Jim Freeman
3 minute read
25 Apr 2021
12:00 pm

Living life in reverse: Suffering from ‘dateline envy’

Jim Freeman

I have not travelled much in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal...I spent a lot of time in the former Transkei region of the Eastern Cape

Transkei tongue-twister. Picture: Jim Freeman



I have often heard of travel journalists “having champagne tastes and ginger beer incomes” and, to some extent (except in a few exceptional circumstances), it’s a valid comment: we get to see and stay in places where we would normally be chased from the tradesmen’s entrance.

The funny thing is – even if we post on our colleagues’/competitors’ Facebook pages that we’re “totally jelly” – that few of us truly aspire to the luxury and ease of living we see people accepting as if it’s their birth right.


Creation-scaled. Picture: Jim Freeman

It’s rather the opportunity to visit remote and/or exotic locations that gets our juices flowing. It’s just another manifestation of what foreign correspondents  used to (and still might, for all I know) call “dateline envy”.

Let me explain. In the days when we used to write our stories – most usually on a telex machine from far-flung foreign spots, we had to tell our home offices where we were and when we were filing.

So, for instance, a newspaper in London would get a story from its man or woman in Africa datelined “Johannesburg, Friday”… The game was afoot when the Daily Telegraph’s Africa correspondent Chris Munnion beat all the other reporters to a fruitily named port at the mouth of the Congo River in West Africa in the Seventies and datelined his story “Banana, Sunday”.

Without anything official being said, foreign correspondents started competing to put out outlandish datelines, though few would ever trump Munnion’s contribution to the contest. Friend and Citizen Travel colleague Brendan Seery (then a member of the Argus Africa News Service) wrote a piece from a small mining community in Matabeleland South named after Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen.

Dateline ping-pong came back to me this past Sunday morning as I watched the sun rise over the Hemel-en-Aarde valley from the stoep of a guest apartment on Creation wine estate outside Hermanus.

Not a bad dateline in itself – “Creation, Sunday” – but it took me back to a spot in Damaraland in northern Namibia where conservationist Louis Geldenhuys was conducting the world’s first rhino dehorning project. The place was called Wêreldsend which, in Afrikaans, translates to “the end of the world”.

How many journalists, I ask you, have a) been from creation to apocalypse, b) in 35 years and c) in reverse?

My travels in southern Africa have taken me to some very strangely named places. Khorixas(also in Damaraland, where one of the predominant languages is Nama)  springs to mind. Nama and Khoekhoen names in the Northern Cape province of this country are also intriguing; Keimoes, Kakamas, Koingnaas and Koekenaap all work admirably.

Damaraland Dusk.

Damaraland Dusk. Picture: Jim Freeman

Afrikaans farming names speak of joy but more often of failure: for every Blyvooruitsig (happy prospect), there are a dozen names that speak to drought, disillusionment and despair.

The most enthralling English (well, sort of ) name I’ve come across in recent years was “Douse the Glim” which I encountered recently on my way back from Augrabies to Stellenbosch.

It apparently refers to a farmstead that was garrisoned by a Scottish unit during one of the Anglo-Boer Wars. The commander used to tell his soldiers to “douse the glim” (kill the flames) in the evenings so they would not be backlit by their cooking fires and provide targets for the enemy.

I have not travelled much in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal in recent years but I have spent a lot of time in the former Transkei region of the Eastern Cape because that’s where my African roots are.

Thank heavens I’m not datelining stories for some of our white radio stations … could you imagine some clueless newsreaders trying to pronounce Kobonqaba, Nqabarha or Qhorha while they’re still struggling with Port Elizabeth’s new name?

Transkei tongue-twister

Transkei tongue-twister. Picture: Jim Freeman