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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bad Times For Billionaire Branson–Staff At Virgin Atlantic Asked To Take Unpaid Leave As Coronavirus Cripples Air Travel
Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been criticized by a U.K. politician for airline Virgin Atlantic’s request on Monday for staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour MP Kate Osborne, the second U.K. politician to be diagnosed with coronavirus, described Virgin Atlantic’s decision as “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.
Author Liam Young tweeted, “Virgin Atlantic have 8,500 employees and Branson has asked them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It would cost £4.2 million to pay all of these employees £500 a week to cover this leave. In total that’s a cost of £34 million for 8 weeks.”
The implication appears to be that billionaire Richard Branson, whose net worth Forbes estimates $3.8 billion, could afford to cover this cost.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed in a statement Monday that it plans to reduce its schedule and prioritize routes based on customer demand. The airline predicts an 80% reduction in flights per day, and adds, “As a direct consequence we will be parking approximately 75% of our fleet by 26 March and at points in April will go up to 85%.”
Virgin Atlantic describes the changes as “drastic measures” put in place to “ensure cash is preserved, costs are controlled, and the future of the airline is safeguarded.”
Adding, “Staff will be asked to take eight weeks unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary, to drastically reduce costs without job losses.” The airline confirms its decision has received the support of unions BALPA and UNITE in agreeing to the unpaid leave.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the [U.K] government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.”
Bad Times For Branson
Branson’s business empire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 14 the Virgin Voyages cruise ship operation decided to postpone the launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise line. “The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” Virgin Voyages confirmed in a statement.
On March 5, British airline Flybe — which is part owned by Virgin Atlantic— collapsed after it succumbed to its financial woes and weakened demand because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Following the announcement of Flybe’s collapse, Virgin Atlantic said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of Covid-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”
Flybe, which once was Europe’s largest independent regional carrier, narrowly escaped collapse in January, after being bought by Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic and Stobart last year.
Virgin Galactic, Branson’s publicly traded space tourism arm, has seen its shares slump since its mid February high of $37.26 on the NYSE. Having lost another 10% of value as of 4:30 pm U.K. time on Monday, Virgin Galactic is priced at $13.30 and falling. Branson’s Virgin Investment Limited owns 47% of Virgin Galactic through an investment entity, Vieco.
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.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana
“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.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya
“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.
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