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Executive Travel: Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Japan



Every time she visits, the Princess of Africa is blown away by the love, respect and order she finds in Japan.

FORBES AFRICA meets singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and humanitarian Yvonne Chaka Chaka, fondly called the ‘Princess of Africa’, in her home office in the wealthy suburb of Bryanston in the north of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Framed pictures of her travels and accolades as a musician and humanitarian adorn the walls.

On her desk are a stack of magazines, some of them in Japanese.

One of the covers has Chaka Chaka posing with a mic in one hand, the other held out.

The cover line reads: ‘We love Japan. Hold my hand and we will walk together’.

“I love the Japanese so much and they really love me back,” says Chaka Chaka glancing at the magazine. And she has traveled to Japan too many times to count.

But nothing beats the first time she visited the country.

Ten years ago, she was invited to attend the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

Traveling from the City of Gold, Johannesburg, to high-tech Tokyo, she could immediately tell she had entered brand-new territory.

The language, the food, the cultures were so different.

“Japan is just too nice. There are so many people but it is so clean,” says Chaka Chaka.

“I remember my first time when one of the organizations that we worked with, wanted me to go to a place called Kamaishi, where there was an earthquake and I agreed and said that’s fine,” she says.

Little did she know it was going to be a trip she would never forget. She traveled with her humanitarian advisor.

“They said we were going on a train. Ah I was so angry. I said, ‘what! I don’t get in a train’.”

Chaka Chaka prefers road travel but she nevertheless obliged.

“So we got to the station and I saw people with suitcases and I don’t like carrying suitcases. So we did and we got onto the platform and it’s just packed and packed.

“The station there is like the airport, it’s massive but with more people on the trains. It’s like hundreds of platforms and ‘I’m like, I don’t want to be here’.”

They were about to board the Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed railway, which is a bullet train.
To her surprise, it exceeded her expectations.

“We got into the train and the order!” she now exclaims.

“There’s so much order it hurts.”

“When the train comes, it stops right here and people queue, there’s no chaos.”

Chaka Chaka watched in awe as everyone waited in a line.

“Arigato gozaimasu [thank you],” she hears some of the staff say to the passengers and bow in respect.

“You know that bending, it shows the love and respect. Everything is just respect, order, cleanliness and meticulous. The Japanese are so meticulous and there’s a lot that we can learn,” says the singer.

During her trip, she also visited Kumamoto which is a city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. They were just recovering from heavy rainfall that had caused floods and landslides.

“Families were staying in makeshift houses and parents brought their kids to a place where I was talking. And it was so amazing. These kids were like three-year-olds and four-year-olds and they would leave their shoes and you would see hundreds of shoes packed nicely,” she says.

“They are taught from such a young age… and they don’t take what’s not theirs.”

“I had the chance to sit with the advisor of the prime minister and I was asking them, ‘how do you get things so much in order?’ And they said, ‘you know, we teach kids from school. When children finish at school they clean the classes’.”

The famous African was also impressed by the recycling bins available throughout the towns, a bin for every kind of waste.

READ MORE: Executive Travel: Waje’s South Africa

“That one is for paper, that one is for bottles and that one is for this… And I was feeling so bad because I had finished and I threw in a bottle of water in the wrong bin,” she recalls, laughing.

“There’s a lot we can learn from just loving ourselves, respecting ourselves, respecting time and respecting culture. The Japanese still abide by their culture, you know. I mean they wear their kimonos with love,” she says.

She also had the chance to wear her own kimono, which she enjoyed.

That first trip gave her so much insight she frequently visited Japan.

The one place she often visits is Kamaishi to support children affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that tore the city apart.

She has even been given the title of ambassador to Kamaishi City.

Her last visit in March was to Masaka, a central region in Japan, where she was with a Japanese NGO for children called Ashinaga. Her next trip will be in March next year and she is already looking forward to it.

As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Chaka Chaka has the opportunity to travel to numerous countries, but it’s clearly the land of the rising sun that has marked many a new dawn for the Princess of Africa.

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A Solution To Improve Madagascar’s Local Economies




Madagascar is a priority country for conservation and preserving Earth’s biodiversity riches threatened by a rampant rate of habitat destruction. Ninety percent of the natural habitat of Madagascar has been destroyed and 91% of the lemur species are critically endangered, endangered or threatened.

Since the political turmoil of 2009, coupled with security issues and illegal extraction activities, the conservation situation has worsened. The presidential election that took place in January offers hope that this new regime will make preservation of the unique wildlife of Madagascar a priority.

President Andry Rajoelina ran on a platform of eliminating poverty for his people.

Ecotourism is good for the economy, but there are doubts if it is enough. Our conservation teams in the Ranomafana region are hoping that we have a solution for improving local economies.

Patricia Wright is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar. Picture: Supplied

Centre ValBio (CVB), a 30-year-old research center, is nestled overlooking the Ranomafana National Park rainforest near Fianarantsoa, and is an eight-hour drive from the capital Antananarivo.

CVB is a hub of modern science with laboratory equipment to study genetics, infectious diseases and mapping from satellites.

Substantial efforts by scientists have led to an improved understanding about taxonomy, species distributions, the evolution, behavior and population size of the flora and fauna, and the impact of habitat loss on Madagascan biodiversity.

READ MORE | Putting land To Good Use: Food Security In Our Backyards

This knowledge has been successfully used to guide conservation planning and action, as well as new discoveries in medical science. Scientists investigate the impact of anthropogenic influence, edge effects, climate change, and fragmentation on ecosystems and communities in these lush rainforests.

The CVB campus has five buildings and a staff of 130 local scientists, technicians and administrators who work year-round on research, training and conservation.

This station conducts studies of cyanide-eating lemurs, climate change, new leech species, lemurs that have genes that might be related to diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and genetics of an ecosystem.

All around, the parks, forests and the rare species within them are still disappearing. Slash-and-burn agriculture is the main threat to rainforests in Madagascar.

READ MORE | The Professor Who Saved An African Rainforest

Forests are sacrificed to plant rice, the staple food for humans.
CVB has launched an alternative against this destruction of natural resources. First, the village elders are engaged to ensure a buy-in by the communities.

If the villagers are enthusiastic, workshops and training begin in the fields.
Next, using years of botanical knowledge, the reforestation team (technicians and scientists) helps villagers plant endemic saplings of tree species eaten by lemurs. We don’t plant a monoculture, but rather use natural dispersion as a guide.

We know from our pilot experience that it takes about 15 years for the endemic trees to fruit and flower, and for birds, bats and lemurs to return to these ‘new forests’ where they could help ‘plant’ more forests by dispersing their seeds.

We are hoping that this strategy will help to stabilize the soil, prevent erosion and river silting, and expand the habitats for wildlife.
But what value do these trees have for the Malagasy farmer?

Using these trees as structure vines of high value crops such as vanilla, wild pepper and cinnamon that need shade to grow well are transplanted onto these trees.

With assistance in processing and marketing, the local farmers can harvest these high-value crops and earn great economic gain.

The prices of Malagasy spices are high in the world market and spice venders project that the high prices will continue into the future with new markets in China and India.

There is hope that not only will this strategy increase biodiversity, but it will also bring affluence to the farmers and merchants of Madagascar.
Rajoelina’s promise of prosperity is possible and the unforeseen benefits could be transformative.

– The writer is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar

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From Fishing Village To Gastronomic Heaven: Tables Turn For Wolfgat




In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.

Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.

Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.

But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out – because he’s fully booked for the next three months. -Reuters

– Wendell Roelf

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Entrepreneur And DJ – Oskido Tells Us Why Brazil Is His Favourite Place




This South African DJ and entrepreneur is never home-sick when in Brazil. He says its food and music fill his soul.

After traveling the world and the concomitant culinary outings that come with it, kwaito (South African music genre) pioneer, DJ and businessman Oscar Bonginkosi Mdlongwa, popularly known as Oskido, counts Brazil his most favorite overseas destination.

In enjoying the fruits of his success, Oskido has come far.

He was born in Brits, a large town irrigated by the waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province of South Africa.

His childhood was in Bulawayo, a city in the southwest of Zimbabwe, before returning to South Africa to pursue a career in music in 1988.

His influences may be primarily South African and Zimbabwean, but the South American country is what he regales about when we meet him in late November last year.  

“What amazed me the most was the food. I have traveled all over the world but the way they cook their food and the way they love their food stunned me,” says Oskido.

The memories are still fresh.

In September last year, Mdlongwa had traveled to the centrally-located capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on a cultural exchange program between Brazil and South Africa.

During our interview, he also compliments the city’s culture and the friendliness of its people.

“When I come back to my country [South Africa] after traveling, I just want our food. When I start going to Europe, I think of home, missing the food, but when I went to Brazil, it was like I’m home.”

He goes on to elucidate that they have their own traditional way of cooking, which includes beans that he enjoys the most.

Oskido especially appreciates Brazil’s restaurants because of the different meat cuts they serve customers.

“They will bring you a paper and describe the part that you are eating. Also, their way of cooking is healthy,” he says.

“We normally just eat and say ‘rump’; you don’t even know where it’s coming from. Therefore, they come in and you keep eating different cuts until you find the one you like and they will keep feeding you until you are full.

“What amazed me the most is when you get to our [local] food courts, you will find all these chain stores. It’s the same thing [there], but there isn’t anything that is like a buffet. Their food courts are designed that way, there isn’t any of the junk food,” says Oskido.

He speaks about connecting to the people despite the language barrier. He remembers going to a shopping center to buy things and having to explain.

He would speak on the phone with a translator and communication would be delayed.

But he found his own comfort zone.

Whenever he talked about music, he says there would be an instant connection with the people.

Oskido was invited by the South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa as a delegate for the exchange program.

“The minister and his office went to a school of kids aged between four and five years old. The kids were told to look for a song on YouTube that resembled Africa. Coincidently, they found Tsa Mandebele as the song of choice. I found that these kids could sing along to my song and dance to the moves because of the music video,” he says, joyfully.

“It was good to see a Limpopo language [song] sung in Brazil. That was the moment when I was really touched, and felt that there was something about Brazil.

“After the festive season, I want to go back, take my family and go relax.”

These are the notes from the South African DJ who has gone from Brits to Brazil.

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