Series: Shoreline


In the grand tradition of putting the cart before the horse (or similar), I read the coffee table book accompanying the locally-produced television series Shoreline before watching the series. The book gave me serious wanderlust, and the series did the same. Four presenters (a marine biologist, an archaeologist, a historian and a main anchor) travel the 2,700 kilometres of South Africa’s magnificent coastline, exploring the events that shape both the coast and human history.

My favourite was the helicopter footage – in truth, if the series had just been a continuous helicopter shot of the entire coast, with pauses for loo breaks, I’d have watched it. There were some surprisingly moving stories related to the war – the loss of the troop ship SS Mendi, carrying over 800 troops of the South African Native Labour Corps to France, struck me in particular. Most of the troops were rural Pondo people. The vessel was struck by another ship in the English Channel, and began sinking immediately. The men, gathered on the deck of the ship, were exhorted by their chaplain to meet death with dignity:

Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do… You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers… Swazis, Pondos, Basotho… So let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.

They apparently danced and sang as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. There is a memorial to the men in Port Elizabeth. I found so much grace to be exhibited here, by soldiers who were fighting a war to defend a country that had very little time for them, and placed them at an economic and social disadvantage.

I was also all stirred up by an interview with two elderly ladies who were members of the South African Women’s Auxiliary Naval Service (SWANS). Almost 300 women served as harbour defence staff (monitoring defence systems) and administrators during the latter years of World War II. This opened up a whole world of possibilities to the women of that era, whose career options were as limited as one can imagine in 1940. It must have been very empowering to these women to be able to participate and perform vital wartime functions in the service of their country.

One of the harbours where they served was Saldanha Bay, where a system of mines defended the bay from invasion by enemy submarines. On 1 June 1944 one of the SWANS on duty detonated two rows of mines after spotting a suspected enemy submarine on her screen. This story, as well as the revelation that during World War II there were Catalina flying boats (totally awesome planes that could float) stationed at Lake St Lucia in northern KwaZulu Natal, which flew patrols to Madagascar and back, looking for German submarines, surprised me. South Africa seems so far from the European source of the war, but there were German U-boats all the way down here and a serious war effort taking place.

For the water babies, there’s some wonderful footage of a dive with coelocanths done by the chaps from ReefTeach in Sodwana Bay, and a shark dive on Aliwal Shoal. Sand sharks in Langebaan Lagoon, shysharks at Arniston, seahorses in Knysna, leatherback turtles nesting at Sodwana, and the larger cetacean inhabitants of our coast are featured in various episodes. Unfortunately the segment on the KwaZulu Natal shark nets was poorly done, with a propaganda speech that implied that the nets are a benign invention, with most of the sharks caught in the nets surviving to be released, and not many other creatures caught at all. There was however an excellent piece on the NSRI, which I hope alerted many South Africans to this national treasure and the need to support its efforts.

The script – written by the very brilliant Tom Eaton – makes full use of the strengths and knowledge that the presenters bring to the series in their personal capacities, and there are very inspiring and pride-inducing moments that made me very pleased to be South African, and living here. I can highly recommend this series. The production values are surprisingly high given that it’s an SABC production (no offence intended). We sent it as a gift to Tony’s son in Denmark and I hope it helps him to understand some of what we love about this country.

The official website for the series is here. You can get the series on DVD here. There’s also a companion hardcover book, that you can get here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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