The African South East- Life & times

I have been meaning to write for a few days now. Now after finally having overcome the jet lag between Australia and South Africa, its good to be alive again. Coming to South Africa although for a short stint; I see this as an opportunity to see more of the world. Additionally some experience in the Aluminium smelter business is enriching.

This country is indeed interesting. Since the end of apartheid, it seems the country has exploded into chaos. While taking a drive around the countryside, the fields and meadows resemble India in so many ways. You see people walking along the road in the middle of wilderness, stark poverty evident everywhere. While this country is not a classic 3rd world country, it is more like a two and half! We have been asked by security experts not to be complacent or travel alone. Crime is quite prevalent and Johannesburg, the largest city is pretty overwhelming for first timers.

My next door neighbour at the apartment block is a South African of Indian origin. He was telling me how his forefathers travelled across the Indian Ocean in 1861 from India to work on the sugar cane plantations outside Durban.

Working 6 days a week leaves only Sunday to explore. Last Sunday 3 of us (Myself, a Canadian, a New Zealander) managed a trip to visit a Zulu village, where the Zulus still live as did way back at the turn of the 20th century. Very interesting to see how they go about their lives (I have attached a picture of me with a Zulu chief)

Few more weekends we plan to go see a crocodile farm and go on an African safari.

Another interesting day trip:  Driving by the African savannah and entering the St Lucia estuary. This place is at the southern end of the Mozambiquan coastal plain and is classified as a World Heritage site (Inaugurated by Nelson Mandela “Madiba”) in 1995. Taking a boat on the river you can see the water is full of hippos and crocodiles. Lazing around in the sun, hanging out in water, these are abound. I was just over 200 k’s from the South African borders of Swaziland and Mozambique.

A little fact I found out that Nelson Mandela actually married the Mozambique strongman, Samora Machel’s widow. The lady has the unique distinction of being the first lady twice!

Tourism is the only industry that thrives here while locals make their livelihood on the cane and pineapple plantations. Poverty is very visible but for a person who grew up in India, its not all that shocking.

Europeans come to African not only to watch the big game but some of them have been known to indulge in game hunting. Game hunting primarily refers to hunting of the Big five (African elephant, Lion, Leaopard, Cape Buffalo and the White Rhino). Game hunting packages cost as much as $25,000 for a 12 day  trip.

While there is plenty of game to watch, I am not sure if some of the power hungry corrupt African dictators are not more dangerous. When you look north from South Africa, Zimbabwe (Mugabe) and the chronically tribal warfare infested countries of Burundi. Rwanda, Angola stand out. And with Western hired guns to add fuel to the fire, Africa continues to sustain its sobriquet of the “Dark Continent”.


Talking to an Indian South African guy, he tells me how bad it was pre 1994 during the days of Apartheid. No right to vote, not allowed to enter white neighborhoods, running scared of the white man, eating in different sections in the same restaurant..Terrible..Wonder why they think its okay to treat a person of a darker color differently. Bloody shame!


Just three weeks in this country and while my travels have not been extensive, the time still allows to get a fairly good perception of lifestyle and dynamics in the current South African society. I have had the opportunity to speak with several people from varying nationalities. Many non South Africans, primarily Europeans and Australians see the society and culture as backward and third- worldy. No surprises here, since over 90% of the populations consisting of native blacks and coloured were repressed for a prolonged period. Just lifting the restrictions and ending apartheid does not lead to the native development automatically. This seems like it is a process and may take a generation and a half. Meantime the economic situation amongst the previously underprivileged populace continues to worsen.

It used to an enforced segregation until 1994 and now almost two decades later, its more of a natural self segregation. So much so, that illiteracy and prevalent crimes have come to be associated with the blacks. And its conveniently forgotten that it is the minority who created this situation in the first place. This is an unfortunate stigma many South Africans will carry for the rest of their lives.

The repeatedly flashing pictures of people living in shanty towns on a bare subsistence are extremely visible throughout the country. The native folk are extremely friendly and take pride in what they do and graciously accept any kind of tips. The same is to be said of the White minority; nowhere do the common white people appear to be dictators or the despots they were made to be. The common folks have been fairly friendly to us foreigners ,I would say, more so than the Australians. So at a grass roots level, the true citizens are as integrated but cultural and economic differences do make it appear that society is stratified.

The leadership could be doing a lot more than soaking in corruption and polygamy. The basic tenet of leading by example is surely absent. The continuing paucity of power and the consequences faced by the government in terms of rioters and power line tappers does not look to be improving anytime soon. The presence of hired guns like ourselves is noticeable in almost all industries. Power, Aluminium smelting and other such core industries have a plethora of expatriate experts while the local talent is almost invisible.  These expatriates could do a lot better by actually training the locals rather than earning a few quick rands and complaining about the lack of initiative on part of the local populace. The leadership may well treat this as a chronic problem and these issue be addressed before South Africa goes the way of its other fellow African nations.

The visit to the Umfolozi game reserve would be considered as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The massive 500 hectare wild life reserve opened up in 1895 to create a reserve for the great white southern Rhinoceros. The white hunters had been shooting them for game for several years and it took them a few years to realize the fun and games will cause the white rhinos to be extinct. This necessitated opening of the game reserve; subsequently followed by introduction of major wild life into the park. And one thing that surprised me immensely was the fact that the animals are not fed. They are in open country and are wild animals, pure and simple. Therefore they have to hunt their own food and survive the jungle and be part of the food chain.

Seeing these glorious animals in their natural splendour is an unbeatable sight, unparalled in its grace and memory. Soaking up the knowledge and nuances of many of animal behaviours was an added bonus.

We were fortunate enough to view the Elephant, the White Rhino, the Cape Buffalo, Giraffes, antelopes and zebras at close proximity.


Author: Ashok Iyengar

A published author and a Project Management professional I love to travel, mentor and network. Writing my travelogues, commentaries on political and social issues I create meaningful conglomerations between the west and east. I live in the Washington DC metro area. Just started a new journey with assisting teaching Project Management classes at GWU, Washington DC

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