originally from Iowa, she has now relocated to Johannesburg where she will be working on her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand, where Field Guide to the Cradle of Human Kind author Berger is also stationed.

Read the article to find out more about this remarkable woman:

Can you tell me a little bit about your decision-making process when you first saw the call for scientists? How long did it take you to know that this gig was something you truly wanted?

I saw the Facebook ad from Lee reposted on the AAPA (American Association of Physical Anthropologists) page in the wee hours of the morning on October 7, 2013, as I was pulling an all-nighter writing medical web content in a coffee house in Austin, TX. I re-shared the ad, tagging Lee, and immediately DM’ed it to my friend, Vance, who is a small and wiry skater that had just completed his PhD in paleoanthropology from Tulane. I had already left the program at UI and no longer thought of myself as being a part of the field.

However, as a historian and avid adventure reader, Lee’s call was immediately evocative of the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition ad, which read: “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” So, when a couple of days later, Lee thanked me for sharing in my comments, I took a chance and replied that I thought I could do it. He said that my reasoning sounded good and to go ahead and send my CV on. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meet the other members of the Rising Star expedition team:

Spelunking in a dark, labyrinthine cave is a tough ask at the best of times. Add fossil excavation through an 18-centimetre wide gap into the mix and you have a job that only a handful of people in the world can do.

Enter the underground astronauts.

This all-women crack team of six ‘trowelblazers’ was assembled thanks to an extensive social media campaign. The combination of job requirements was unique: a master’s degree or higher in palaeontology, archeology or an associated field; caving experience; and the ability to fit through an 18-centimetre ‘squeeze’ in the cave in order to reach the Dinaledi Chamber.

It just so happened that, out of more than 50 applicants, the people most qualified for the job were all young, slender women.

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Image courtesy of EWN

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History from a Different Angle: Nechama Brodie Commandeers a Red Bus to Launch The Cape Town Book

Cape Town City Hall

Nechama BrodieThe Cape Town BookWith The Cape Town Book, Nechama Brodie has written a deserving biography of the Mother City – telling the often forgotten stories and revealing magical hidden gems about the place where so much of South Africa’s history has taken place.

This book is much more than just a tourist handbook, and anything but a history lesson. It builds a bridge between old and new, contrasting contemporary settings with their origin stories. Brodie highlights the people that played a role in creating Cape Town, from the slaves and slave owners to modern-day celebrities and political figureheads, and paints a fresh picture of the city everybody loves so much.

The Cape Town Book aims to be an inclusive and comprehensive document of history, focusing on the individual, unique spaces of the city. This includes the entire peninsula, from the Cape Flats and Northern Suburbs to Simon’s Town and Kommetjie. Brodie also covers topics such as “What Came Before?” and “Who Came Before?” – the first two chapters in the book – and consults experts and archival material to tell the full story.

To launch her new book, the sister publication of the bestselling The Joburg Book, Brodie took a small group of avid bookworms on a special sightseeing trip on board one of the famous Cape Town City Sightseeing double-decker red buses. As we jolted through the city she shared facts about the things that could be seen from the top, sowing a thread from street to street and leaving no stone unturned.

“Everywhere we go history stalks us,” Brodie said as the group gathered in the Company’s Garden to start the day’s adventure. “With The Cape Town Book I want to help you notice where and when it happens.” Armed with coffee and pastries, we learned more about the living museums and preserved relics that bear testament to the very beginning of the colonisation of the Cape.

From the Company’s Garden Brodie commandeered the red bus, sending us travelling past UCT Hiddingh Campus towards parliament – where history-in-action could be witnessed as students gathered for the historic #NationalShutdown as part of the #FeesMustFall campaign – with the author acting as a bespoke tour guide.

From parliament the bus drove down Spin Street, which Brodie revealed to have been the location of South Africa’s failed silk industry, towards the Castle of Good Hope and Grand Parade. After a brief pause to take in the surroundings and all that it represents, we travelled up Buitenkant Street and onto De Waal Drive where strong winds, which have shaped Cape Town in their own remarkable way, could not deter Brodie’s captivating voice-over.

It’s fascinating to take into account that Table Mountain was at some point the bottom of what was once a much larger mountain, and that Robben Island used to be a hill on a coastal plain, the author mused as we looked towards the famous landmarks in the distance. People would have been able to walk across.

The next stop was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, albeit briefly, before the bus hit the road again, following it to Hout Bay via Rhodes Drive and past Constantia. Travelling on Victoria Road back to the city a group of whales could be seen playing in the distance, emphasising the diversity of life in the Mother City.

All along the way Brodie shared a wealth of information on the city, from the story behind the bitter almond trees planted by Van Riebeeck to logic behind the well-known Cape Dutch architecture. If the tour and is anything to go by, The Cape Town Book is sure to be an indispensable read for anyone interested in the true story of the Mother City.

Cape Town


Helené Prinsloo (@helenayp) tweeted live from the launch, using the hashtag #TheCTBook:



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Scroll through the Facebook album for photos taken during The Cape Town Book red bus tour:



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There’s More to Robben Island than Imprisonment of Political Prisoners – Sibongiseni Mkhize Explains (Podcast)

Robben IslandDuring the month of September, celebrated in South Africa as Heritage Month, CapeTalk asked listeners to nominate their favourite museums to be featured on the Fabulous Finds programme.

Many people asked for the Robben Island Museum to be discussed, so on 22 September Pippa Hudson chatted to Sibongiseni Mkhize, museum CEO, to find out more about this historical site.

“The museum is about more than just one layer of history, because the imprisonment of political prisoners is but just one aspect of Robben Island,” Mkhize said, explaining that the landmass west of the coast of Cape Town tells many important narratives relating to the history of South Africans.

Robben Island: Mandela’s prison and place of inspiration by Charlene Smith also explores the island’s history, and charts the evolution of its political and social history, from mail station, place of exile, and military defence post to maximum security prison and World Heritage Site.

Listen to the podcast to find out more about the museum, their activities and future plans:


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“It Was a Place that Evoked Fear” – AZAPO and PAC Members Reflect on Life on Robben Island (Podcast)

Robben IslandWhat was life on Robben Island like for members of The Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)?

The Forum@eight on SAfm recently explored this question through the eyes of members of AZAPO and the PAC who spent time on the island as prisoners of apartheid.

In the first podcast, activist Dr Saths Cooper and AZAPO leader Pandelani Nefolovhodwe reflect on their experience on Robben Island.

“At the time Robben Island was this feared place where people were sent away, banished, and you never heard from them again,” Cooper says.

“It was a place that evoked fear because if it could happen to Mandela, who are you?” Cooper goes on to give a historical overview of the prison, which became a “graduate school for revolutionaries”.

“When we arrived there we found that the people who were there before us were expecting to hear more about the struggles that were outside the precinct,” Nefolovhodwe says. “We also found the kind of behaviour that we were not happy with – the behaviour of accepting the status quo.” Nefolovhodwe and his fellow inmates were not prepared to accept that “in prison you have to go along with the regulations and rules of prison”.

“We came as a different crop of people who felt that the society we lived in must be attacked at all cost – it doesn’t matter whether you are outside or inside jail. So we started raising our clenched fists inside prison.”

Listen to the podcast:

In the second interview, former general secretary of the PAC Mike Muendane says he was among the first groups of political prisoners on Robben Island that came from the Transvaal, the majority of prisoners came from the Eastern Cape. He says that there were around 1 600 prisoners from 1962 and throughout 1963. “They used to call us every night, and the figure used to be 1 600 plus one, every day plus one, and the plus one was Robert Sobukwe.”

“During 1963 it was really terrible.” Muendane remembers the torture he experienced on the island, like being buried in sand, being urinated on and being hit over and over again on the legs with a wheelbarrow. He also remembers a bright man from Daveyton, where he came from, who could build bombs using the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Listen to the podcast:


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History Buffs: Join Nicki von der Heyde on Tour, Armed with Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa

Field Guide to the Battlefields of South AfricaWinston Churchill once said that “battlefields are the punctuation marks of history”.

Battlefields tour operator Nicki von der Heyde’s book Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa is an invaluable addition to any history buff’s bookshelf. In it, she covers the wars and battlefields that shaped South Africa’s history, leaving marks on our landscapes. In this vividly illustrated guide she gives special attention to the contexts and outcomes of the battles in question.

Von der Heyde is well-known for her knowledge and passion on this particular subject and has combined her love of travel and history to establish a niche tour company: Campaign Trails. On these tours travellers can choose from various options to experience and discover the battlefields of South Africa first hand.

The original tours include:

Other packages include the Best Battlefield Tour, tours for corporate clients, battlefields by bikes, specialist tours and mission tours.

History buffs, why not make use of this incredible opportunity to better understand the marks made on our country?

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