As you can see, this post is AGAIN long overdue….

What can I say, lethargy can only be broken by life-changing or at the very least traumatic events….  I shouldn’t over-exaggerate and call the incidents that I will refer to as either of the two, but for me they show intolerance, a lack of understanding for other people’s perspectives, an egocentric view of life and the reason for some personal soul-searching and nostalgic meditation….

So without further ado, let me illustrate how the escalation of relatively small incidents can lead to a situation where the full enjoyment of the Kruger National Park is being diluted and made all but a distant memory….

There was a time when I loved visiting the Park with clients on tour (or even with friends and family).  The aim was to relax, see the wildlife, try to become one with the bush, one with nature, chill out, have a leisurely braai or a picnic with a couple of ice-cold beers at a picnic site over lunch, continue the drive, see some more animals and generally enjoy the Park.

A picnic in the Kruger National Park

This was to me Heaven on Earth, my job was easy, even if the hours were long and the work was tough….  This was a time when people expected to drive slowly and search for their animals, or sit in the shade of a large tree near a watering hole sipping an ice cold drink in the car while waiting for animals to come to the water for a drink.  The joy of finding a zebra foal suckling or pod of hippos popping up was almost as great as the joy of finding a leopard in a tree.  This was a time when visitors to the Park respected the environment even if they did not know fancy words like symbiosis or osteophagia.  This was a time when most people who visited the Park had heard of the Big 5 but they knew that finding them was a bonus, and not the sole purpose of the visit.  This was time when people in oncoming cars flashed their lights and greeted you with exciting titbits of friendly information, they wanted to let you know that there was something great coming up ahead….  I have seen this sharing of joy and wonder, this spirit of respect and mutual understanding change over the years….

Through my eyes, the changes have been for the worse….  Obviously, this has partly been driven by the increase in tourist numbers to South Africa, it has partly been driven by the increased need to get the most benefit out of the decreasing availability of Natural Resources per visitor, but the biggest contributing factor to the decrease in the quality of the experience can easily be attributed to a deterioration in OUR ATTITUDE to one another….

It is because of this change in attitude that alcoholic beverages are no longer permitted in public areas such as picnic sites!  What a shame that people can no longer be permitted to enjoy a beer while searing a thick juicy steak over some hot coals!  In fact it is our careless attitude that has led to the closure of many braai facilities at picnic sites!  Imagine, cooking a steak, roosterbrood and boerewors on gas, and downing them, with a sticky sweet fizzy drink…. it’s just not the same!

Roosterbrood and boerewors over the coals a nice thick juicy wildebeest rump espetada!

So, what led to this change in attitude?  This question is too complex to answer in full, in fact, it has so many aspects, each with arguments for and against that I will steer clear of attempting to answer the question.  What I will say, is that I am stuck in the middle, I can see the various points of view, I am in the position that sometimes I am on one side of the fence, other times I am on the other, and usually I am sitting on it….  I can understand the reason for the actions that make people get upset.  It is easy to seal everything into a Pandora’s Box and leave it hidden away, but the box inevitably will resurface…

To understand these various points of view, the frustration, the indignation, the anger, the downright lack of respect for others, one only needs to be in the Park on an Easter Weekend, or over the Christmas School Holidays….  These are the periods when the idiocy and the truly inconsiderate behaviour of people is most likely to spoil one’s visit to the Park.  This is the silly season, when only the most simple-minded of idiots would stick their body out of the window, within metres of mating lions!

The Silly Season

A wide range of derogatory terms have sprung up in this context, but there are two that most aptly illustrate this multi-faceted Pandora’s Box….  these two terms are….  Motorian (a person that drives around in search of animal sightings in a private closed vehicle – sedan, hatchback, microbus etc…) and Jeep-Jockey (a person that drives an Open Safari Vehicle or OSV – usually a converted pick-up (bakkie) with rows of seats at the back, open sides and a roof – these vehicles are usually in contact with each other through various radio channels and associations.) 

The two terms are by definition mutually exclusive and represent directly opposite sides of this prickly topic.  I am not immune to feelings, I also get upset, and what makes it worse, is that I operate in both of these segments!  I will illustrate with examples the types of behaviour that make it easy to see why people get angry.  I will also try to explain what factors drive the ‘culprits’ to do what makes them appear as pigs in the eyes of others.  The most important thing to bear in mind is that YES… there are PIGS…. and YES they sometimes drive closed vehicles…. but they are also sometimes sitting behind the wheels of OSVs….

Motorians (self-drive visitors):

Most visitors to the Park are self-drive visitors staying overnight in the Park accommodation that ranges from camping to luxury full-self-catering units, or day visitors from the surrounding hotels, lodges and resorts.  Of these, many are South Africans, and others are International guests.  In all cases, ignorance of the Park rules and regulations is not an excuse for illegal or dangerous behaviour!

I often drive into the Park with a closed vehicle, sometimes when I am on holiday, and sometimes when I am working.  At these times, I am for all intents and purposes a motorian…. even if I wear a badge.  Some field guides use this term in an innocent manner to describe the vehicle type, but others use this term as an insult aimed at the driver.

I abide by the rules and see most people in closed vehicles do the same…. there are those that do not….

  • I have been frustrated in traffic jams caused by those that do not adhere to the rules and block the road on both sides,
  • by drivers that push in to get a better camera angle with no consideration for those that have been waiting patiently to move closer,
  • by people that do not switch off their engines at sightings and chase the animals away,
  • by people that do not adhere to the speed limits and people that do not stay in their cars,
  • by people that hoot because they cannot see what the vehicle in front is looking at,
  • by those that endanger others by approaching elephant breeding herds in moments of false bravado and then rapidly reverse away in panic drawing the elephants towards those that kept a safe distance….

All it takes is one bad apple to rot the barrel, but an understanding of the circumstances is also needed in order to fully appreciate each case.

For instance, I do not think it is fair to sell safaris in large luxury coaches to tourists.  How can one experience the smells and the sounds of the Park from behind a layer of sealed glass with an air-conditioner blowing madly?  On the other hand, this may be all that the group can afford with its available budget.  If we understand the situation and take this into account when we think about it, everything becomes clearer…  This may be a budgetary matter, or it may simply be that the coach will park at a rest-camp such as Skukuza, and the guests will be transported for game drives in OSVs belonging to the Park.

Whatever the case, we must always remember that the passengers have also paid to enter the Park, and they have as much right to see the animals as anyone else!

  • those claiming that the coach is obstructing their view must learn to be more patient
  • those demanding that the coach switch off the engine must realise that with the sealed windows, switching off the engine, will probably result in the coach becoming an overheated oven in minutes
  • instead of being angry at the coaches, feel compassion for the fact that they cannot take any of the other routes, and that they are restricted to travelling on the tarred roads.

The behaviour of the tourists in the photo below is typical of behaviour that should be reported.  This occurred at a rhino sighting a few weeks ago.  When I drove past and told them to get back into the vehicle, they shrugged their shoulders and told me they could not speak English.  I am sure that if I had spoken to them in their language they would have claimed that they spoke another dialect of the language and they would have ignored me anyway.

Their behaviour is illegal AND very dangerous!  If a lion had decided to take a much deserved snack, the newspapers in their country would have had a field day condemning the Kruger National Park, much to the detriment of the general South African Tourism Industry.

Ignorance or disregard for the law?

 To complete the evidence of stupidity I have added the second photo with the vehicle registration number…

Mentally handicapped or just plain stupid?

It is people such as this that deserve to be fined heavily.  Their access to all National Parks should immediately be revoked, regardless of existing bookings and payments already made.  They should be shamed publicly for their inconsiderate actions.

If you see anyone behaving in this way, please send a photo and description of the time and location with vehicle registration numbers, as soon as possible to:

  • +27 82 908 3053
  • sandra.snelling@sanparks.org
  • raymond@sanparks.org

On the other hand, as I mentioned above, there are still many people that stick to the rules, are courteous and move away after a few minutes to share a sighting although they have a prime viewing position that they would like to occupy longer.  They share the location of sightings and deserve to be treated accordingly!  It is not the car that makes the man!  Some field guides feel that self-drive vehicles should not be allowed, and that all visitors to the Park should be compelled to purchase drives in OSVs.  To brand these self-drive visitors as not deserving of being allowed into the Park, puts a question on the motivation and the overall understanding exhibited by the guide making the statement!

Jeep-Jockeys (OSV field guides):

The vast majority of field guides are great people!  (I count many friends amongst them)  Most abide by the rules all the time, but there will always be the ones that bend the rules occasionally, and at times even break them blatantly.  As in the case of the self-drive visitors, there is no excuse for illegal behaviour!

Unfortunately, it is the breaking of the rules by the occasional bad apple that makes them the target of much anger from other Park visitors.  To be in an OSV or to drive one in the Park is a privilege.  This does not make the field guide a superior being with more rights, nor does it mean that the field guide is exempt from the rules.  This is something that should always be borne in mind!  The field guide should display exemplary behaviour and set a standard for other Park visitors to aspire to!

Being a field guide and driving an OSV is tough.  Typically these guys (and girls) will be up early at the depot collecting the OSV, then they will pick up their guests from a hotel outside the Park before gate opening times.  They will then drive to the gate and enter the Park for a full day of game viewing before dropping their guests off again at the hotel late in the afternoon.  They will then have to clean the vehicle and return it to the depot, to repeat this all over again the next day.  I take my hat off to them!

I am very fortunate in that I get to visit a wide variety of locations with spectacular landscapes and a wide variety of wildlife living in diverse ecosystems when I work as a guide.  These locations include Private Game Lodges in exclusive reserves, UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the uKahlamba Drakensberg Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  I love the combination of dunes, beaches and wildlife that you get at iSimangaliso, but in my mind, nothing beats a few days in the Kruger National Park!  What makes me even more fortunate is that I get to visit the Kruger National Park as the driver of a variety of tourist transports including Microbuses that provide a great viewing angle with the ultimate in comfort, but I also get to visit the Park as a passenger on a range of OSVs provided by many different companies, AND occasionally I get to drive them myself!  I wish everyone had these opportunities.  I want to share this with as many people as possible, and I don’t understand how some people want to keep the experience to themselves….

On game drive in an OSV

Unfortunately for the drivers of OSVs, the marketing hype around safaris has over-emphasised the importance of the Big 5 while the economic recession has put a strain on the budget of all but the wealthiest visitors.  This has resulted in a situation where visits to the Kruger Park are often limited to only one day in the Park, and the pressure to show the guests the Big 5 has grown so much that it is almost a requirement.

This has led to the advent of Ferrari-safaris, where some field guides will rush from sighting to sighting trying to tick off the Big 5.  I have had three OSVs drive past me rapidly in a cloud of dust (probably en route to a sighting), without so much as slowing down to see what I had been looking at.  Pity for them, they missed a beautiful cheetah, and pity for the clients in my vehicle because the OSVs chased the cheetah away….

I make a point of telling my clients before we arrive in the region of the Kruger National Park, that all animals are worth seeing, and that it is a privilege to see the bush, the landscapes, the plants, the sunrises and the sunsets.  I explain to them about the immense size of the Park, and how the animals interact with each other and are free to move around.  I do my best to defuse the Big 5 bomb that has been sold to them in their country.  In most cases I succeed, and their appreciation for the little things grows, while their delight at finding the animals is occasionally boosted by seeing one of the Big 5.

I have a lot of friends that grew up visiting the Park with their parents on holidays, and they envy the amount of time I have to spend in the bush.  Their parents took them with a car and a caravan, and now they wish they could have the time to do the same with their kids.  It is the introduction of the bush into children’s lives that makes them grow and mature into people that respect nature and love the bush!  Without this love and respect, how do we expect the majority of our people to support nature conservation and to fight for the protection of endangered species such as the Rhinoceros, or as someone mentioned to me recently, the RhinoSAUR….

I recently had an experience that I did not much appreciate.  I was on drive with a field guide that I both like and and that I think has much valuable knowledge to share.  On the drive we had a discussion about self-drive visitors to the Park, and the comments left me a bit shocked.  The general feeling of this guide was that all people with private vehicles should be forced to park their cars and make use of OSVs for all their drives in the Park. Obviously not the reaction I expected.  What about learning to love nature and the bush I wondered?

Braaing meat on real coals and sipping a cold beer in good company at a picnic site, a self drive safari and the opportunity to find animals and see them up close on your own… Another of my favourite activities shot down, destroyed, just like that, by someone that loves animals!  How could this be?  Is my idea of loving nature so different from that person’s that we cannot see it the same way?  I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that the field guide was so upset by the behaviour of the rotten apples in the self-drive barrel, that they were blinded to the actions of the majority of Park visitors that act in a responsible and friendly manner.

After having had a great morning drive with some really good sightings, we were on our way back to Skukuza for lunch.  As luck would have it, we had a wonderful lion sighting thrust into our laps.  We saw the pair of lions up close, but with it being school holidays we soon had a queue of cars building up, and in order to continue towards our scheduled lunch stop, we would have to pass the queue, do a U-turn and come around again past the lions.  Now this was where we differed in opinion about the correct procedure.

My feeling was that we should either join the queue of cars at the back, wait our turn to pass the lions again, get a second brief photo stop, and continue on towards Skukuza, or alternatively, we should pass the queue of cars on the side of the road furthest from the sighting, slow down as we passed the lions so that the passengers would get a second photo opportunity on the move over the stationary cars, and continue on to lunch.

Much to my surprise, after giving me a short speech about why the drivers of the cars should not be so selfish considering that our passengers had paid good money to come out all the way to Africa, the field guide pointed out that they should therefore have the prime viewing spot.  The argument being that the drivers of the closed cars would in most probability be South Africans who could pass by the Kruger at any time they felt like it.  This total lack of understanding about what makes the Kruger so special was shocking to me.  Where else do you find a National Park the size of Belgium, with 1000km of asphalt roads and 3000km of gravel roads, beautifully maintained so that the average man in the street can take his family on the road for an affordable holiday, in his own car, and spend time teaching his kids to love nature?

My mind wandered off, and I wondered if the field guide’s love was narrowly focused on animals only, and not on the bush…. That could explain why the field guide so selfishly wanted it all for the passengers on OSVs, but at the same time felt that other visitors did not deserve to share in the beauty and were incapable of following a proper etiquette at sightings.  How could one have such deep-seated dislike for others based on their vehicle type and registration!

I was awoken from my introverted thoughts as the field guide promptly overtook the whole queue of closed vehicles, getting several disapproving looks from the drivers of the vehicles patiently waiting to see the lions, and nosed the OSV into the best viewing position, thus ensuring that most of the patient motorians waiting their turn would become instant haters of Jeep-Jockeys, while at the same time setting a trend for any aspirant queue jumpers. 

I said to the field guide, “If I had been in the queue waiting to get a view of the lions and you had tried that with me, I would have made sure that you ended up in the middle of such a traffic jam, that your guests would have missed their flight home!”.

After much manoeuvring to exit the now congested sighting, we continued on to lunch.  I wondered if the field guide did what I did…. Did the field guide ever go to the Kruger National Park with a tent and their own personal car on holiday?  Probably not…. it wouldn’t be fun…. it would probably be too much like work for them!  The rest of the drive to Skukuza was a lot quieter and less interesting for me…

The saga did not end there.

After arriving at Skukuza, I was busy explaining some details to my guests in response to some of their questions while standing in the shade near the OSV.  At one stage, a couple walked up to us, and stood patiently aside, waiting for me to finish talking to my guests.  They did not interrupt, and did not in any way make my guests feel uncomfortable.  They just stood there quietly.  Once the guests had left to explore the shop and look at the river, the two walked up to me and told me what they thought of the unacceptable behaviour as far as they were concerned and how rude it was to shove in in front of them that way at the lion sighting.  They told me that they had called the number on the back of the vehicle and spoken to the manager.  I explained to them that I did not agree with the way they had been overtaken, but that although I was a guide, it was not in my right to tell the field guide in charge of the vehicle how to do their work.  They demanded to know the name of the field guide.  I told them that I could only give them the first name and I apologised, telling them that I could not change what had happened.

This significantly dampened what could have been a great day.

REMEMBER

The Park has rules.  If we adhere to them, much of the unpleasantness mentioned above can be avoided.

These rules are handed out with every entrance permit, and it is the responsibility of every person entering the Park to be familiar with the rules and to adhere to them. The rules on the green gate permit describe how you should position your vehicle at a sighting, so as to maintain an unobstructed passage for those wishing to proceed, how to avoid dangerous situations, and generally how to have a pleasant drive for all concerned.  What is easily forgotten by some field guides, is that these rules apply to them just as much as they do to other road users in the Park.  In fact, they probably are even more applicable to them, as they should be setting an example to the other people driving around in the Park!

The Kruger National Park Green Gate Permit

View the general rules at the following links:

and a humorous video representation too….

The answer to the question ‘Who owns THIS Park anyway’ is very appropriate in this context.

If we read the following: The function of SANParks is to protect, conserve and control the national parks and other protected areas assigned to it and that you are subject to the conditions set in terms of Section 86 of the National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998) and the National Environmental Act: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003) for the duration of your stay in the National Park.

The answer lies in the word NATIONAL – The Parks belongs to the Nation, and as such we, the people of South Africa are all custodians and owners of the Park.  We should be proud of it, we should protect it, and above all we should share its beauty with others less fortunate than us and conserve it for future generations!

The Kruger Gate

Let us hope we all learn to share our love and appreciation for nature in a responsible and more tolerant manner, lest we destroy the legacy of the great men such as Kruger and Stevenson-Hamilton!

This blog post is very long overdue…  another year has come and flown by……  it’s 2011 and I feel like 2010 never happened….  FIFA came and conquered, the Football World Cup Silly Season passed through like a Summer thunderstorm and left us with memories, some investment in useful infrastructure, modern extravagant stadiums, and a vibrant Rainbow Nation with HUGE DEBT.  It also left us with a WakaWaka song……  but that’s a story to tell another day…..

Today I want to tell you about a place that I love:  The Kruger National Park….

(more…)

South Africa has several competitive and in some cases excellent FRANCHISED fast food and takeaway brands that are able to stand head and shoulders above the imported international competition.   We also have great family restaurants and diners, so if you feel like having a burger, a pizza or a steak be different.  When you visit our country try to experience the culture, the food and the people……  Why eat the same stuff you eat at home when you can try something new?

You won’t find any of these inside a stadium so you’ll have to try them out in your spare time or while you’re out on the road exploring what the country has to offer.

You’ll find them in the modern shopping malls, near the game reserves and national parks, at gas stations, next to the beach and all over the country……. and in the neighbouring countries too!

I would like to name some local South African franchise brands that in my opinion offer something different in their own special way….  This in no way should be interpreted to detract from the offerings of other similar establishments and small privately owned concerns that also offer excellent value and quality…  As I said… these are my opinions…..

  • The best takeaway flame-grilled burgers in South Africa by far: Steers
  • The hottest chicken deal South of the Sahara….. and anywhere else for that matter: Nandos
  • Pizza… with a thin crust the way it was meant to be…. and reasonably priced too: Col’Cacchio
  • Child friendly steakhouse, with a varied menu for all tastes: Spur Steak Ranches
  • Coffee and light meals on the go (and WiFi access in most cases): Mugg & Bean, Dulcé Café
  • Food, cocktails and vibe: News Cafe
  • Sit-down fish, seafood and sushi at good value for money prices: Cape Town Fishmarket, Ocean Basket
  • Restaurant/bar, variety is the name of the game, from breakfast to dinner: The Dros
  • Takeaway fish and seafood – the portions are generous: Fishaways

I’ll do some of my favourite restaurants another day, and I feel that I can mention that we have great wines and beers too…..please come and enjoy them…..



When you finish reading this post, if anyone has any bright ideas, or can think of a way to get the right people to take notice, please let me know….. I’m almost ready to give up.  Please send a comment with the relevant details. Thanks for reading our blog.

OK, so most of the readers of this column know by now that besides being generally grumpy and full of complaints, I love the country and I enjoy the work I do, so when I can combine both of these and come up with something that is both immediately good (for the greater good) and in the long term good (for my pocket), I give it a serious go!

However, sometimes it seems that there are toooooo many barriers to such efforts and here is a typical case in point…..

Optronics Africa brings to you FEVER DETECTION for airports, harbours and all ports-of-entry.

Where do I start on this one?

  • The technology (WOW!) – Thermal imaging systems, coupled to sophisticated software, can provide a fist line of defence against the spread of infectious diseases, especially if the technology is installed at major ports-of-entry.
  • The FREE offer (WOWOWOW!!!) – Can one ask for anything more?
  • The context (Ja well no fine….)
  • The relevant role players (mmm?)

We have tried contacting people directly with little or no success.  We have sent e-mails to government departments, facilities, service centres and more.  We have set up meetings with decision makers, flown halfway across the country and upon arrival, been told that the meeting was cancelled.  We have sent e-mails to editors of publications and we have exhausted our options…..  If I look at the world through my eyes and try to interpret the situation, what I conclude, is that people are too scared to move one inch out of their comfort zone and they prefer to lose out on opportunities, rather than to potentially produce a benefit for all.  We South Africans have been hit by too many corruption scandals and to take a chance is a guaranteed means of drawing attention to oneself and to enter the firing line.  (no pun intended on firing….)

Now hypothetically,  let’s say we were bribing some people to take up this free offer…. I guess we would have had a lot of requests…..  Unfortunately, that’s not the way we do business, so I guess it’s going to end here and instead of enabling the authorities to take even better precautions, we will potentially hear the music later on….. Are there any recent statistics on swine flu, rift valley fever, bird flu, congo fever….  guess not….  I wonder what will be next?

Album cover from the 1965 musical: The Sound Of Music.... As they say, the hills are alive.... cough.... cough....

Let’s start at the very beginning…..

– doh (doe), a deer, a female deer

– re (ray), a drop of golden sun

– mi (me), a name I call myself

– fa (far), a long long way to run

– so (sow), a needle pulling thread

– la, a note to follow so

– ti (tea), a drink with jam and bread

– that will bring us back to doh…….

It’s difficult to believe that a musical from the 60’s can embody so much truth in a frivolous little tune…..  (this is what I call manipulation of the mind……  evil indeed……  I guess it’s how politicians twist the facts to make the public see what isn’t….)

OK, so here goes, the tune must be interpreted in context….. the context being that:

– doe, a deer: deer are herd animals and therefore prone to herd behaviour, much the same as people that have been indoctrinated to never make independent decisions without first consulting their superiors… who will consult their superiors…. who will…..  Where does the buck stop?  (oops, again no pun intended, a deer is indeed a buck…)

– ray, a drop of golden sun…. now we are talking science (in a simple manner, of course) …. a ray of light, a photon of light, energy…… the stuff that makes thermal imaging work….  You can SEE differences in temperature…..  You can detect a FEVER by looking at a person if you have the right equipment.  Isn’t this WOW?

– me, that’s obvious, I’m writing this, not so?

– far, we need to consider that everything is not clear-cut, so in the immediate context, far can imply that we have far to go and have not yet convinced anyone to take us up on the offer…..  or we can look at a more remote context, and consider that South Africa is heading for a silly season like no other, and in a few months we will be invaded by hoards of football fans coming from far and wide….  Where some may have been exposed to the flu, and others to something more sinister…

– sow, think of this as a symbolic statement…. like a needle pulls a thread, we are trying to pull a relatively new technology into the market……  I guess we should have punched some holes through the fabric first….  it seems to be very thick…..

– la…. I’m at a loss for words…. Guess the song was right all along…..

– tea…..  That’s a time (as in tea-time), or an occupation (as in tea-break)……  Very important and not to be meddled with….especially when scheduling inconsequential meetings to explain the potential benefits of harnessing technology to enhance the quality of life….

– and yes, we are back at herd behaviour with doe the deer and have achieved absolutely nothing!

GETTING BACK TO THE TOPIC OF FREE, GRATIS, MAHALA…..

Optronics Africa managed to secure a demo system from their Belgian supplier Xenics Infrared Solutions of a fever detection system suitable for use at ports-of-entry.  We are aware that such systems have been procured by some airports in South Africa, but we also know that not all airports have the technology, neither do all major harbours.  (If you want to read about the technology, go to the link on the Xenics website)

Having a demo system means that you can go out, do demonstrations and sell technology.  On the other hand, we have a social responsibility to do what we can to enhance the quality of life of all South Africans and what better way can you think of than providing a sophisticated, very expensive piece of technology to a port-of-entry for FREE use during the maddest rush of the decade….. (Look at the Optronics Africa Blog).  I’m not saying that we will guarantee a disease free South Africa, but I am saying that we will probably contribute to reducing both the entry and the spread of infectious disease into the country at a time when the whole world will be looking at us…..  Isn’t this something we should be aiming for?

During my last tour, I had the privilege of accompanying 24 well-fed, well-spoken, well-read, well-travelled, well-trained, well-monied, well-well, travellers from a huge well-known well-country , well ….  from up North in the Americas.

well, well, well and two pieces of luggage.

Already, while meeting them at the airport, I could foresee some of the potential problems during our well-planned, upcoming tour, as most of them carried two huge pieces of luggage (well, okay, they pushed these on the well-used airport trolleys) plus their additional hand luggage (typical, I would say… wouldn’t you??).

We were going to visit establishments where in some cases there would be no porterage facilities……  well-well, another story for another day ……  (or as they say in South African English: “Ja well no fine….”)

For any guide, having to travel in a 28-seater Volare, with 24 tourists plus the tour-leader plus the driver, this spelt Trouble.

Yes, Trouble with a capital T!  This specific 28-seater from Brazil has tiny little seats.  (The guests were commenting that the veeeeehickle must have been made for school children…..).

My guess is that these vehicles might have arrived in South Africa as 24-seaters and that they were all re-fitted (like some of the illegal panel van taxis being mentioned in the current news) with additional seats to have a greater carrying capacity.  To top it all, most of the travellers wanted to sit in the front seat that was actually reserved for me as the microphone only had a one meter cord!!

Guess where I ended up …. yip, on the hot seat – sitting on the engine!  Not the most comfortable seat if you have broken your coccyx last year in November during an unfortunate slip while accompanying guests on a township tour.  But this is yet another story for yet another day, only to be told after my return from a cold and wet Europe ….. (and if I have survived the endurance competition …..  ah ha … ANOTHER story ……)

But today’s African story is actually not meant to be about two-legged animals, uh, sorry – cognitive primates, but rather about a tenacious little carnivore with the reputation for being the ‘most fearless and meanest animal in the world’, as seen through my eyes.

This tenacious, courageous, resourceful little animal has coarse pale grey hair on the mantle, extending from the crown all the way down to the base of the tail.  The rest of the body is black and is separated from the mantle by a white stripe.  The dense fur, together with its thick and extremely loose skin and long sharp claws, enable this little King of Attitude to turn around and retaliate, even when it has been bitten at the back of the head by its opponent.

Besides having a most beautiful and striking appearance and a reputation to be proud of, it has also been (blessed?) with the most awful smelling secretion imaginable, that it emits from a pair of anal glands.  It performs this act when it is marking its territory, when it is  threatened or whenever it feels the urge to do so.  Yes, I am talking about South Africa’s small honey badger with the huge attitude.

No wonder the old South African Defence Force named their very successful 6×6 infantry combat vehicle (the RATEL) after it!

13:00 – 38ºC that afternoon, hot and humid

17:15 – Arrive at Satara Camp in the Kruger National Park – reception committee of 10 Vervet Monkeys pulling the dustbins over and looking for something edible.  (I’m a little bit cautious of these as I have seen the damage they can cause to a human when they feel intimidated.)

18:30 – I take out the essential tools and light my braaivleis fire (successfully, mind you).  Of course, with the fire, the moon, the stars, my newly acquired Petzl head lamp, some well matured steak cooked to perfection, some delicious venison wors, and lest we forget some red wine to drink….forget the salads …   Can you tell that I am a typical South African Boertjie?

Inside my air-conditioned rondawel lies my camera, ready, just waiting for action – on the concrete headboard – only 7 metres from me but separated by a closed sliding door.  After all, I don’t want to contract Malaria, so while I occupy the smoke cloud from my braaivleis fire, I keep the rondawel anopheles free.  (Satara recently upgraded their B circle huts – very nice).

I hear a scurrying noise close by and my immediate thought – monkeys, but this time of night?  What a surprise when I see the King of Attitude stomping towards me on the short powerful legs, giving me a very strange grunt-hiss and showing off the very sharp teeth  ….  Anyway, had some wine, but still able to think a little straight, I did the perfect chaînés turn (to perfection, I thought at the time) and ran towards the camera at full canter,  after all, it’s not every day that you see one of these tenacious little monsters (nor every night for that matter).

My olympic sprint for the camera came to a sudden and dead stop. The sliding door was still closed …. (well, up to that stage it was) and I got thrown back a few meters.  This didn’t end my desperate desire to get the magical photograph.  I grabbed opportunity by its short hair (or the bull by the horns, if you prefer) and ignored the loud grunt next to me – I also ignored the bruise on my forehead, the fuzzy feeling in my head and the wobbly legs.

Snap-seconds later, my dented dignity partially restored and with the strength of a rabid Blue Bull supporter, I moved aside the now “out of frame” sliding door, grabbed the camera and quietly and discreetly tip-toed outside.

The King of Attitude probably wondered about the sudden pandemonium and the sudden end to the hive of activity, as it sat watching me from the other side of the fire.  As I quietly emerged from the rondawel with the camera, still feeling a bit wonky,  it dashed off around to the back of the rondawel and I never got my photograph.

Disgruntled, I lifted the sliding door back onto its tracks, put some ice on my forehead and went to bed.  I woke up early the next morning with a bad headache, a stiff neck, a sore back and believe it or not, bruised elbows!!

I must be honest, I never ever, during this whole mayhem, gave one single thought to those formidable anal glands that these animals have  ………. and luckily for me, neither did he!

I need to start this posting from a point that makes sense and ties in with what I have written before.  I therefore choose to start from the premise that the readers don’t know me from a bar of soap, and that I need to introduce myself adequately.

This post is about life in South Africa, about the world seen from my myopic perspective through my own eyes, and about some people that I either admire and look up to, or who have made a significant difference to my life throughout the years.

I HAVE NO PHOTOS FOR THIS BLOG POST… SO IF YOU ARE EXPECTING ENTERTAINMENT…. SORRY, NOT TODAY!

Let us now look at my reasons for writing this post.

  • First and foremost, I am writing because I love this country, and I don’t want to see it fall apart.
  • Too many people complain, but not enough of them are prepared to say it out loud on an open forum.  I can hazard a guess at the reasons for their silence, (the almost tangible silence that feels like an electrostatic build-up before the thunder storm) and sincerely hope that I am wrong.
  • The last reason is one of motivation.  I am motivated to say these things because I care about the country, I care about what people will think, and most of all I care enough to want to make a difference….

I’m still here, not so?

In fact, the greater part of this post has already been posted on facebook in response to a comment made by a young lady about my previous blog post (to TIP or NOT to TIP…. that is the question……).  The young lady, Louise can arguably be described as the first true love of my life… at age 17….what do kids know?  She is now happily married and has several children.

Her comments in response to my posting were the following:

As a person with a love of architecture,restoration and eating out I understand some of your blog sentiments, although I see work ethic and pride around me every day.The guy who happily passes you your ticket (cos you have short arms) at the shopping centre. The person who sold me an exquisite ‘gallery standard’ beaded horse for R25 at the street lights and our dustbin man…always in his yellow tee-shirt… running and whistling down our street…everything about him shouting..” what a k*k job but what a wonderful world!”

24 February at 09:48

Why would I want to re-post something that has already seen the light of day on facebook, simply because I feel that I need to tell a much larger audience than on facebook alone….. I will insert my facebook response at the end of this post.

So, a little bit about my life:

  • I grew up in Port Elizabeth, my mom satyed at home because my parents felt this would be better for my development into the ‘responsible?’ and ‘productive?’ adult that I am today.
  • My dad worked at a factory as a fitter, and put in a lot of overtime to make ends meet.  He also kept an immaculate vegetable garden that he tended on weekends, early mornings and evenings after coming home.
  • The vegetable garden fed us, and produced enough excess for several visitors and neighbours to always leave with a large bag of veggies.  We also kept rabbits… the poor man’s source of protein…. to this day I don’t know if I enjoy rabbit or hate it…. and for the really squeamish readers, we collected our garden snails, fed them, cleaned them, removed them from the shells and kept them in frozen portions in the freezer to eat on special occasions with garlic and parsley butter…

To me, my dad symbolises the essence of work ethic.  He passed away a couple of years ago, happy in the knowledge that in all his life he had never hurt anyone or made an enemy…. he did not have much to show for it however, and I find this hard to take….. especially when accusations get levelled and I am told by a friend of many years that if I can’t take the heat I should get out of the kitchen and leave the country….

My mother worked around the house, managed the money and kept me on a straight course.  I owe a lot to both of my parents.

Now getting back to me, and my life…. in today’s world, I would probably be described as a spoiled brat.  After all, during Apartheid, in a time of Bantu Education and extremely good government schools for Whites, I finished my primary education at a Roman Catholic Convent School and proceeded to demand that my parents put me through a private Catholic High School for boys…. enter Marist Brother’s College – St Patrick’s in Walmer PE.

This could have been the last straw to break my father’s back, but no, my mother went to see the principal, Brother Gerard, and she negotiated a discount for underprivileged families.  She grovelled and motivated, and arranged a huge grant similar to that extended to some black families that had their kids in the school.

Before everyone screams blue murder, racism and discrimination, I want to make it clear that in the the late 70’s, to mid 80’s we had a fairly vociferous white minority (including several of my school teachers) that protested in their own way against government policy.  This manifested itself at school in many ways…. we had multi-racial classes (granted that the non-white kids were severely outnumbered)… we listened to banned music records in class, we read political literature and debated about various the faiths and liberation theology…….. and we were encouraged to study hard.  Above all, the emphasis was on study and work ethic.

This did not make me a revolutionary (I am not even claiming that I did anything to bring about changes…..), but it did make me see things differently, and it created a sense of understanding and empathy for others… I guess this is what the Dominican Nuns and Marist Brothers were working on all along.  They were making us ‘human’ human beings, and laying the groundwork for life in the Rainbow Nation.  Bless them!

Now before everyone thinks that I had it rosy all along, and that I landed in the butter with a huge sliver teaspoon in my mouth, the downside of having hard-working middle class parents with little money and a burning desire to give their only son the best, and nothing but the best, was that I needed to do my bit too.

Ask yourself what can this be at age – 13 to 17 – the answer is simple… Weekends were defined by the confines of my dad’s vegetable garden while my friends went to Humewood Beach, Sardinia Bay and other exotic locations further afield from Port Elizabeth.  School was 15km on a bicycle from home in both directions, and no other means of transport….

This all changed when I turned 17.  My school career was uprooted as was that of most of my classmates.  The three Roman Catholic High Schools in PE merged to become Trinity High School, and I took the bus every day.  This school had many attractions, for the first time since age 13 I was not only in a multi-racial school, but also in a school that had GIRLS!  It was here that I met the young lady mentioned above, my first childhood girlfriend.

Obviously this did not contribute to an illustrious way to end one’s school career with all these added distractions, but I managed, and achieved a University Entrance Pass.

The next year I started my BSc degree at the University of Port Elizabeth (UPE) which is now known as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.  The university was 26km from home on the bicycle…. in windy and hilly PE….. and 26km back home after classes every day……  I’m not complaining, but I worked for what I have…..

The point I have been trying to make is that some people have it easier than others, but it is all a matter of your perspective.  I think I had it pretty tough during my university years.  let’s not even get into National Service.  That will be a story for another day.

As I write this post, two of the people that I have looked up to the most during my formative years are abandoning, or have already abandoned this ship that I call home… More is the loss for those that stay behind!

  • Gervase has chosen to start a new life in Spain with his wife, and he is as happily integrated into Spanish society as is his daughter (born in South Africa).  This is the man that taught me all I know about the tourism industry and he is the kind of person that we cannot afford to lose.
  • Jan is in the final stages of packing for New Zealand… His wife and son are there already, and he is one of South Africa’s top scientists as far as I am concerned…. another tragic loss to this country…

My response to Louise’s posting of 24 February on facebook follows below:

Sure, there is work ethic… not always consistent, but there nonetheless…. That’s not what I’m on about.

I have friends that work very hard every day, and I know a porter near the Kruger Park that has been working tirelessly at the same hotel for almost 20 years (through three major name changes as a result of change of ownership, one flood and two refurbishments….) and he is still a porter…….

1) I’m p***ed off because of the attitude that says…. ‘Give it to me, I’m entitled……’ as opposed to ‘Thank you, I really appreciate your generosity….’. This attitude also rears its ugly head in the following manner…..’I am paid to do it, but if you don’t tip me, get someone else to do my work….’

2) I really hate to see what is being allowed to happen to our historical buildings and our natural heritage. The expensive name changes are absurd, but the destruction of our heritage is unforgivable… It is very rewarding to visit Constitution Hill, and I am very proud of the Constitutional Court…. but building new landmarks is no excuse for allowing the old ones to fall apart and fade away…..

– On a personal note:

When last did you go for a little trip to Central in PE? Have you walked around Fort Frederick…. or visited the little houses on Donkin Terrace and Castle Hill….. or visited a nice shop in Main Street… oops Govan Mbeki….. is it Road or Avenue…. you know, that tacky street where the beautiful PE Library with Queen Victoria’s statue and the old Standard Bank building and City Hall used to stand so proudly…..

– In fact, let’s take it one step further….

Have you heard of a place called SOWETO? Have you heard of Freedom Square? (or Walther Sisulu Square of Dedication…..). I go there quite often…. A lot of taxpayer money went into building a very sophisticated and modern infrastructure at this location which symbolises everything that ‘the Struggle’ was all about. This should be a place of pride and a sense of achievement for the nation….. instead….. a few years down the line after its inauguration, the square has no vibe, it is not alive, it has weeds growing between the paving….. uprooted trees…… broken concrete fixtures….. stolen electrical fittings…… paving that has been lifted…… need I continue? I guess the people of the nation don’t understand what Freedom Square symbolises to the world and what it should mean to them….. or else they just don’t care!

– In total contrast, two other places that I often stop at, and which show work ethic and are very much alive. A brief mention is deserved…..

A) The Maponya Mall – This is the height of luxury…. shopping heaven…. very close to Baragwanath, Diepsloot and Freedom Square…. In total contrast to the square, it is very much alive, buzzing, clean, well maintained, creates job opportunities and undoubtedly generates a huge profit for the owners…. This symbolises for me all the hopes for a new future where work ethic, initiative, the refusal to admit defeat and pride make things come together in a functional and sustainable manner…. This is the product of work ethic and continuous effort and a will to succeed that is admirable and which should be aspired to by all. I would be happy if I could in my lifetime personally achieve a fraction of what Mr Richard Maponya has done with his life….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Maponya
http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/richard-maponya-2008-02-29

B) OK, now to the other extreme…. we have all heard of the Voortrekker Monument, some people go there for reasons that are personal…..Others refuse to go there also for reasons that are personal, but I go there because it is on the tourist route, much as the Carlton Centre in Joburg downtown, or the Apartheid Museum at Crown Mines, or Freedom Square and Wandie’s Restaurant in Soweto….and because I think anyone that visits South Africa needs to visit the Voortrekker Monument as much as they need to visit the Apartheid Museum. Why have I made special mention of the Monument? Because the people running it are proud of what it means to them. Because they are spending money and putting in a lot of effort to maintain it. Because they are making improvements to the tourist infrastructure on an almost daily basis… larger shop…
restaurant deck… info centre…. etc…. In fact, they have added features to it such as a new wall of remembrance and they have brought in the old 32 Batallion Tree from Pomfret lest it also turn into firewood like the floorboards of the Old Johannesburg Post Office…..

Now ask yourself why we need an additional Wall of Remembrance for all the troepies that died during the border conflict if we already have a wall at Fort Klapperkop, and bronze plaques at places like the Union Building Gardens? The answers will be obvious if you go visit the Union Buildings and see how many of these plaques have been stolen…. and how many names have been lost…..

OK? And today I have not had any wine…. yet that is!

I guess after all this writing I should pour that glass before getting back to work, and I should also remember to cut and paste this response into my blog… it is worthy of archiving for the future!

24 February at 11:12

As I said…. no photos today.  Thanks for reading to the end!

Its been a long time since the last blog…. why? because I’ve been busy….. why? because I need to earn money…. why? because I have to pay my taxes……  why?   I don’t know… I guess someone has to pay…..

Since I’m the one paying the taxes, then at least I feel as if I have earned the privilege of trying to preach unto others and help them to see the world as it looks like through my eyes….

Today was a really lousy day……another one of those days where I have too much to do (as usual)….. not enough time to do it in……  so, what made it special?  Nothing much, except that today was one of those rare days when Zania and I actually had enough free time available to get into each other’s hair….. (something very rare, because we usually keep on missing each other…..not because we’re trying to….it just happens that way….)  We need to work hard to make ends meet.  We work hard, and make hay while the sun shines, and we both know that money does not grow on trees…. at least not for us….

Now ask yourself…. what is so special about a couple occasionally having enough free time available to work on each other’s nerves?  The answer is simple…. we both multitask…. today a tour-guide…. tomorrow a consultant in the defence industry….. or a corporate governance consultant…….the next day a supplier of high-tech equipment for the research industry…..  I know… this may not seem normal to most people out there, but it works for us….. IT HAS TOO!  We don’t get any handouts, but we do have to pay our taxes….

It also means that to succeed and maintain a reasonable standard of living in a country where the unemployment rate is quoted on the CIA World Factbook as being estimated at 24% (which means it’s probably more…. after all, a lot of people make a living offering services on the pavement, but they are not registered or taxed……) one needs to think pro-actively, anticipate and prepare for what others would probably consider major personal economic disasters, and then one needs to continue without looking back, and at all times one has to keep looking for the silver lining where most people see only the dark thunder clouds….

modern city life in a developing nation..... (Photo: Z Collin)

So, what’s the secret to surviving in a first world society that is surrounded by third world standards?  There’s no secret…. you need to think ahead and plan…. because no-one else is thinking for you….

Today’s blog is not a story about food and wine…. but these two hugely important elements have played a significant role in setting the mood for today’s little story….

After several weeks of working very hard and not seeing each other much, we decided to treat ourselves to some well deserved sushi…TOGETHER…..  (OK, so I’ve had a glass too many tonight…. and Zania drove home…. NO DRINKING AND DRIVING….that’s a part of our first world society influence….)  The wine probably explains some of my belligerence, but then I guess it builds up over time…. (the belligerence…. not the wine… that is…..) and the wine just lubricates the tongue a bit…. and I need to let it out… ulcers are not good for anyone….. so here goes……

The photo above is actually a bad example of what I’m trying to illustrate.  After all, the donkey cart is actually quite cute, and it is beautifully decorated with bunches of bright yellow flowers…… At least it serves to demonstrate the divergence in culture that makes this country so unique…  I love diversity… it is important to nurture… it makes us stronger, more adaptable, and better able to cope with changing conditions and the challenges of the modern world….  That said, I also need to state that it is important to maintain standards and continue delivering world-class services….  (I guess we’re not doing so well on this… after all, it’s not just my perception, I keep on reading about it in the newspapers…..and it’s not even the Football World Cup yet….)

Unfortunately I have not taken any photos of primitive 3rd world pavement barber shops operating with battery packs and clippers in the centres of what were once beautiful and spotlessly clean modern cities….Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria…. to name a few…..

That photo will come another day when I remember to pull out my camera (instead of staring in amazement at a total loss for words) and photographically shoot one of the “entrepreneurs” that regularly defaces our once clean city pavements…..  This activity is not even a patch on some of the more disgusting features of the modern city landscape such as the squatted and defaced buildings (defaced sounds so much nicer than defecated…) that abound in areas such as Hillbrow, Johannesburg Downtown and Durban South Beach to name some of the more familiar areas that international travellers may remember….

I look at graffiti, empty dustbins with trash scattered around everywhere….. everywhere but inside the bins….empty boutiques with broken windows and signs of soot and cooking smoke on the outside walls, all enveloped in a cloud of indescribable smells… I can actually picture hotels with cosmopolitan pavement cafes…. tourist busses and expensive boutiques…..

I look at a dilapidated balcony enclosed in barbed wire and covered in what looks like rags, and I remember having a cup of really good espresso with a client…… same balcony….different universe….  I look at a shop window…untidily and hastily bricked shut….the glass is gone, the wall has replaced it, and I remember going inside and buying a shirt and a pair of trousers… and my most comfortable ever pair of leather moccasins….my Speedy Ducks……. this is Hillbrow today…. I console myself by remembering the 90’s and the turn of the century….it was worse then than what it is today….. the Nandos Chicken store in Hillbrow had reinforced shatterproof glass and intercom systems… at least that has returned to normal….the glass is gone and you can see people serving you….

Maybe we have to allow this decay to happen…. maybe we have to let it go full circle…. it is only when everything is completely trashed and irreparable that people will realise what they had…..maybe then the desire to rebuild will be re-ignited….  My greatest fear is that the new generation will not know what they had, and we will not be capable or equipped to regenerate…..

Why these memories?  Why not just avoid these areas and concentrate on the luxury and wealth of the Northern Suburbs?  After all, wandering around window-shopping in Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square is as much of a world-class shopping experience as wandering around the great boutiques of Paris or the Malls of New York….  The answer is that I can’t stay away from these once proud and now cockroach infested city slums….. my curiosity drives me…. I have to see for myself and I have to know….. I was guiding tourists in the late 80’s…. a time when landmarks such as the Johannesburg Sun and the Carlton Hotel were world-class 5* hotels, and not huge evacuated concrete shells mothballed, built shut, enclosed in palisades and barbed wire….. to keep the squatters out……

There was a time when a concierge was a worthy ambassador for our wonderful and diverse country, a competent person with gold keys on his lapel…and a porter stood upright, and was proud to do his work…. They were not just glorified receptionists and luggage jockeys waiting for a handout….. (lately, many don’t wait for the handout…. they actually demand a tip before they touch your luggage….so much for service oriented!)

(I am proud to say that we still have some of these valuable ambassadors left in Johannesburg, true concierges and head porters worthy of note, as good as the best in the world….but rapidly approaching pensionable age….if not there already… Archie, Dan, Ronny, Dicky, Lerrick…these guys know who I’m talking about….. sadly, they have been displaced to the Northern Suburbs such as Sandton or Umhlanga Ridge, they have been forced to abandon the ratholes that have become of the once proud and majestic cities of Johannesburg and Durban…..)

Let’s pray (figuratively that is…) that the cities will recover their grandeur, and that we will be able to arrest this decay before more historic buildings go the way of the old Johannesburg Post Office, which recently was severely damaged in a fire because of bureaucratic indifference and a total lack of willpower by those in charge to protect the country’s once proud and beautiful heritage….

Let’s admit it and say it like it is….  This kind of activity does not belong on the pavement of a first world city…. or a developing nation for that matter….. it’s downright primitive, and it is a sign of the greater decay and slide into 3rd world status that many people are observing and predicting from the sidelines….. This goes hand-in-hand with electrical blackouts…. ooops load-shedding to be politically correct….rising crime and xenophobia……yes…. that’s correct xenophobia in our beautiful country, South Africa, the Rainbow Nation….  What is so significant about the rise in xenophobia? Easy….. it just means that racism is very much alive….. it is no longer called Apartheid (the rest of the world can breathe easily)….. but….. people still get hurt, and some even die….. what’s in a word?  Do we accept it because we have been indoctrinated?  Is it because double standards are the norm?

Straggly vulture waiting for scraps in a once majestic tree.... (Photo: T Bingle)

Interpret the photo as you wish…..  I think it lends some poetic value to my rantings and ravings…..

OK, so now that I have vented some of my rage, let me get to the underlying topic of this blog……  to TIP….. or NOT to TIP……. that is the question……

So, before we get onto this topic which some may see as controversial, but which to me is just another element of this decadence that has hit our cities, let’s look at it objectively…. what is a tip?  A tip is what is often referred to as a gratuity.  (Though by definition a tip is never legally required, and its amount is at the discretion of the patron being served, in some circumstances failing to give an adequate tip when one is expected may be considered very miserly, a violation of etiquette, or unethical.)

Simply put….. a tip is not a divine right….. if you do your work….. and you do it well….. fortune may smile upon you, and you may get a tip….. on the other hand….. you may not…..  I know guides that work very hard, and if they get a tip they are usually very grateful…. why?  Because they see this as a BONUS, and not a RIGHT…  (if not why bother with a salary….)

You have other service providers that are always unhappy with what they get, because they think tips are their divine right.  These people give customer service a bad name….  I have sat with a field guide in the front of an open safari vehicle….  His tour consisted of fast driving from radio call (wildlife sighting) to radio call (wildlife sighting)…. His knowledge transfer to the clients was minimal… no interesting anecdotes…. no wildlife facts…… nothing…… and in between he kept on asking if the guests would spark…. eventually I decided to get to the bottom of this and I asked him what he meant by spark?  He looked at me in amazement and explained that spark meant to tip BIG!

😉

I left it at that…..  How do you tell a cretin that he should do his job with passion or move on….. and that any tip is a bonus!

I remember drinking an expensive Cognac with a client after a wonderful dinner at a very nice hotel (his wife had already gone to bed, the other guests were starting to fade after a long day)…..I was offered a Cuban cigar…. unfortunately I don’t smoke….the Cognac and the company were good, and the memories will last forever…..this was one of my first ever Garden Route Tours, the client was Swiss and it happened about 19 years ago…..I don’t remember if I received a cash tip or not….does it matter?

Sure, a tip is great…. but there are other ways of showing appreciation, and if you like what you do these will remain with you forever….  Money is great… but it is not everything…..

So when is it proper to tip someone?  I think this is a question that can only be answered correctly by the person doing the tipping, although different countries and cultures have different norms.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion…. and here is my little bit of wisdom:

  • If the service was good – spread the money and share some wealth….
  • If the service was amazing – be generous….a tip is well deserved, and your generosity will be reciprocated some day……
  • If the service was lousy – don’t be intimidated…. let them know you’re unhappy, and don’t tip!  Let it be a lesson……
  • If the service was not up to standard, but the effort was there – give constructive advice, see if the advice is accepted graciously…. and then decide if a tip is warranted……
  • Write a nice letter to the service provider…. praise is most appreciated (and I think it is often worth more than a tip!)
  • Need I say more?

For all the foreign readers that may decide to visit this great country over the Football World Cup period… remember…. in South Africa, the norm is to add 10% onto the bill for the gratuity at restaurants.  It is also common to tip porters, tourist guides, rangers, trackers and other similar professions.  The amounts vary, but please, don’t aggravate an already corrupt situation…. bad service should not be rewarded, and tipping for lousy service results in even more mediocre service….

A tip is a means of thanking and showing appreciation….. A tip is not a contribution to a charity.  If you have to tip a driver and a guide…..or a tracker and a ranger….. remember to be FAIR…..don’t tip the one and not the other based on guilt feelings or pity…. the tip should be an indication of your satisfaction with the service rendered and it should above all be fair to both….

I am sick and tired of putting up with people that demand a tip and do not deliver services of an acceptable standard… I am sick and tired of porters that receive a salary but do not want to offload luggage at a hotel because they first want to receive a tip…. in cash…..tax free……you may be wondering what inspired this tirade.  The reason is simple.  Tonight we went out.  We wanted to have a good time, and we decided to do it light….. sushi being the preferred choice….. with a nice unwooded white wine…..

Now let’s get sushi into perspective… It has become a fashionable food in the last decade.  I remember a time when you could count the Japanese restaurants of Johannesburg and Pretoria on one hand.  Now, every seafood restaurant serves sushi… and some Italian and Portuguese ones too…. In fact… all the old Chinese take-aways have gone through an enlightened transition, and they also offer Japanese sushi….

Some useful background information: South Africa has over the last 40 years become a nation of franchise service providers, and although I enjoy something special, I admit that in many ways, this has contributed to a situation where potentially dubious standards are often improved and lifted to comply with the franchisors’ minimum standards.  This has led to the creation of several competitive and in some cases excellent food brands that are able to stand head and shoulders above the imported international competition.  I would like to name some local South African franchise brands that in my opinion are superior in their own special way, and are found almost anywhere in South Africa where football matches will be played….and in some cases outside our borders too….  This in no way should be interpreted to detract from the offerings of other similar establishments….and small privately owned concerns that offer excellent value and quality…  As I said… these are my opinions…..

  • The best takeaway flame-grilled burgers in South Africa by far: Steers
  • The hottest chicken deal South of the Sahara….. and anywhere else for that matter: Nandos
  • Pizza… with a thin crust the way it was meant to be…. and reasonably priced too: Col’Cacchio
  • Child friendly steakhouse, with a varied menu for all tastes: Spur Steak Ranches
  • Coffee and light meals on the go: Mugg & Bean
  • Fish, seafood and sushi at good value for money prices: Cape Town Fishmarket

Now that I’ve done my bit to promote South African brands, Nation Building, job creation and all the rest, I feel that I can mention that we have great wines and beers too…..please come and enjoy them…..

What I have not mentioned is that we also have excellent gourmet restaurants, and that the standard of cuisine is very high… Unfortunately, the eating experience is often marred, and sometimes ends up being less than perfect due to unacceptable service standards.

So getting back to the sushi experience…… I can confidently say that the standard of sushi in South Africa is on the whole very high (as long as you let common sense steer you away from the obviously suspect sushi bars…), having eaten it in several other countries on three continents…… NO, I have never been to Japan before……

My favourite sushi restaurant until recently, was KOI in Johannesburg…. really great, good food, friendly service….but I had an orgasmic business lunch in a newly opened restaurant in Sandton, Maximilliens at the Da Vinci Hotel, and this is now my number one choice for sushi in Johannesburg…. The preparation is impeccable, the fish is fresh and the food is well priced…. The sushi has a Mediterranean twist, but I’m not going to spoil the experience by telling anyone what that twist is…..

So, getting back to my gripe….

Today, we walked into a franchise restaurant that we usually enjoy.  The fish is usually very fresh, prices are reasonable, service is average although sometimes it is excellent….   We sat down at the sushi bar to order our food, and I immediately knew that it was going to be one of those days….. When the waiter started arguing with me about my wine selection and trying to convince me to take something else from the wine-list….(I am confused….  do they work for a salary, a sales commission and also demand a tip?)

As if this was not enough, after a prolonged absence during which we saw him chatting animatedly to another waiter that had a very noisy cough, he returned with a wine bottle from the bar that was already open, and which for all intents and purposes could have been diluted or refilled.  We sent the bottle back, and eventually received a new one that was still sealed.

I knew that I was going to lose my cool by the time the wasabi and ginger came out.  Zania had asked for a larger portion (she is addicted to wasabi and loves the pickled ginger….), all to no avail.  Eventually, in the absence of a competent waiter we got up and helped ourselves to the ginger and wasabi from the containers behind the counter…..  This obviously elicited a response which we chose to ignore…. life is tough…. isn’t it?

When the time came to leave the restaurant, we paid our bill (after fixing the waiter’s mistakes…. incorrectly billed total….automatically added tip which we subtracted etc….) and ignored the remarks made by the waiter about the tip that he thought he was entitled to….  We chose to ignore him too…..it works both ways…… I guess that answers the question about tipping……  Not so?

Are we destined to see everything go this way?  Is there no pride in one’s work?  Is everything about making money… by whatever means, regardless…..  Is it too late to pull up our socks and teach the younger generation about work ethic and pride?  We are busy upgrading infrastructure and building world class facilities….. but if we do not invest in upgrading the peoples’ attitude, these improvements are destined to go the same way as our former cities…

Are we doomed to exist in a double standard society where the restaurateur with the classy joint is penalised for having a cockroach fly into his spotless kitchen, while the pavement food vendor has no health inspectors to worry about while he is busy slaughtering a chicken and plucking it clean in the street?  Is it discriminatory to put waiters and kitchen staff through health inspections…. as was done in the old South Africa?  oh…. and in case you get the wrong impression….. I am not referring to voluntary AIDS testing….. I am thinking about hepatitis, TB and a myriad of other infectious diseases that I as a patron do not wish to pick up on my plate….

The next question is about bedtime:  to SLEEP or not to SLEEP……  Good night!

Edited the morning after: I looked at this long rambling blog and wondered if I shouldn’t just wipe it and start again…..but then I decided I should fix it in a couple of places, tighten the loose bits and let it be…. I have one HUGE request…. South Africa is a GREAT COUNTRY!  We have much to offer and we would like to be able to say that we offer good value for money…  I have seen some prices skyrocket as people get greedy and aim for easy takings….  Please don’t judge the country…. judge the greedy opportunists…..  Help us to make this a better place for all….  A small start that can go a long way is by being fair when you are the recipient of either good, bad, average or mediocre service….. tell it like it is!