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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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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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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’.” 

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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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