Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Long Haul to Southern Africa

Finally the day had come. Sitting at Gatwick at 7.30 am with a Guinness in hand, I was off to Southern Africa for 6 precious weeks and as excited as they come. So many potential adventures lay ahead in for what was for me uncharted territory - sub-Saharan Africa.....bumpy roads......lions.....new culture's......bungee's.....shark's.... and God knows what else

Dave (Davidenko), Dave (Dingo) and me were boarding a series of flights through Dubai and Jo'berg, that would, we hoped, eventually land us in Livingstone, Zambia - home of the mighty Victoria Falls and a whole host of adrenaline sports.

DUBAI

For one reason or another Dubai was pretty much at the bottom of my re-visit list, but Emirates are cheap, so through we went. It was nice to catch up with a mate, but two images will stick with me from a night and morning that did little to improve my liking of the place.

Firstly, the pointless opulence. The immensity of the tallest building in the world is almost inspiring...but falls short for it's pointlessness. All these unnecessary sky scrapers in a place which is covered in baron land. All about prestige and ego's that will more than likely falter once the ground runs dry.

Secondly, Dubai beach marina. With weeks on the road ahead of us we were not going to splash, so once the hotel bar closed (2 ish) we headed to the beach to see what was around. To my surprise there were dozens of people splashing around in the dark. Chinese and Filipino immigrant workers in the main. We went for a dip, playing with the phosphorescence of the gulf and then lying back in the bath temp waters. I have to admit that as the call to prayer wailed across the city with the rise of the sun, a brief air of a romantic Arabia rose in my thoughts before receding. Back on shore we got talking to a bunch of Iranians - mechanics, chef's etc. Good guys and a lot of comedy. An image of the biggest guy pretending to make love to a "sand woman" particularly sticks in the mind (in those dark haunted recesses no doubt). These guys were here for exactly the same reason as the highly paid westerners. Get in get out, take the cash and run. For as long as the cash is here they'll come....when it runs out who will fill all those tall twinkly buildings - certainly not me.

JOHANNESBURG

Another day on a flight and we touched down in Joe'y. A coincidence of mistaken identity lead us to stay at a hostel a few km from the airport and conversation ensued.

As the final part of this intro to these travels I wanted to write down the briefest summary of the picture the owner painted of South Africa and where it was headed. An affable guy whose facts checked out. We have all heard of the murder rate in Jo'berg, of high-jackings and the like, of the AIDs epidemic and cultural friction. What this guy did though was to weave it all together into quite an apocalyptic prophecy.

He saw crime rates ever raising in the big cities. Absurdly corrupt government - where the "joker" Mbeki was only to be replaced by Zuma - a guy portrayed with a shower out his head in local press consequent of his comment that he had had sex with a lady who was HIV positive, but it was fine cos he took a shower. Immigrants pouring in from Zimbabwe and Mozambique trying to work hard and settle, but being thwarted by xenophobia fuelled by harsh conditions and union rhetoric. A lack of work-ethic amongst many in the townships, and those who do work being restricted by the crime and syndication of gang land. 2000 murders a year no less.

He thought it would hold together until 2010 - the football world cup at which "only" 20 murdered tourists is a goal - because the government would pay what need be and bring in whoever to stop a PR disaster, but after that rapid implosion. He saw the above mixed with the full impact of the AIDS epidemic and everything collapsing. Money and educated people would flee, only to return again once the disaster had taken its course - say in 2020 or 2030. Then they could start to rebuild the pieces.

An interesting forecast no doubt and one I treat with skepticism. This guy was though no racist. He did not talk of blacks against whites, but off a particular attitude in South Africa of entitlement expectation. As far as he was concerned, it was this that differentiated South Africa's plight with other countries around it. He was also well informed, being an ex-intelligence officer and of good intellect. He was collecting funds to skip to Mozambique and ride the crisis out before returning to the country he would die in.

I really did not know what to make of all of this. So for now I make no comment. I have 6 weeks ahead of me to explore, debate and learn. I hope I find his predictions way off the mark.
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