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.
“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.
Emerging Economies, But Weaker Passports
Africa dominates the bottom of the rung in the 2020 Henley Passport Index. A majority of the continent’s passport-holders don’t have the luxury of visa-free travel around the world.
The African Union may be gearing for a common African passport, but for now, it seems like most African passports don’t have what it takes to get to other parts of the world.
In the recently-released Henley Passport Index, which measures all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, only two African countries –Seychelles and Mauritius — are in the top 50.
The rest of the continent dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with weaker passports than most, pointing to difficult and intensive visa processes in most cases.
Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most influential, Nigeria, is at the end of the travel freedom spectrum, at a pitiful number 95 with Djibouti. Nigeria’s population of 200 million can only travel to 46 countries without obtaining a visa in advance.
Even passport-holders from Samoa and Serbia have a better chance of traveling to most places in the world, visa-free, than those in South Africa, the African continent’s second biggest economy.
Ranked 56, the number of global destinations South African passport-holders can travel to is 100.
It is followed by its southern African neighbor, Botswana, ranking at 62 with a score of 84.
Seychelles, the archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is Africa’s top-ranking African passport in this regard, at 29 with access to 151 destinations worldwide.
It is quickly followed by Mauritius which is at 32 with a score of 146 destinations passport-holders of this country can visit.
The lowest-ranking African country is Somalia at 104. Passport-holders from this tiny nation in the Horn of Africa can only visit 32 countries without a pre-departure visa
Globally, Asia dominates the list. For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds on to its second place position with a score of 190.
Executive Travel: Slikour’s Mexico
The South African hip-hop artist and entrepreneur experienced a hurricane and a seismic spiritual shift in the city of Cancun.
It has been a journey, a lot to learn and a lot learned,” says Siyabonga Metane, popularly known on South African hip-hop stages as ‘Slikour’.
The learnings have been in music and business, but the journeys have been beyond both.
Just two years post South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, Slikour was part of a rap group named Skwatta Kamp, formed on the streets of the country’s Gauteng province, with the aim of commercializing the local hip-hop scene.
The group consisted of seven members and most of them went on to release solo albums. Slikour released two, Ventilation Mix Tape Vol.1 and 2, in 2005 and 2007. Long before that, in 2002, Slikour had turned entrepreneur, co-founding Buttabing Entertainment, a record label and artist management organization.
Today, he is also the founder of SlikourOnLife, a prominent urban culture online publication that he started in 2014 catering to music lovers.
Returning to the word ‘journey’, it especially sparks memories of a trip he undertook in 2011 to Cancun, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, known for its beaches, resorts and nightlife. Slikour was there for a television shoot as part of a group. The trip still stands out in his mind.
He was not blown away by the city initially, but as he visited some of Cancun’s tourism attractions, he began to change his perception.
Ultimately, it proved to be what he calls an amazing rendezvous.
“The people were pretty much speaking Spanish,” he chuckles, recalling being immersed in the local culture.
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“There are a lot of laborers there and the people are beautiful and accommodating, but we never really spoke or interacted with the community.”
Slikour decided to savor the city’s famed nightlife instead and see for himself what all the hype was about.
It all began and ended with tequila, a distilled alcoholic drink and one of Mexico’s most famous exports, made of the blue agave plant from the city of Tequila in Mexico.
“Everything you do there is done with tequila. I don’t drink alcohol, but I had to accept and apply myself because there, they don’t use tomato sauce, they use tequila; I literally had to get into the tequila swag; it’s everything there. Tequila started there,” Slikour says.
Mexico is known for its recurring hurricanes too, which Slikour also got a taste of while there.
“After a few days of getting there, we were warned of a hurricane, and asked to close our doors and windows, and because these things happen regularly, there’s a drill to follow. The hurricane wasn’t a major one but I was excited because I wanted to see it. I had to look through the window,” he says.
The hurricanes are so frequent in Mexico that he likens the precautions taken to lighting a candle during South Africa’s frequent power cuts.
Despite this exhilarating encounter with nature, the real earth-shaking experience for him, however, happened deep inside a cave in the city of Cancun – and also deep inside him.
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“My spiritual [epiphany] was when I went into those caves. You go in there with your self-assurance, claiming you understand everything. Thereon, they tell you where everything comes from and all of a sudden, you become this very small thing in this big ecosystem. It just shows how everything affects everything,” Slikour says.
The tour guides explained how everything inside the cave came from rain, elaborating how it was connected to the core of the earth; which is where they were at the time.
Slikour was in Cancun for two weeks, and also visited the pyramids.
“The Mexicans didn’t have all the mathematics that we have now but the pyramids were built to perfection. It just showed you how forward-thinking they were and how behind we are in as much as we think we are forward; we just have technology. We don’t think the way historic societies used to think,” says Slikour, in deep reflection.
Mexico is a place he would return to, anyday, in a heartbeat.
Executive Travel: Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s Manchester
The 37-year-old South African soccer midfielder says he could move to the English city for its sense of serenity and calm.
South Africa’s former national football player Reneilwe ‘Yeye’ Letsholonyane started playing in the streets of Soweto but his fame has often taken him beyond the soccer pitches of South Africa.
Also a fashion entrepreneur and co-founder of the newly-established ShaYe lounge, the veteran midfielder recounts the indelible memories of his most recent holiday to Manchester with his wife, sports presenter Mpho Letsholonyane.
“In the off season of 2018, I had just gotten married. I personally love Jay-Z and my wife loves Beyoncé; and they were having their On The Run 2 tour in Manchester; a major city in the northwest of England.”
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Letsholonyane had also always wanted to go to Paris, a major European city and global center for art, fashion, food and culture, so flew to Manchester via the French capital.
The newly-weds spent a few days in Paris and thereon proceeded to Manchester for the concert, flying Air France on both sectors.
“Funnily enough, the economy class on Air France is not as squashed as the economy class on South African Airlines. You’d expect an uncomfortable flight, but that wasn’t the case. There was enough room to stretch your legs and recline your seat,” says the footballer.
Upon landing and clearing customs, a shuttle was waiting for the two to be chauffeured through the city to their hotel. The 40-minute drive was what the 37-year-old says he enjoyed the most. It made him reflect and draw comparisons between his home country and Europe.
At the age of 23, Letsholonyane’s professional career had kicked-started, but it was in 2008 that he joined one of South Africa’s biggest teams, the Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, for an eight-year stint.
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Receiving the call to represent Bafana Bafana for the 2010 World Cup was a moment he recalls vividly.
“We were at camp, and told to check out from the hotel and go home. We were to find out from the media, like other citizens, if we had been selected to play. I remember I was in the streets and didn’t want to focus on the media because I was nervous, panicking and excited.
“My parents broke the news to me, but there was more cheering in my hometown and outside my parent’s home. A soccer pitch and jersey with my number and surname were painted in the streets.”
It was a moment that led to fame and more travels. He flips back to Manchester, gushing about the city’s architecture as he was equally captivated by the serenity of the city and its mild-mannered people.
“The standalone houses are the kind you see on television, with no walls. People that side don’t seem to be worried about burglaries. It seems like the crime rate is low. It’s quiet and it’s the quiet that I like. I remember saying to my wife, ‘I could stay here’.”
Letsholonyane admits to seeking alone time to think and ruminate.
Ironically, for the footballer, the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert was in the home of a football club.
Like all tourists, the couple traveled to Etihad Stadium, the home of Manchester City Football Club, where the musical extravaganza was to take place.
“We were told to use the train; luckily, it was a five-minute walk to the station. We got there but the people around us showed us what to do and where to go. We got off at a station, only to find out we had to wait for another train and it was packed. Then I started thinking about the hassle of getting into the stadium,” he says.
Letsholonyane and his wife dribbled their way through busy subways in Manchester to watch their favorite musicians on stage.
“Getting to Etihad Stadium was a pain-free experience. We got there early and people were idling outside. We went straight in and got seats in the front. There was no opening act, just the artists’ music playing.
Then the lights went dimmer and dimmer.
“It was time, we were about 10 meters away, and we saw them closely. Then it started raining. You’d think people would run for cover but no, people were just enjoying themselves. It was two and half hours of Beyoncé and Jay-Z and an experience never to be forgotten,” he says.
It was well after 1AM when the couple reached their hotel. “There was nothing that made us uncomfortable about walking the streets of Manchester at night. It felt like day.”
The night ended with rain, rounding off a day so different from playing under the hot African sun in the soccer fields of South Africa.
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