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A Slice Of Africa In Durban




I arrive in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, and it’s not as warm as most South Africans know it to be. But the weather is not going to dampen my spirits or stop me and my colleague, Lubabalo Mashiqana, from scouring the coastal city of Durban for stories.

Landing at King Shaka International Airport, hungry, I phone a friend, Thomokazi Bunjana, who we call Tom. I know her from Soweto in Johannesburg, where I reside, although she now lives in Durban.

We ask her to direct us, and our first stop is Chicken Licken, a South African fast-food fried chicken outlet in town. Our hunger sated, we bid her goodbye, and drive 40kms north in our ever-beeping Renault Clio 4 to Ballito, a holiday town located in the province, to what will be our lodging for the next two nights.

The next morning, it’s pouring – a rarity for sunny Durban. I am surprised but mostly worried about whether I will get to do justice to a story idea I had on rickshaws, the two-wheeled passenger cart only found in Durban.

The rain does not deter our mission. We have breakfast, take a shower and drive to the KZNSA Gallery to meet photographer Niamh Walsh-Vorster, the co-founder of award-winning online e-zine, Ja. I expect to see a much older, white European lady. Walsh-Vorster is young, African and accomplished. She had started Ja. with friend and writer Dave Mann in 2014.

Ja magazines (Photo supplied)

She says they are endeavoring to shift the power dynamics in editorship “because it can be problematic”.

“As much as we do the admin and organizing and have the vision for it, we cannot run without contributors and the creatives that still believe in the ethos of it,” says Walsh-Vorster.

They would rather call themselves the Ja. Team, and the idea is to get writers and photographers who may not find it easy to be published elsewhere. So the team created a platform to generate such opportunities, not just for Durbanites, but all Africans.

The interview is over and I ask Walsh-Vorster for other newsmakers and story ideas in Durban. She suggests Gcina Shange, a choreographer who also teaches young girls to express themselves through dance, and who agrees to meet me later in the afternoon.

Walsh-Vorster hugs me goodbye. Walking back to the car, I am still worried: “Will the rickshaws be at the beach in this weather?” It was midday, grey, and still drizzling.

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I call Tom and ask her to take us to the rickshaws at the Umhlanga beach front. On arrival, I see white car guards. This sight is unusual in Johannesburg. I have never ever had a white man direct me to park the car. I handed him the R2 for the service like I would in Johannesburg.

We head out and see the subjects, the rickshaws. I take out my camera and start shooting. I approach one of the rickshaw drivers and he tells me I need to pay for the interview, the picture and the ride. I think fast on my feet. I use the weather to my advantage – business is not good for the day. I approach an idle rickshaw and offer to pay R50 ($3.6) for the ride and a quick interview, knowing I am going to be able to shoot pictures. Seemingly shy, Nkosinathi Dlamini, the driver, offers to talk.

“My father taught me how to ride; I couldn’t get a job so I came to work as a rickshaw driver. We make around R600 ($43) a day during holiday season and on a bad day, you can go home with R0,” he laughs.

Suddenly, the sky clears and customers come near. Dlamini gets impatient and wants to take my colleague Mashiqana for the ride so he can return for more riders. I could see Mashiqana was having the time of his life riding the rickshaw.

In the end, for a small fee, I managed to get him a ride, got a few words out of Dlamini for my story and a defining picture of my Durban experience.

Time was on our side, as we strolled to the shops for a six-pack for the after-work hours.

It is now time to meet Shange at The Playhouse Company, a theater house in town. Parking is a nightmare here because of all the municipal buildings in the area. I finally find one less than a kilometer away from the venue. I rush assuming I am late.

“Hi,” trills Shange. “I thought you would be older.” We laugh.

Choreographer Gcina Shange (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Shange was born in a village in the south coast of Durban, and moved to the city as a teenager to finish high school. At the time, in 1997, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) dominated parts of KwaZulu-Natal and one had to mind what they said, she says.

She used to write poems and didn’t know there was a performer in her.

“The first poem I wrote was about education and this poem put me in a dangerous space in terms of the politics I didn’t understand at the time,” Shange recalls.

Her mother suggested she move to the township and that’s where she fell in love with theater. She never looked back, finding herself in Johannesburg writing scripts, acting and later dancing. She has since traveled across South Africa performing.

READ MORE: A Soweto Boy In An Afrikaner Haven

The interview continues until closing time at the theater at 6PM when we are asked – rather rudely – to leave. The husky-voiced, dreadlocked Shange and I humbly stand up and thank them for letting us use the space although we aren’t happy about the situation. But life goes on.

Saddened, my colleague and I drive back to Ballito with my six in the boot to cheer me up on the last night of our assignment. I was done with work and had the freedom to indulge.

It’s Friday morning and the weather is better, I have enough time for a walk on the beach before breakfast. I am in my track pants and running shoes like I am off to the gym. Locals can tell I am not from the coast, but I don’t care.

After packing and breakfast, we drive back to the airport. We drive slowly but arrive early, and the only thought in my head is to return to the province on holiday with a girlfriend. The hustle and bustle of Johannesburg is not where I want to be.

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No Longer In The Wilderness




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Meet the women challenging stereotypes deep in the bush in Botswana’s tourism capital Maun, filling roles conventionally held by men.

For 10 years, until 2018, Botswana had no First Lady, as President Ian Khama was unmarried. Botswana’s first First Lady, Ruth Williams Khama, the wife of Botswana’s first president Sir Seretse Khama, was recognized for her charitable work with women, and the current First Lady, Neo Masisi, is a champion for these causes too.

However, Masisi is also an accountant by profession with an MBA and an impressive resume (United Nations Headquarters in New York, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic).

But not just on the frontlines, in the deeper realms of this southern African country and acclaimed tourism destination, there are more women defying stereotypes, especially in its famed safari industry.

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In the country’s tourism capital of Maun, at Kwando Safaris, guests visiting the iconic Okavango Delta waterways and predator plains of the Central Kalahari might be surprised to discover that for over a decade, a majority team of women have been behind the operation.

“Having so many women work in the company was never a policy; it just happened that way. I guess that women were just more capable,” says Sue Smart in her office in Maun.

She talks about her role as the Director of Kwando Safaris for 12 years as an accidental occupation, but a gutsy corporate background primed her for the head position.

“Coming to Gaborone as a volunteer, I worked with children impacted by HIV/AIDS. Then I visited the Okavango Delta on holiday. A chain of life events eventually led to me working at Kwando Safaris’ Kwara Camp, volunteering back of house, in the kitchen, with housekeeping – anywhere they needed it.”

Ungwang Makuluba is Moremi Air’s first local female pilot. Picture: Melanie Van Zyl

Formerly a Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, with a background in environmental biology, it was a chance meeting with the owner that saw her grow from volunteer to boss in just three months. “In many ways, I was not a conventional fit for this role. I’m not African, a pilot, a guide, or a man, but my background in other areas meant I could run a business – even in the bush.”

Having a woman at the helm has had significant side effects for the company. Many women at Kwando Safaris hold high positions, from the general manager to operations manager to those in reservations to sales and marketing. This unofficial head office policy also extends into the camps in a formal staff management plan, where each lodge has a male and a female camp manager always on duty. 

Looking at the origins of tourism in Botswana, it’s perhaps not surprising that (generally speaking) travel in southern Africa has been a male-dominated industry. After all, the very first visitors to Botswana’s wild spaces were rough and tough gun-slinging, trophy-seeking tourists.

The current CEO of Botswana Tourism is a woman and, attesting to the country’s progressiveness, she’s not the first either. Myra Sekgororoane is encouraging about women in the industry saying, “I have not encountered any significant challenges because of my gender. Perhaps, I have been lucky in that the hospitality and tourism industry tends to have a high predominance of females globally.”

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According to National Geographic, research shows working women in developing countries invest 90% of their income in their families, compared to the 35% generally contributed by men.

Tumie Matlhware and Ruth Stewart, managers for Travel For Impact, wholeheartedly agree. The Maun-based NGO aims to spread the wealth generated from tourism activities into the community, providing a direct and tangible link between conservation and its benefits.

“We want tourism dollars working beyond the traditional tourism world,” says Stewart, when we meet for coffee at the charming Tshilli Farmstall, another female-run establishment in Maun.

Travel For Impact has a powerful goal, with the slogan of “If every tourist who slept in our beautiful country paid 1 USD for every night they spent here, we would raise in excess of 300,000 USD per year”.

By partnering with exclusive lodges, camps, tour operators and hotels in Botswana, funds generated are put into local community partners, such as support for basket-weaving cooperatives. Looking at the company profile, the NGO funds many projects that support women.

Stewart shares the scientific standpoint endorsed by National Geographic, saying: “Women are the backbone of the community. If you support women, it gets passed down. They buy food, school supplies and more. They are the pillars of society.” 

The corporate social responsibility choice at Kwando Safaris concurs. Smart believes that “the ultimate saviors of animals are people, which is why we sponsor the grassroots initiative, Mummy’s Angels, instead of a more usual conservation project”.

Mummy’s Angels started in April 2018, spearheaded by three women in Maun, to empower mothers with newborns who have little by way of financial support.

“We had second-hand clothes and other baby items in good condition and wanted to donate somewhere it would make a difference,” says one founder, Rochelle Katz.

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Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana




The 32-year-old South African comedian traveled to the West African country for some eye-opening experiences.

South African comedian, actor and entrepreneur, Mpho ‘Popps’ Modikoane, is a frequent traveler but ask him about his happy place and he says it’s a little corner of Africa named Ghana.

He has traveled overseas before, but it was his travels within Africa that opened his eyes to the magic of the continent, and made him realize that all Africans have the same stories and are essentially the same.

“It’s just these borders we were brought up [in that] we don’t take the time to learn about each other’s cultures and share each other’s stories,” says Modikoane.

“I’ve traveled to a lot of countries over the years and early on in my career, I was in the US. A few years ago, I went to Canada for the annual Just For Laughs international comedy festival and these places are amazing, but traveling in Africa has been the most eye-opening for me.”

Mpho ‘Popps’ Modikoane in Ghana. Picture: Supplied

 Modikoane’s career kick-started in 2009 on the reality TV show, So You Think You’re Funny? His growing audiences haven’t stopped laughing since.

With fame, came the chances to travel. His very first trip to West Africa was to Nigeria on Arik Air two years ago, when he flew business class.

“I don’t know what it is about us [black people], but when we don’t have things, we don’t see why it’s necessary – we don’t understand why we have to pay R30,000 ($2,000) for a seat, a leather seat,” he says, chuckling.

He goes on to elaborate with his trademark wit: “The seat is reclined all the way, we are drinking champagne in glasses; I didn’t even know there were glasses on planes…. Even forks and knives. And in business class, you don’t get shouted at by the attendants for reclining your seat four centimeters back, never! Even the magazines are not the same – we get business magazines and informative magazines. We even have a food menu with pages.”

That was his trip to Nigeria when on the ground, he was impressed by the hard work of the locals, the hustle and bustle of the streets and everything from bikes and Maybachs driving past him.

However, Ghana was his most memorable destination where he stayed five days.

“Ghana just looks beautiful and is next to Nigeria and they have this feud going on about who makes the best jollof rice and after tasting both, I have to give it up to Ghana,” says the comedian. 

What he also loved about Ghana was its orderliness, and the warmth of the people.

  What impressed Modikoane was that the people did not wait for the government to give them handouts and opportunities; the locals were willing to work hard to find them.

“The people there work outside of their work, have a business outside of their job and that’s the one thing I’ve come to realize about traveling in Africa. We [South Africans] are sitting in the land of opportunity but we are not working as hard as those from other parts of Africa. That is the magic of going to these places and spending time with other artists or musicians who also may have [on the side] their own clothing store, a restaurant, a barber shop…”

Mpho ‘Popps’ Modikoane in an interview in Ghana. Picture: Supplied

Modikoane juxtaposes his experiences in Ghana and South Africa, making various comparisons in the ways people conduct their lives. “When you go outside of South Africa, you see the Africanness of our continent. We South Africans have the modern, western element and live with white people in our communities and our country is not fully ours, but there, it’s theirs. Their heritage is rich, their culture is rich.”

And the most important part about visiting the rest of Africa for Modikoane?

“They make you feel like a celebrity,” he chuckles again. 


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Ghana Hopes To Benefit From Hosting Africa’s Free Trade Area Secretariat




Ghana has been chosen by the African Union (AU) to host the secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area. It beat other competing countries including Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Senegal to win the bid.

As a free trade area, member countries have come together and agreed not to impose tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers on goods and services. The agreement is expected to enlarge markets and diversify exports, particularly manufactured goods.

According to US-based think tank the Brookings Institute, intra-African trade stands at about 14%, while the share of manufactured goods to the rest of the world stands at 18%. Trade among Asian countries is much higher – at 59% – and even higher among European countries at 69%. The hope is that the African free trade area will boost trade across the continent by 52% by 2022 .

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The core mandate of the secretariat will be to implement the free trade agreement, which has been ratified by 25 out of 54 countries. Once all have ratified the deal, it will create the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.

Africa’s free trade area will cover a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$2.5 trillion.

The secretariat’s job will be to recruit personnel, train them, and develop organisational capability. The secretariat will also have to implement policies handed down by the governing body, keep the media informed, organise conferences and identify potential funding sources. It will also monitor and evaluate the progress of policies and programmes.

This is a first for Ghana which has not hosted a continental secretariat. The hope is that it can emulate the success of other African capitals that have befitted from hosting the AU and the United Nations.

Addis Ababa is home to the AU headquarters while Nairobi hosts two of the UN’s biggest bodies. For its part, South Africa hosts the Pan-African Parliament.

The presence of the AU in Addis Ababa has been credited with an increase in property valuations as well as job creation.

In making its bid, Ghana took advantage of its strategic geographical location in West Africa. It has put a great deal of effort into making the country a gateway and a trade hub in West Africa.

Hosting the free trade area secretariat will come with costs and benefits – direct and indirect.

Why Ghana

In establishing its credentials to host the secretariat, the Ghanaian government would have set out the country’s most notable achievements.

These would have included the fact that it’s been an exemplary member of the AU. For example, in 2007 it was among the first countries to be reviewed by the African Peer Review Mechanism – the self-assessment mechanism used to measure good governance.

The fact that it put its hand up sent a signal to other countries that the peer review process was credible.

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Other factors that would have played in Ghana’s favour are that the country’s economy has been showing strong growth.

It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world with an averageGDP growth of about 6%. In addition, it comes second to Cape Verde in West Africa in terms of the United Nations Human Development index.

In one of the most unstable sub regions in the world, Ghana also has a tradition of relative peace and security, a key parameter for hosting a secretariat.

In addition, Ghana has had the advantage of learning about trade collaboration through its membership of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

Costs and benefits

Ghana has been part of the 15-member Ecowas since its formation in 1990. The regional body introduced a common external tariff in 2015 .

While Ghana has enjoyed benefits from the arrangement, like many other West African States, it has not been able to harness its full potential. For example, border controls remain cumbersome, delaying transits due to the numerous check points, huge unofficial payments at the borders.

The most direct cost to the country will be the $10 million pledged by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to support setting up the secretariat. The AU is also expected to contribute funds and appeals have been made to international funding agencies.

Ghana’s hope is that hosting the secretariat will boost the hospitality sector – and more broadly the services sector – and generate increased international exposure.

There should also be a boost for job creation as the secretariat hires staff; ranging from economists to translators, administrators and technicians.

There is no clear deadline on when the secretariat is expected to be up and running. The AU itself still has to clear a number of hurdles, including adopting a structure, staff rules and regulations, and the secretariat’s budget.

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