My Southern African Road trip day 9, Friday 6 December 2013 – Bloemfontein to Lesotho

I spent the night in Phambile Guest house which was quite cheap, and the only problem is the fellow peeps who were occupying the other rooms in the house were a couple of fellows who made a big fat mess in the kitchen and bathrooms.  But the sleeping was fine.


I awoke to the news that Madiba had passed away.  Emotions were mixed.  Sadness that he was no longer in our world physically, but also relief that his suffering was over.  And so, it was that I was inspired to find something in Bloemfontein other than the usual Voortrekker museums and monuments.  I got enough of that in my apartheid education.  After a bit of Googling, I read about Thomas Maphikela who was one of the founding members of the ANC.  He lived in the Mangaung township in Bloemfontein.  And the house was still standing with the Maphikela family still living there.  Though they could move to ‘better’ areas, they chose to stay there.  And apparantly the public could go and visit the house and sometimes could get lucky and be let in and chat to the family.  Built in 1926, the building can be found in Mangaung Township. It is known as the birth place of the African National Congress because that is where the party was founded and Maphikela was one of the founder members and a member of the Executive Committee of the ANC in Bloemfontein in 1935.  So my adventure for the day was finding the Maphikela house.

I also read about Navy Hill, which is the site of an observatory and doubles up as a private nature reserve which anybody is FREE to visit … for FREE!  Lord knows I love FREEdom

Nothing on a map of Bloemfontein is as it really is.  The roads of Bloemfontein are totally different to the maps of the roads of Bloemfontein.  And the signs on the road informing one of sites, and accommodations and stuff are also really confusing and misleading (as they were in Kimberly too).  Its hard to explain why, but it is.  After MUCH confusion I found Navy Hill.  I saw some zebra and Wildebeest (I think)  Just running up and down together.  Just playing with each other.  Running around, now this way, then that.  It was cute.   There was also a tortoise who was a bit shy, but came out and walked about when he saw I was not coming too close.  Then as I wanted to take my bike and reluctantly ride down the dirt road in the reserve, I turned around and saw two elegant girraffes just behind me.  I managed to get some nice up close shots.  One can really get close to these animals.  They are quite curious.  When I’d finally decided to go to my bike and leave, I looked behind me and they had followed me.  So cute.  So I took a few more photos.


The observatory on Navy Hill


Animals playing around on Navy Hill nature reserve


Animals in Navy Hill nature reserve


Giraffes on Navy Hill


Shy torty on Navy Hill


selfie with a giraffe on Navy Hill

And then it was the big hunt for Maphikela House.  At first, I attempted to follow the map directions.  Then I met Jeanette, who is from Lesotho, but living in Bloemfontein.  She crochets these cute hats out of plastic!  If you want any, give her a call (+27 82 666 6887).   She tried to help me with directions, and it helped to some extent.


Jeanette crochets hats from plastic (+27 82 666 6887)

I found myself very lost, and a delivery guy on a motorbike noticed this, so he stopped and after hearing about where I wanted to go, he said he know how to get to that address.  The address was supposed to be at 52 Harvey street (So says one tourist information site). So, after many twists and turns, which I was sure I would never be able to find my way back through again (that was later’s problem), we found the address, and I bid him a big thanks, a big tip, and a ciao.  Now, where I found myself did not look at all like a township, It was an industrial area.  I went inside a car dealership to ask for advice on how to get to Maphikela house.  The kind lady at the reception didn’t know, but she did say there was a man standing on a corner near the towers in the distance who would know everything.  Indeed, there he was selling his wares, and full of information!  He sent me around the corner to speak to Albert, the man looking after the church there.  That man, he said, would tell me the history of it all.


The knowledgable man underneath the towers of Mangaung

Albert explained to me that the church was more the political hub than the Maphikela house.  It served as both a church and a venue for secret meetings of the ANC.   I think the church is also the original site of the house of Thomas Maphikela (from what his great grandson told me later that day when I finally found the house)  After telling me alot of history, he explained to me how to get to Maphikela house.  He said it was a little distance down the road and into the township Batho.


Albert guarding the church beneath the Towers in Mangaung


Inside the old church which had been totally rebuilt, and would be used as a museum in future. It was no longer used for services. On the left is the original church piano, and at the front an exposed piece of the original wall.

The directions were clear, and I did not struggle to find it.  It was not very far from the towers.  It was easy to find and quite informal.  I knocked and went in, and asked the domestic if there was anyone who could tell me a little bit about the house and the history.  She called the grandson, Andile from upstairs.  He was very kind to tell me some interesting stories, about his great grandfather how he was not allowed to own two houses, so he built one ontop of the other (double story).  Also how his grandmother hid people running from the police.  They are turning Maphikela house into a monument.  But the family will not sell it, and are still living there.  This is priceless.  They are erecting an office just behind the house for the purpose of historical tourism I think.


Signboard for Maphikela house


Maphikela house in Mangaung



Maphikela House in Mangaung


Andile, great grandson of Thomas Maphikela


A humble shrine honoring Thomas Maphikela inside the house.


The family, with Sol Plaatje (I think) who is the man credited with recording Nkosi Sikeleli


The lounge in Maphikela house

After this, came the worry that I didn’t know how to get out.  So after riding off in one direction, I came back and stopped at the Police station (right accross from Maphikela house) to ask for directions.  The friendly officer in a very animated way explained to me to go up the road, and not the first, not the second, not the third, but at the fourth robot, I turn right and that road is the N8 which goes All the way to Maseru.    When I got to Maseru I checked my fone and saw an email from the chap I did a road trip with that I’d rather forget.  After many months.  I felt very unconnected to that past, and still do, which is good.


my savior in Mangaung

It was only about 150 km to Maseru.  And what a pretty ride it was.


Road to Maseru


Road to Maseru


Road to Maseru


Road to Maseru


The road to Maseru

This is the border post between SA and Lesotho at Maseru. The border post is very informal.  At least it was for going into Lesotho from SA.  I didn’t even get ‘stamped out’ of SA, I don’t even know where that happens.  I actually managed to get completely to the other side without showing any documents.  I went back deliberately (on foot), just to get the stamp in my passport, for the novelty of it all.


Pre-border post search point


the place is a-buzz with activity


One of the gates at the border post


This is where you should get stamped in and out


Filling up at the border post

After getting some advice from the lady at the tourist office by the border, I decided to make Thaba Bosio my first stop.  The road signs are non- existent so every now and then, I had to stop to ask if I was on the right road.  The people were all very gentle, and friendly, and helpful.  A few kilometers from the border post where there were some Chinese people supervising roadworks, a taxi sped through the stop and go, and knocked me over.  People in the other cars were in uproar, and the taxi stopped to help me pick the bike up again.  Luckily nothing was broken, including me.  The following pictures were my first impressions of Lesotho.  It was clearly another country altogether.


The road to Thabo Bosio


The road to Thaba Bosio


Nokaneng Backpackers surrounds


Nokaneng backpackers and the daunting rocky path going up to it


Nokaneng backpackers surrounds


across the road from the backpackers


This is the grocery store across from the backpackers and also seems to be the local hangout


Three very camera friendly girls


The source of the playful tingeling

I decided to visit Thaba Bosio, the site of the royal graves, the following day.  Some rest was in order first.  I stayed over at Nokaneng backpackers.  Its run by a  German/American lady who says the rest of her family is settled in USA.  She says she came there 10 years ago with the UN corps, and planned to stay for 2 years only, and now its 10 years.  I think in the meantime, she started doing this backpacker full time.  Lesotho’s streets are so far really good condition.  But the driving is a bit rough.  Not nearly as bad as India, but one has to watch out for speeding drivers.

The main language  in Lesotho is Sotho of course, and where I stayed, is about 40 km from Maseru, its pretty rural, and they don’t really speak too much English at all.  The people are calm and friendly.  Just calm.  Like India only better.  Because its also clean.  In fact, the lifestyle, and the landscape reminds me alot of India.  In terms of lifestyle, if i think back to Egypt, Luxor west bank, it was pretty much similar.  Rural, is rural. They look like they are not overworked.  Its a good quality of life at a first glance.

Where I stayed over was not quiet.  There’s were cars passing on the road running past.  There’s the sounds of playful chatter in the distance, but still clear (The surrounding mountains make the sound travel/echo), there’s the bells tingelingelinging from the necks of donkeys and sheep.  When I first settled in at the backpackers, I heard this tingelingeling, and  tried to see where it was coming from.  I thought perhaps there were some children playing on make-shift instruments for fun, but when I found the source of the tingelings, I saw it was a bunch of sheep merrily walking along, with a little shepard boy of not more than 8 or 9 behind them.  Oh, the sound so reminds me of Heidi that animated tv show from my childhood.  The sounds put together is like a living orchestra.  Simple and sweet.  Between people’s properties, which are all like small holdings, is at least 50 to 100 m spacing.  There are not so much lights, so the night sky is filled with stars.  With such a dark sky, one can really see the satellites moving over.  There are so many.  If one just looks up at any patch it is really easy to notice 3 or 4 in just that piece of sky.


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