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A Slice Of Africa In Durban

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rickshaw 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.

READ MORE: The African Penguin’s Day Out

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.

Travel

Executive Travel: Kwesta’s Senegal

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The South African musician on how he finds culture and creative inspiration in the West African country.

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Travel

Executive travel: Ola Orekunrin’s India

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For Nigeria’s high-flying doctor, Ola Orekunrin, being a part of the booming global air ambulance services industry presents opportunities to save lives as well as visit places she hasn’t seen before.

Orekunrin, a medical doctor and helicopter pilot, is the founder of Flying Doctors, an air ambulance service launched in Lagos to transport patients from areas with low levels of healthcare to those with well-appointed facilities offering better medical aid.

READ MORE: Flying Doctor Shoots For The Stars

Over the years, the demand for her organization’s services has risen due to the healthcare challenges Nigeria faces. And there are many. On top of the list is the burden of infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, followed by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The country has a high rate of trauma-related incidents such as accidents and violence.

According to national statistics, Nigeria has the highest number of deaths from road traffic accidents in the world.

For Orekunrin, her business presents an opportunity to fulfil her desire to serve. The motivation for the launch of her company, Flying Doctors, was the loss of her sister, who had tragically died for want of urgent care.

Today, Flying Doctors swiftly moves patients from across the African continent to some of the best healthcare destinations, saving thousands of lives in the process. The job means Orekunrin is constantly on the go.

READ MORE: Magda Wierzycka’s India

With so much time away from home and in the air, Orekunrin has become somewhat of an expert when it comes to the most exciting destinations to visit both for business and leisure on the African continent – and beyond.

“My favorite destination in the world right now is India,” she says.

“It is a place I spend a lot of time because we have a huge Indian diaspora in Nigeria and when they get sick, they usually request to be flown back home. So I have had a lot of experience with India. I think India is in the process of cracking healthcare. For example, they take the best medical students from the whole of India and put them in one hospital. This means the [number] of procedures that get done there are a lot and the advanced medicine that is practised there is equivalent or better than what you get in some first world countries,” she says.

But that is not the only reason Orekunrin is in love with the subcontinent.

“It is such a vast country that moving from state to state, you can find different types of productivity everywhere. In places like Bengaluru, everybody is running a startup and it’s like the Silicon Valley of India. You go to a place like Goa and that is like a beach resort and you go to Kerala and it is completely different like a spa resort with some sort of Indian medicine being practised and infused with conventional medicine. So it is an incredible country where you can find so much variety, culture, language, tribes and so many successful people coexisting together and identifying as Indians. I think that is another lesson that Nigerians can learn.”

Her favorite past-time in the country is getting her eyebrows threaded and going to remote oil and gas exploration sites.

Ola Orekunrin moves from state to state in India exploring cultures and languages. Photo provided.

“The companies there inspire me because I think about their [the companies’] history in terms of growing from a sole proprietorship to eventually growing into the biggest businesses in the world. It makes me think about Nigerian businesses; I run my own business but I also invest in other businesses as well,” says Orekunrin.

Within West Africa, Orekunrin’s favorite destination is Cape Verde. The country is particularly interesting for medical evacuations because it is made up of remote islands and the influx of tourists to that destination means medical logistics are in very high demand.

“It is four hours away from Nigeria and is a fusion of a lot of cultures; from South America, to Africa and European cultures all in one. I visit it frequently most of the time for work. I also really love the different food. I was born and brought up in England but always had a craving for Africa. My connection to Cape Verde is the closeness to Nigeria but also some of the similarities we share in terms of the food and the culture and the music and that is a strong connection.”

In the next few years, Orekunrin is hoping to grow her medical business into a pan-African player. She continues to look forward to the travel it will entail. For Orekunrin, the air ambulance business is all about saving lives. And being at the right place at the right time – for sick patients in need.

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Entrepreneurs

Living Like Mandela

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Tourists in Soweto, the township southwest of Johannesburg in South Africa, now have more options for staying in the same neighbourhood that was once home to two Nobel laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Here, through accommodation app Airbnb, locals are increasingly turning entrepreneurs throwing open their homes for visitors wanting to savor Kasi life. As many as 20 Soweto homes are listed hosts on the Airbnb search engine – and the list is growing.

Take Nelson Tiko Mashele, a 33-year-old born and bred in Soweto, who founded Vilakazi Backpackers on the famous Orlando West street with his father, and which is located five minutes from the homes of Mandela and Tutu, and 10 minutes from the Hector Pieterson memorial.

Mashele is one of the youngest Airbnb hosts in Soweto, and his establishment one of the newest in the area. He says 70% of his guests are locals, the rest international, and business is looking good.

READ MORE: The Sharing Economy: 400,000 Guests At Home

The day we visit, we are ushered into his spotless living room. A coffee table in the middle of the foyer is laden with sightseeing pamphlets. Hip hop music is playing in the background. The seven-bedroom house is well-appointed and Mashele charges R299 ($25) a night.

A room at the Vilakazi Backpackers costs R299 ($25) a night. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

That’s not a bad bargain for the local life that his guests, who he says are mostly from America, Germany, Brazil and France, want to experience.

According to Airbnb, most guests choose to live like locals. Mashele says they would rather walk to tourist destinations and buy local food from the outlets on the famous Vilakazi Street.

One of Mashele’s partners is Soweto Outdoor Adventures run by Kgomotso Pooe, also his long-time friend. Their collaborations offer his guests quad-bike tours, paddling and boating rides, trips to Orlando Towers and indulging in local cuisine such as magwenyas (deep-fried dough balls) with atchar and white liver and kota (half loaf of bread filled with curry), ending the day with a shisanyama (meat cooked over an open fire).

On the opposite side, in Orlando East, is a bed-and-breakfast in operation for over 16 years. TDJ’s BnB is a home-owned business catering for local and international visitors. Their aim this year is to start using the Airbnb services to help increase their profits.

“We are looking forward to getting new guests from all over the world,” says TDJ’s manager Nomthandazo Ntshingila.

READ MORE: Staying In Hotels

She says joining Airbnb will give her an edge moving her numbers higher than the average 30 visitors she receives per month. Currently, a room at TDJ’s costs R454 ($38) a night.

For a more authentic experience, tourists can taste African beer brewed at the guest house. Another hotspot guests can visit is Sakhumzi, a Sowetan shisanyama restaurant and bar.

A key difference between Mashele’s and Ntshingila’s businesses is that the former has Wi-Fi on site allowing him to stay active on social media.

“One of the requirements to host with Airbnb was to offer Wi-Fi services to potential clients. We then got Wi-Fi before listing on the app,” says Ntshingila.

Hosts need to be constantly connected to an online platform and keep the most updated information on their availability and business.

The accommodation hosting platform tells FORBES AFRICA they are working on refining their offerings and making “regular updates to ensure people get exactly what they are looking for”. It’s clear that for the app to take off in townships like Soweto, homeowners need to be empowered with technology.

Airbnb says it’s planning to invest $1 million from 2018 to 2020 to promote and support community-led tourism projects in Africa. The project aims to support training in hospitality and technology for township residents.

Indeed, such investments will also help upskill those living in less-developed areas within Soweto such as Kliptown and Pimville, and as a result, reduce the barriers for entrepreneurs wishing to rent out their homes and bring in precious tourism dollars, much-needed in today’s difficult times.

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