Take the Hysterical Hornbill, in Hazyview, for example. Youth chic meets artisan in overalls. Or The Keg and Jock, in Nelspruit, where urban sports fan drinks alongside governmental gravy train passengers. Or Bagdad Café, in White River – the Old Lowveld looks askance, across its glass of Sauvignon Blanc, at the khaki-clad Land Rover jockey.
Lowvelders fall into a multitude of categories and we have called in a local anthropologist to assist our readers in the identification process. Here are some of his observations:
The young fall into several camps. (In fact they often fall into car parks, loos, dustbins – anything into which it is possible to fall). Shooters, or more specifically, Bugz – a luridly-coloured instant hangover – are the binding factor here. After a couple of these, whatever the imbiber’s home language or cultural stance, everyone is speaking the same incomprehensible drivel.
Uniform is broadly Mpumalanga-grunge – baggy jeans or ankle-length shorts, hanging at half-mast and exposing untanned and frequently unidentifiable parts of the anatomy, and T-shirts with subtle slogans such as SUIP AFRIKA and I LOVE MY BUSHVELD. Dreadlocks and pony-tails abound amongst the males. Females frequently have almost no hair at all or bizarre extensions which look like pineapples. They are only distinguishable by their choice of music, which can be anything from Groot Treffers to Bump.
The medium-aged (never middle-aged) are the backbone of Lowveld society. Their pub is a restaurant and they are most easily identifiable by the menu they prefer. There are the Surf’n’Turfers, dressed in brightly-coloured shirts and dresses (often with a dragon motif or heavy with red flowers). The clothes are chosen exclusively by the female of the species and worn, with great tolerance, by both sexes. (The men only wear dresses in private and occasionally when braaiing or attending government functions where they pass them off as Madiba shirts). Natural fibres are not a priority, despite the fire-risk when cooking. The music is provided by Jakaranda 94.2.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Deep-fried Brie and Cranberry Brigade male tends towards look-young cargo shorts and Woolworths seasonal 100% cotton shirts, which he believes to be genuine Ralph Lauren. His wife (or lady-friend) wears bottom-hugging jeans and a tight white T-shirt, which she calls a “top”. She is often crowned with a baseball cap sporting the name of an exclusive private game reserve (usually one for which she has done some interior design work or owned by “old friends”). The music is Fleetwood Mac and Watershed. The Nouveau Noir subcategory fits all the above stereotypes but the music is more likely to be Senegalese.
The ageless form a fascinating Lowveld culture. Khaki-clad in veldskoene and more often than not male, this group, which includes more and more up-and-coming entrepreneurs, breeds a character with a unique-to-Mpumalanga number of red blood cells, causing him to concentrate his heart-breaking intentions on innocent pale-faced visitors from further afield.
Tanned and Chesterfield-smoking, the ageless are to be found hurtling across the region in canvas-topped vehicles, specially adapted to snare the affections of unwitting tourists who have previously only ever been in love with their dogs and their ski-instructors. Most easily found at the airport, bidding moving and apparently reluctant farewells to attractive young female clients, the ageless man plays no music, preferring to woo his public with the mellifluous tones of his own cigarette-deepened voice. The comparatively rare ageless female is almost identical, in similar tight shorts, with Oakley shades and a ribald commentary on the mating habits of animals. She differs only in that she is unlikely to smoke Chesterfield.
The comparatively old Lowvelder drinks only where eating is de rigueur. This might be a gin-and-tonic get-together at the country club, a Sunday picnic with loud gospel music at Bourke’s Luck Potholes or in the Forest Falls car park, an Opskop with Windsurf-dancing at the Boeresaal or a meeting of a Christian Cell in a Pancake Bar. This group is the most culturally-aware and traditional. They do not listen to music, but they love to complain about the pronunciation on SAfm or RSG and the use of the word Lekgotla by presenters who mean Bosberaad. The men buy their clothes at Nevill’s in Nelspruit, where they are still offered a cup of coffee whilst the debate continues as to whether it should be a plain light brown or a plain light blue shirt and the women shop only on their regular trips to see their offspring who have emigrated to the Highveld.
The ancient Lowvelder hovers around on sticks or the arm of a younger relative. Ancients frequent pubs very rarely – only when dragged out by the dutiful family for an airing – and then they prefer tea and cake at The Brazilian, where the lavatory is nearby. They don’t drive as they have already had their cars purloined by their grandchildren for the hair-raising trip onto the Escarpment, a trip they last made themselves when the N4 was a single-track road from Lourenco Marques to the Reef. It took the whole day to get from Mataffin to Johannesburg and Ultra-City was a field of Cosmos dating back to the South African War, which they still remember. They are the living history of the Lowveld and they cannot bring themselves to use the words Mall or Highway any more than they can accept that such facilities have reached the land they pioneered.
The essence of the Lowveld lies in its people and their pubs are their personalities. From Shebeen to Cocktail Bar, Bushpub to Nightclub, the opportunities for Lowvelder-spotting are endless and very rewarding. Draw up a checklist and head out today…