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No Longer In The Wilderness



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Poling visitors through the Okovango Delta. Picture: Melanie Van Zyl

Thus, they put the word out and soon began delivering baby bags stocked with essentials, such as nappies, clothes and wipes, plus pyjamas for the mothers.

“Items that seem so indispensable to us count as luxuries to these moms. Women come from as far as Ghanzi to give birth in Maun, often they have very little with them, or the moms are young without work or funds to support a family,” says Katz on a visit to the maternity wing at Ngami District Health Management Team.

“Luckily, there is no one in need today,” a nurse smiles, as Katz walks in. The local Maun hospital certainly approves of the initiative, which is driven by need rather than imposed, and the nurses on duty identify mothers that can benefit from the meaningful baby bags.

Speaking of children, Bontekanye ‘Bonty’ Botumile is a research student based in Maun specializing in oral traditions and land use. She is also a prolific story-teller.

“I come from a family of story-tellers, and I think maybe because I don’t have children, I needed a channel for my stories. I created books such as Tlou the Elephant to share what I’ve learned and to pass on the teachings I learned at home.”

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She believes that women are predominantly custodians of culture, passing it onto to children in diverse ways that include story-telling. “My challenge isn’t so much a gender issue, but a sector issue. Carving a niche is hard work. I am trying to develop cultural tourism in a destination renowned for wildlife. It’s a steep incline on many levels.” She is also an inspiration for others.

“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have joined the tourism industry,” says Wabone Temane. Hailing from Moeti Ward in Maun, Temane is the current camp manager for Pom Pom Camp, a luxury stay in the Okavango. She’s been in tourism for almost 20 years but admits to some gender-based challenges.

“As a female manager, I come across people who do not want to be supervised by a woman. They are afraid of change and do not accept criticism easily. They can even change the whole working environment since they are full of negativity and very influential on the other staff. It’s very disrespectful at times.” However, there is strength in numbers.

“Bontekanye ‘Bonty’ Botumile is my inspiration in the tourism industry. She has always been very supportive and encouraging – a sister, indeed,” she adds. 

Camps such as Pom Pom are famed for its forward-thinking environmental policies and sustainability, but the crucial means to access and experience Botswana’s remote landscapes is to fly in. 

Ungwang Makuluba is Moremi Air’s first local female pilot. “About 20 pilots in Maun are female, and I think 12 of us are locals too,” she says, when we meet at the Maun Airport.

A mokoro is one of Botswana’s most iconic travel offerings. Picture: Melanie Van Zyl

“The guys I’ve worked with have been very supportive, and I’ve learned so much from them. I think we are past the stage of flying being a male-dominated industry and there’s been gradual change. I want to work for Air Botswana. It’s great flying across the Delta, but I want to work for my country.”

The General Manager of Moremi Air, Kelly Serole, has been in charge for over 10 years, reinforcing the notion that women are not new to the safari scene.

From the sky to the soil, two more women demonstrate this on the ground. Floating through on the waters of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro (a traditional dugout canoe) has to be one of Botswana’s most iconic travel offerings, yet, at many high-end lodges, you’ll find its a male guide that steers guests between the tall reeds and yellow-centered waterlilies.

The Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT) early on saw the need to include women in their operations. On an overnight trip facilitated by Delta Rain, Sophie Kehemetswe and Nora Tsaru, pole visitors through the UNESCO World Heritage Site waters of the Okavango Delta.

“More women are poling the rivers now than men; there are many women,” the two agree when asked about the gender split.

“It can be difficult to get the guiding license though. I studied for a month, which includes a written test and interview. Some old women in the village cannot write,” says Kehemetswe, as she gently poles between the swishing reeds.

A community-run operation, the OKMCT operates in six villages at the southern access points to the Delta, namely Ditshuping, Boro, Xharaxao, Xuoxao, Daunara and Xaxaba. This safari offering started back in 1997, and a visit to head office reveals that women were included in the operation as early as 1998 – just one year into business.

“I can lead walks on the islands as well. I much prefer walks to the canoeing and seeing zebra is my favorite – that is our national animal. Do you know why? The zebra is black and white reflecting our history. Sir Seretse Khama, a black man, married Ruth Williams, a white woman. All people are welcome in Botswana,” she smiles proudly. The country’s two First Ladies can be proud.  

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

Melanie Van Zyl

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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.

David Dawkins, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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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.

[To see the infographic on Africa’s rankings, click on the image]

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.

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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.

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 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.

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