U3A marks 20 years with First Safari talk

Professor Ian GlennIan Glenn against backdrop of his book and the King’s Map.

On Wednesday October 4, U3A Helderberg will celebrate 20 years of flourishing existence in the Basin, and to mark this auspicious occasion, at the Strand Town Hall, Professor Ian Glenn will tell of his own 25-year ‘safari’ in tracking down the travel notebooks of François Levaillant, renowned French author and travel writer, explorer, naturalist, zoological collector and ornithologist of the late 18th century.

Professor Glenn spoke on wildlife filming in Southern Africa last November at the U3A.

In the 1780s Levaillant travelled around Cape Town and Saldanha, east as far as the Fish River and north to Namaqualand.

He also co-produced the famous King’s Map, a gift to Louis XVI on the eve of the French Revolution.

Levaillant is a man of many firsts: first and greatest South African birder, first major figure of modern ornithology, the creator of the first safari, first anthropologist of the Cape and first investigative journalist to criticise colonial brutality.

He also predicted the rebellion of the frontier Boers and portrayed the dilemmas of coloured identity.

Levaillant’s travel writings were a watershed in our history: a place of curiosities and alleged reports became a destination with a literary agenda and new genres; diaries, survival and notes gave way to hunting, safari and wildlife documentation; stories evolved into ornithology and ethnology; racial identity and its effects were explored; and exploitation and expropriation were examined through an anthropological and anti-colonial lens.

In an almost unrelated quest, Professor Glenn found himself spending 25 years searching for Levaillant’s travel notebooks and collections as he tried to solve the mysteries of this man’s life.

Professor Glenn’s safari took him from the Orange River to the far-flung destinations of Theefontein, Pampoenskraal and Kokskraal and on to the vaults of Paris museums housing 30 000 bird specimens and the Bloubok exhibit of extinct animals.

Professor Glenn is Emeritus Professor of Media Studies at UCT and Research Fellow in Communications Sciences at UFS. He has published widely on François Levaillant, including The First Safari, and is working on a translation and abridged edition of Levaillant’s Birds of Africa with the original illustrations.

He was the curator of the King’s Map exhibition at the Iziko Museum in 2012-13. His Wildlife Documentaries in Southern Africa: from East to South was published in 2023.

A limited number of copies of his book The First Safari will be on sale for R250, for cash purchases only.

U3A Helderberg also offers activities ranging from art and photography, palaeontology, chess and bridge to exercising, yoga and hiking and smaller group meetings focused on travel, gardening, history, finances and book discussions as well as outings to different destinations, eateries and the theatre.

To mark this occasion, every attendee will receive a small gift. Entry for members is free; visitors pay R20 at the door, and the talk starts at 10am.

For more information, contact Denise Fourie at 072 211 1173.