South Africa’s Greatest Moments, Music and Muses

South Africa’s Greatest Moments, Music and Muses

South Africa’s Greatest Moments, Music and Muses

With the lights off half the time, South Africans have been compelled to seek novel ways to bide our time each time Eskom hits that power-off switch.

This downtime has prompted many to reminisce about their lives, their country and things that represent a South Africa which had more hope and possibility than what we’re currently faced with.

Rand Rescue takes you down memory lane with some of the music, moments and people which have made us proud over the years.

What makes SA great?

The phrase ‘the good old days’ is a rather polarising one when it comes to South Africa. For history wasn’t experienced the same way for all our citizens.

Rand Rescue doesn’t want to fixate our readers’ minds on such things that polarised our nation, but rather on those things we can be universally proud and nostalgic about. Here are a few of the favourite memories as collated from various South African groups and forums.

Sir Antony Sher – from King Lear to Superman

His name is not one which graces many lips these days, but Sir Antony Sher has certainly made a name on the international playground. Hailing from Cape Town, Sher became a Brit in 1979.

He is known for various stage and film roles as well as numerous publications. His work on stage was of such quality that he was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for his titular role in Richard III. He was appointed conductor and artistic director for the Vienna State Opera House, starred in films such as Superman II, Erik the Viking and the Wind in the Willows and appears in the extended version of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. 

Rodriguez finds a home in SA

Those who have seen the documentary “Searching for Sugarman” will be well acquainted with this heartwarming tale of South African Ubuntu and the way it extends across borders.

The US singer-songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez found little audience in his home country. In fact, he’d completely given up on music in his native home, completely unaware that he’d sold more albums than Elvis Presley in South Africa since he was never informed of any royalties earned on these records. To be fair – many of his records were smuggled across borders all the way from Angola to SA during apartheid years given the anti-establishment themes of his songs. When rumours circulated that he’d committed suicide, South African fans collaborated to trace his story and find out what had happened to their idol. While Rodriguez had also found fame in places like Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, it was his platinum album in SA which reignited his career.

The documentary won an Academy Award in 2012, but more profound was Rodriguez’s reaction to discovering a fan-base he’d not been aware of for decades. This was only made possible due to his eldest daughter discovering his South African fanbase online. He was invited back to SA for what would become a stage away from home. Met with standing ovation. It was so overwhelming that he couldn’t start playing for quite a few minutes before Rodriguez addressed the audience with his famous words, “Thanks for keeping me alive”.

His daughter would later go on to marry a South African and his family would call SA their new home.

Four Jacks and a Jill – Master Jack

Released in 1967 by the South African folk group Four Jacks and a Jill, the song Master Jack certainly stands out in many minds as one of the most iconic in our history.

While it may seem simple at first, the lyrics touch both on the major shifts in society during the 1960s as well as underlying issues of racial inequality in the country at the time. It’s been covered by numerous singers over the years, including Trini Lopez, The Chicks (NZ), Jennifer Ferguson, Steve Hofmeyer, Al Caiola, Heidi Bruhl, Tamara Saric and Ann Tholsted.

Computicket – world’s first e-ticketing system

About a decade before the rest of the world caught on, South Africa’s very own Percival Tucker founded the world’s first electronic ticketing system in 1971. But his ticketing services didn’t start there.

At the age of 10 he offered his parents’ lounge up to a touring company visiting the Benoni Town Hall in exchange for tickets to their show. In 1954 he followed such actions up with his first ticketing sales company, Show Service, after graduating with a BCom in accounting. Following this, Tucker started presenting tours of international artists and entertainers in SA via his venture South African Theatrical Enterprises.

Imbube makes it to the big screen

While most people may know the song as ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, it was originally called Mbube and performed by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds. When American musicologist Alan Lomax discovered the song, he gave it to his friend Pete Seeger from the Weavers who named and re-recorded it as “Wimoweh” before later being rewritten by George Weiss who once more renamed it.

The song has been recorded by more than 150 artists over the years and was featured in such films as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as well as Lion King. Rolling Stones Estimated that the song made an estimated $15 million for its use in the Lion King alone and in February 2006 Linda’s daughters won a settlement with Walt Disney for an undisclosed amount related to the use of his song.

Madiba unites a nation

No matter your views about former president Nelson Mandela, there’s no denying that he had great strategic vision for the country. One of the first things he focused on to unite a divided nation was to invest his efforts into garnering support for the Springboks and showing to South Africans that sport can unite us.

Nelson Mandela didn’t stop there, however. When he saw the struggles of fitness business Health and Racquet and its 85-gym chain, he approached Virgin’s head, Sir Richard Branson to intervene. Madiba’s aim was not merely to keep the business of private fitness clubs afloat, but to save the jobs of 4 000 staff members who will have lost their jobs had Virgin not taken over. Branson had taken a leap of faith given H&R’s parent company LeisureNet had collapsed under an estimated R900-million debt estimate.

Cape Floral Kingdom becomes World Heritage Site

We’ve always known there was something special about the unique plant life of the Cape, and this was finally confirmed by UNESCO in 2004 when the region was officially inscribed as a World Heritage site. The Cape Floristic Region is the smallest and richest of only six recognised floral kingdoms on the planet with 8 200 rare and endangered species located entirely within the region.

Not only that, but four years later in 2008 Table Mountain was officially named as one of 7 World Wonders by the New7Wonders Foundation. It was selected among 440 natural sites the world over.

Arnold Vosloo – the Saffa Mummy

The World is up in arms over what many view was inappropriate casting for the Netflix series about Cleopatra. But before the PC days, several people were cast in roles for characters they didn’t necessarily represent racially or culturally.

Perhaps Arnold was given a free pass as one of the few Africans to have adorned the cast of the hit film franchise ‘The Mummy’. Whatever the reasoning behind it – fans the world over still adore his portrayal of Imhotep. Vosloo has starred in numerous other Hollywood films and series such as Hard Target, 24, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation, Agent Cody Banks, Nash Bridges, NCIS, Alias, Charmed, Chuck, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Grimm and Blood Diamond.

South African ore – unprecedented wealth

The Cradle of Humankind has more significance than the mere archaeological, anthropological and geological wealth of knowledge – the asteroid which created the crater unearthed a wealth of minerals locked far below the earth’s accessible mantles to offer us access to minerals not readily accessible elsewhere.

To date South Africa contains 87,7% of the world’s Platinum group minerals, 80% of the world’s chromium, 29,7% of the world’s gold and over 40% of the global ferrochromium, alumino-silicates and vanadium stores. South Africa is also rich in coal, Rhodium, Palladium, Chromite, Copper, Iron, and Diamonds (with an estimated 75%% of cut diamonds entering the USA, Japan and Europe hailing from SA).

The only reason for SA’s fall from fame comes down to our governmental mismanagement as many countries, including the USA and China have vied for our attention in exploring our reserves and partnering with us in developing these. Unfortunately the narrative which is followed and supported by the public generally does not consider these trade nuances and tends to pit the fallacious west vs east narratives and supporters against each other.

Kreepy Krauly – cleaner pools for the world

These strange creatures cleaning our pools that drive fear into the imaginations of children the world over originated in South Africa.

While most people assume the invention to have originated from Australia, it was invented by South African hydraulics engineer Fedinand Chauvier. Australian businessman Terry Jackson eventually used Chauvier’s prototype to make the pool cleaning device a mainstream and go-to device for cleaning pools across the globe, and this invention is used to this day.

Springboks win the World Cup

If you ask any South African where they were on 24 June 1995, they will probably not have any idea. But if you ask them where they were the day the Springboks won their maiden Rugby World Cup title in 1995, most everyone will tell you a story of that day.

One of the greatest parts about this feat is how the stories are told by different races, castes, faiths, generations and people of divergent political ideology. It was, far more than any other pivotal event in our democracy, a pivotal moment in our united history.

Trevor Jones – the composer who claimed cinema

If you’ve watched films such as the Last of the Mohicans you will undoubtedly recall the phantasmagorical soundtrack which enthralled a worldwide audience. What you may not know is that world renowned musician and composer Trevor Jones hails from South Africa. 

While Jones spent most of his career in the UK, he was born in Cape Town in 1949. Jones was the name behind film scores such as Excalibur, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Mississippi Burning, Freejack, Cliffhanger, G.I. Jane, The Mighty, Notting Hill, Around the World in 80 Days, Cross Roads, From Hell and I, Robot.

Oil from Coal refinery

While the rest of the world used coal or produced oil in conventional ways, South Africa resorted to our own measures and applied our own knowledge to become the first country to produce oil from coal under SASOL from 1955. By the 1980s, we’d managed to produce nearly $7 billion worth of expansions in this regard to produce around 112 00 barrels of oil per day – sating 50% of SA’s oil needs and we managed this at $17 per barrel which was $3 less per barrel than the OPEC price at the time.

While we were the first country to develop oil-from-coal production, our method of production would soon become mainstream, but this doesn’t forfeit our pole position in this regard.

Christiaan Barnard and the heart transplant

It’s true, others have tried to transplant hearts in the same era as Dr Christiaan Barnard, but unlike others, Dr Barnad’s transplant was successful.

While the patient died a few weeks after the transplant, his death was not as a result of heart failure or organ rejection, but rather as a result of a secondary infection.

National Wake – before Punk became punk

The world of punk music was pretty well known by the 80s, and yet it’s almost confounding that few people know about the revolutionary punk band know as National Wake which performed in SA in the late 70s and 80s.

Their existence alone was somewhat of an anomaly – as a band which challenged the status quo and performed as a mixed-race entourage who sang about freedom and personal rights, they are profound for existing, surviving and also recording their various shows at the time. Their music may not resemble ‘punk’ as it is known these days (being more reminiscent of the sounds of Hendrix, the Who and Dylan), they were trend-setters whose names will forever reverberate in the hearts and ears of fellow South Africans.

Musk takes the world by storm

Elon Musk is a contentious character – you either like him or you don’t. No matter your personal views of him, the richest man in the world is one of our very own and has placed SA on the map.

Musk is famous for his own ventures as well as those he’d acquired over the years, including Tesla, SolarCity, SpaceX, Starlink, Neuralink, Twitter and Wyoming Steel.

Saron Gas to Seether – SA’s alt band export

While many saffas who partied in the 90s will certainly remember Saron Gas, it’s not surprising that the band needed a drastic overhaul when making their grand move to the US. Saron gas is, after all, the name of a lethal weapon of warfare which few USAians would like their names attached to.

Nevertheless, Shaun Morgan and his team are one of the few musicians who managed to secure an international audience in the alternative rock and metal scene. Not only that, but they bagged a US Active Rock no. one single with their hit ‘Fine Again’ and partnered with International band Evanescence to produce the epic ‘Broken’ colab which peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard hot 100 in 2004.

SA weapons development

In these times it’s certainly not wise to claim any fame around weapons development. And while the US did stir a PR war in claiming that SA supplied Russia with weapons, most South Africans are of the opinion that these were either a shipload of plakkies from angry tannies, or EMPs supplied by Eskom to can an electricity grid.

Nevertheless, South Africa used to have very advanced weapons technologies which were not used or seen elsewhere in the world at the time. This includes the Casspir Mine-Protected Vehicles, the Rooivalk Attack Helicopter which was the most sophisticated avionic vessel at the time, our G5 and G6 Howitzers, the MOkopa Anti-Tank Missiles and our Seeker UAV tactical reconnaissance drones.

Nkalakatha – the white man’s wedding tune

It was the eve of a new awakening in SA music – an era which saw the likes of Karin Zoid, Fokofpolisiekar and other artists take over from the alternative and folk giants of the 90s.

While many people poke fun at the way the white community somehow automatically warmed up to Mduduzi Edmund Tshabalala’s kwaito song, it’s a rather endearing song for this very reason – it was accepted into a community who wasn’t his target market in the first place.

Given how divided some of our cultural groups were and still are, Mandoza’s hit song proved that South Africans do find value in each other’s trades, productions and creations irrespective of our dissimilar roots. It’s not necessary to overthink these things or fixate on how frivolous such support or alignment seems for one group.

Paul Burrell – Prince’s Diana’s controversial butler

Since the royals have been in the news for a while, it seems apt to mention South Africa’s Paul Burrell who started his job as Royal Service footman at 18 and worked his way up to executive role as Queen Elizabeth’s personal footman.

At the age of 29, Burrell was appointed as butler to the Princess of Wales at her Highgrove House in Gloucester and served Princess Diana long after while she resided at Kensington Palace. His published memoir had created much stir at the time, but despite controversies he’d remained in Diana’s employ until her death in 1997.

Rabbitt – Charlie

Rabbit’s song Charlie has been likened by many as the South African equivalent of Carly Simon’s ‘You’re so Vain’ given questions as to the meaning of the song. Some thought it was about Patrick van Blerk’s dog while others assumed it was about a girl from a Charlie perfume ad. Julian Laxton would later clarify that the song was, in fact, about van Blerk’s partner Charles Coetzee.

The song has been referenced, covered and reworked by many artists over the years, including SA’s alternative band Wonderboom.

Southern African Large Telescope

The Radcliffe Foundation telescope established in Pretoria in 1948 was at one point in time the largest telescope in the world and the fourth largest in the Southern hemisphere for decades to follow.

With the latest array telescope as a joint undertaking between Australia and South Africa, SALT telescope will once more host the most advanced astronomical observatory on earth, and is supported by research institutions from Germany, India, New Zealand, the UK, US and Poland.

Arlene Dickinson – Canada’s denmaster

Nothing gets South African blood running as efficiently as entrepreneurship – most of us have main businesses, side businesses and a host of projects we engage in with our tannies, uncles, cousins or lanies.

It’s therefore no surprise that Canadian Dragon’s Den presenter and venture capitalist Arlene Dickinson has flown the flag for SA since her first stint on the series in 2007. Hailing from Germiston, Arlene has been involved in numerous ventures – from private to public sector, finance to governance. She even sits on the Leadership Council for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

John Kani – T’Chaka and the MCU

South Africans have seen Bonisile John Kani’s face on our screens for many decades. While everyone had hoped that Kani would make it to Hollywood, his claim to the role of T’Chaka in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther is so pivotal for the very reason that he represents an African – even if it is in a fantasy world.

Many South Africans make it onto the world stage and seem to forget their heritage or become superstars who don’t represent who and what they are. But Kani has shown each and every African child that one can make it big while still staying true to what you are.

Miriam Makeba – Qongqothwane (The Click Song) – Miriam Makeba

No list of South African achievements would be complete without noting the iconic ‘Click Song’ by Ma Miriam Makeba. Released in 1989, this song would not only put SA on the international stage but become a claim to fame for all native South Africans vying for the hearts of non-Africans and Africans alike.

South Africa’s a Great Place

There’s no denying that SA is a wonderful place, from the CAT scan to Zola Budd, Dolosse and The Led, Sharlto Copley and Q20, Pratley’s Putty and Trevor Noah – we’ve so much to celebrate.

But this doesn’t mean you need to stay put. Many SA emigrants the world over still reminisce about the things that make SA great, but you can do so wherever you are in the world.

If you want to make a move offshore, feel free to share your details below and we’ll get back to you to discuss your options for emigration and financial wellbeing.


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Citation disclaimer: Rand Rescue tries to provide proper citation and reference to any and all sources used in our content. This has become increasingly difficult as some news networks prohibit access to their citations, authors and publication dates, or obscure referencing of non-critical information behind paywalls which are inaccessible to our readers. We’ve made concessions in the past by manually recording the information gauged from online resources, but going forward we will exclude online references which bar automated citation. We will, however, still cite sources where printed or academic sources are used. If we refer to any individual, event, brand or business in our articles and no reference is provided in our sources, we encourage readers to confirm the information provided.

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