Despite being a resolute bunch who love our country deeply, we Saffas have been frustrated in recent years by loadshedding, infrastructure breakdown and lawlessness. We're easily tempted to think that life could be better overseas – but speak to anyone who has moved and you’ll find they miss this unique part of the world terribly.
There is not only a large amount of sunshine-soaked space to breathe, there's also a uniquely warm and generous human spirit among our people. The combination is deeply compelling, but often taken for granted when we dwell on what's gone wrong.
Our rich heritage across many cultural influences has melted into the unique spirit of ubuntu, ushered in by the great Madiba. We may at times think that that shared love, which transcended the old regime, is buried with him, but spend some downtime in our vast rural spaces, where life is simple and load shedding is less meaningful, and you feel that glowing sense of rainbow nation pride return.
There is no better way to explore these incredibly beautiful, wide open spaces than on a mountain bike. The scent of wild grasses and flowers, the sound of birds of prey floating high above, the sight of the massive Drakensberg mountains looming on the horizon, Nguni cattle bells chiming, children singing in many languages, the sun on your skin and the feel of the grit beneath your tyres… This is what it feels to be alive and exploring the continent of Africa. When you find your soul basking in these heightened senses, this is true detox for city stress.
Unlike other multi-stage events, where finish times are important and almost every metre features custom-built trail or man-made obstacles, the Old Mutual Go2Berg is not a race. It's a gathering of like-minded bike riders from all over the world, cruising through lesser-known, remote spaces on open roads and animal tracks, punctuated by event crew-created technical trail links, with time and space to ponder. The farm-fresh food prepared and presented by the local farmers and village folk is plentiful, as is the beer, coffee and delicious desserts. The clearly well-parented and polite race-village school kids, of all colours and creeds, proudly present their waitering skills to the thirsty and grateful middle-aged riders, who have come to find peace away from the daily grind of urban life.
Six days is a good dose of time-out for getting to know those who ride and relax beside you – in school dorms, riverside tents and cosy hotels. It's also 600km of adventure, through a wide range of biospheres, historical landmarks and villages that desperately need the support the race provides each one. Old Mutual was established in 1845 as South Africa's first life insurance company, offering financial security in uncertain times. It seems entirely appropriate that the company that backs this unique South African experience has been around since the time when wagons traversed these remote lands. The company supported the original joberg2c and is still onboard for its new, shorter format as Go2Berg. Thank you Old Mutual for recognising the importance of keeping a flagship Saffa experience alive. I got to spend some quality riding and beer-draining time alongside the company’s time-starved CEO Iain Williamson, away from the rat race with his greying hair floating above his broad smile like wings of freedom. In this interview Old Mutual’s leader shares his insights into why mountain biking is such a great way to unwind, and why his company continues to support a great cause.