2019: South Africa – The Beginning of an Adventure, part 2

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Wednesday, Oct 2: Johannesburg – First Impressions

After arriving in Johannesburg at OR Tambo International, the first thing we needed to do after getting through all the customs stuff was to meet up with Jacqui Wiles. Jacqui and D’Arcy became friends through their blogs on houses. So here we were, meeting someone we had only talked with online, halfway around the world from our home. And we were to stay in her home for a couple of days. And then we would be going to Kruger National Park with her and her husband Kevin.

Jacqui and D’Arcy in a candid moment

Having read many of the posts Jacqui had written in two different blogs, I knew this would be someone I would feel comfortable being around. And I was right. Jacqui had taken the train to the airport to greet us and help guide us through the maze that is traffic in the greater Johannesburg area, a metropolitan area of more than 10 million people. We had a good idea about how to get to the house, thanks to Google Maps, but having someone who knew the best way was a lot nicer.

A view of the central part of Johannesburg from way up in the air.

Jacqui is brave, too. After we got the car rental all set and picked up our car, an Opel SUV, Jacqui hopped into the car and guided me to their home. It was the first time I had driven a car with the steering wheel on the right side and cars on the opposite side of the road from home. So what could go wrong? Absolutely nothing!

What the highway into Jo’burg looks like

Well…there was the moment in thick traffic when the truck in front of us decided to stop quickly in the middle of the road. No tail or brake lights. The Opel’s brakes and my reflexes were good. Jacqui’s only comment was “welcome to driving in South Africa.” [Side note: after driving in Johannesburg and Cape Town and all points between, I think I am certified to drive a cab in New York city or Washington, DC.]

The drive from the airport to Kevin and Jacqui’s home led us along a freeway to a highway to local roads to residential streets. We passed new construction, fancy buildings, fancy homes, cardboard and tin shacks, and everything between. We passed by familiar businesses, such as BP gas stations, KFC restaurants, McDonalds fast food, and others.

A settlement, or township, on the outskirts of Jo’burg

We drove through neighborhoods that were about as different as could be imagined from things where we live. Nice houses that I would call compounds if they were anywhere else—tall walls surrounding properties with razor wire, electrical fence wires, or both. Signs from security companies such as ADT saying things like “immediate armed response” were everywhere. Then suddenly we would see the places where many people lived in barely more than corrugated tin and pallets structures (no plumbing or water, but electricity).

Not like home
The view out back

Jacqui and Kevin have a beautiful home.  D’Arcy came across one of Jacqui’s blogs (https://homeinthemaking.me/) a number of years ago. Jacqui had been writing about remodeling and building a new home.
It is a great blog! And it was fun for us to actually see the finished home. They did a fantastic job. And the view from the backyard overlooking the park is wonderful. It was difficult to believe the house is in the middle of an urban setting.

Birds were everywhere in the trees beyond in Hamilton Park

It all quickly reminded me that South Africa is a land of the haves and the have nots. There are many blacks, whites, and Asians in South Africa making good incomes. We saw people of all colors driving BMWs, Audis, Porsches, and Mercedes in the bigger cities. These cars cost a hundred times or more than what the poorer people will ever make in a year. Those were the haves. Then the have nots. Almost a quarter of the people in South Africa, mostly black, make less than $380 a year. We saw many of the poorer people standing at corners and in the streets of town selling everything from brooms to flowers to stickers. More on that a bit later in a different post. But back to our hosts.

I quickly became fascinated by the weaver birds in the trees around their yard. We have birds where we live, but nothing like the weavers. A male weaver builds the nest. He is very careful about what he does. When he is done, the female will inspect it. If she doesn’t like it, she will rip it apart. Talk about pressure.

Birds were everywhere. Here are just a couple.

Our first day in South Africa felt good. We were a bit tired from all the travel, but our hosts were beyond expectations. Quite gracious and, I believe, great ambassadors for the country they live in. We knew our time in this far-away place was going to be good.

One of the cats at the house posing for me

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The Great Escarpment goes from the northeast of South Africa and swings in a wide semicircle down to the south and then back to the northwest corner of the country.  It separates the high central plateau of South Africa from the coastal areas.

Wikipedia has a great image of this.

The Highveld is basically between 5,000 and 6,800 feet in elevation and is part of the central plateau in South Africa. The Lowveld is lower than about 500 meters (1,650 feet). It is basically to the east and northeast of the central plateau. And yes, if you are wondering, there is a middleveld. It is more often referred to as the Bushveld.

The Highveld is basically between 5,000 and 6,800 feet in elevation and is part of the central plateau in South Africa. The Lowveld is lower than about 500 meters (1,650 feet). It is basically to the east and northeast of the central plateau. And yes, if you are wondering, there is a middleveld. It is more often referred to as the Bushveld.

While the highveld is more like a prairie of grasses and the lowveld is grassland with scrubby brush and occasional trees, the bushveld is, amazingly, kind of between them. The bushveld is grassy lands with lots of patches of tall bushes and trees.

At least that is how I would describe them.

Daylin Paul is a fantastic photographer. A collection of his images is called Broken Land. From the October 6, 2019, Sunday Times:
“…the collection begins with aerial photographs of the seemingly legendary natural beauty of the province before Paul’s lens zooms ever closer in for a look at the realities on the ground.
“There pollution is rampant; those who are not lucky enough to find employment in the power industry are forced into dangerous subsistence mining for survival and many residents of towns and informal settlements that abut the power stations are without a proper water or electricity supply and suffer from diseases such as TB.”
Paul is quoted in the article as saying that the connection the indigenous people had to the land is broken. “Now the land is just a place where you put up a house or you dig for something.”
The article continues a bit later with this statement: “When Paul hears US President Donald Trump talking about ‘clean coal’, his experiences in Mpumalanga lead him to react with disdain and outrage because ‘there’s no such thing’.”
The whole article, and its images, was simply stunning. You can read it here, but you must be a subscriber to the paper first.
But better yet, you can see Paul’s own website to see the collection of images called Broken Land here: https://www.daylinpaul.com/broken-land

I had heard from people about the issues with the power industry in South Africa, but didn’t know how severe it was. As one person related to me, “the president has taken a lot of money from the coal power industry. The bribes were there to keep the industry free from too many regulations.” Or as one watchdog group there says, “Public procurement is particularly prone to corruption, and bribery thrives at the central government level.”

I am talking about South Africa, of course. I know nothing like that happens in the States.

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