Yardie in South Africa – Jamaicans coming to SA for Soccer 2010 or otherwise

Soccer World Cup 2010—who’s coming to South Africa?

I’ve played host, tour guide and restaurant sampler for Jamaicans and other West Indians visiting South Africa for the first time during the 8 years that we’ve lived here. I love to hear their impressions, to de-coding South Africa through my eyes, and to check out what they find fascinating about SA. I can hardly remember what I thought of SA before I set hit  Joburg for the first time in 96, but each time someone shows up, they take me right back to a memory or two–Crisp, dry air. A sense of space. Occasionally, a sense of being caught in a social time warp. A country that’s pretty on the outside, comfortable on a superficial day to day level, but sometimes gritty and cringe-evoking on the inside once you stick around for a while. All characteristics of a country in a state of flux and on the cusp of something exciting. I love those conversations with fellow Jamaicans and other West Indians because it reminds me of the intriguing aspects of the amazing ‘Brand South Africa’.

“We’re coming to South Africa. I wonder if you can help us out by telling us some things to do and places to go to”

The connections begin when a friend of a friend, or someone who knows my family through various networks in Jamaica sends  an email to say they’ll be visiting South Africa. From there, I morph into a tourist guide and cultural broker. A local hook up. I’ve been approached so many times now, that I’ve decided to write it all up, once and for all. Nothing fancy, but tried and tested (for the most part), and coming from the experiences of ‘all kind of smaddy’, who have passed through South Africa. A lazy me lazy mek me write this…..So here are my gut responses to the questions that pop up before people make the long haul across the Atlantic.

Use the Internet
outh Africa is electronically ‘switched on’ and anyone serious about business and tourism here has a website. Some sites that may provide relevant travel links are the website for South Africa Tourism www.southafrica.net, www.joburg.org.za, the city of Joburg’s official website, Soweto’s website www.soweto.co.za, www.southafrica.info among others.

A few tips when you are Goodling for things South Africa.

  • Googling  animals and ‘safaris’? Lions in the wild? Hippos? Giraffe running across the plains? Search for the word ‘game’ or ‘game reserves’, and not ‘safari’. I’m yet to hear a South African refer to the act of animal-viewing as “going on safari”, but maybe toruism business  owners have sussed out the minds of tourists and direct you to their websites even when you look for the never-uttered-here word ‘safari.’ It’s called ‘game viewing’ here and one stays at ‘game lodges’. More about this in ‘Places to Visit’ further down.
  • Googling hotels? Easy. Most hotels carry star ratings, websites with photos, and allow online booking. There’s no need to be suspicious about quality. If you want a modern thatched hut, or a tent in the wild you can get that too –with hot water, satellite TV and room service, to boot. You might pay a bit more for the ‘sophisticated rustic feel’, but if that’s your Africa, you can get it. Many bed and breakfasts are going to open up to 2010 under the auspices of a B n’ B network called ‘Match’, www.match-ag.com/accommodation.html. Some well known local and international hotel chains are Southern Sun, Sun International, Protea Hotels, City Lodge, Holiday Inn, and there’s always the AA source of info, www.aatravel.co.za.
  • Googling Soccer 2010 info?

Places to Visit in South Africa
Do yourself a huge favour and look at a map before you start your planning. (Yuh tink seh me joking? – No. I’m dead serious. Amazing how many people plan their trips to SA without checking a map…)

The tourist areas frequented by Jamaicans are Greater Johannesburg (which includes Soweto) for historical reasons — the images of people looking like us dodging bullets are still fresh in our memories–,  and ‘just because’; Cape Town for the pretty pretty sights, wine (since grapes don’t grow where we come from), Robben Island (we cyaah believe smaddy coulda lock up for so long in prison and still come out smiling and forgiving); Kruger National Park, the largest protected area for animals running ‘wild’ (since we no have nutten wilder than mongoose in Jamaica). Durban is an ‘optional extra’ for West Indians – tends to be too much like home for us to get excited about. The 2010 soccer stadiums are in Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Rustenburg, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Polokwane, Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth, Durban

Greater Johannesburg
Greater Johannesburg includes Sandton, the City of Johannesburg, and Soweto, among many other suburbs and business districts. Sandton and the City of Johannesburg, are two of the larger, more lucrative commercial hot spots in Greater Johannesburg. Hotel prices may reflect this. Sandton, the City of Joburg and Soweto are each approx 40 minutes from the OR Tambo international airport (plus or minus with traffic).

Soweto is for many West Indians “The seat of the struggle” that we heard about even as children, long before the ‘Sarafina’ hit the screens and Hollywoodised apartheid. It is about 30 minutes south of Sandton and 10 minutes away from Johannesburg City. The population of Soweto is larger than that of Jamaicans in Jamaica, jus in case yuh tink seh is a small suburb we ah talk bout.

 If your travel agent tells you not to go to Johannesburg or Soweto, change agents. They clearly don’t understand where you are coming from, and probably don’t understand that you aren’t coming all the way to South Africa just to watch football, chase animals and drink wine.  Here are a few of the things that friends have done in the Joburg area.

  • Half-Day tour of Soweto, which includes the Hector Pieterson Memorial and may include the Apartheid Museum as an add-on. Tours leave twice daily from major hotels and there are multiple tour operators who will do pick-ups. Just ask a concierge, or check online. If you are on a private tour and are looking for West African clothing (many people have that in mind when they come here) ask your driver to stop at Maponya Mall in Soweto, where the Woodin store sells West African clothing)
  • Apartheid Museum (3 hours) – 20 mins from Sandton, sometimes included in Soweto Tour.
  • Lesedi Cultural Village. 40 mins from Sandton, they schedule 2 tours of the village per day. They’ll take you through on site ‘villages’ that represent some of the ethnic groups in SA. Wonderful for getting a snapshot of South African society, especially since you won’t learn a fraction of this information over your short stay here. Great for people who are doing 24 –hour stopovers in Joburg. Call 012 205 1395.
  • Carnivore Restaurant – a bit ‘tired’ for we locals, but if you want to try all kind of meat from crocodile to ostrich, with a bit of drama, song and South African ambience, it’s a 45 min drive from Sandton. Best for a late night. It’s an eat-all-you-can set up that wows foreigners, one that will have you eating fruit and veg for a few days well following the experience. They have a vegetarian option to keep everyone happy. If you are a vegetarian, it’s not a good place to start telling people why they should stay away from meat….save that for another time and allow the carnivores to enjoy the experience. Blog about your disgust or tell someone who cares afterwards if you want to get it off your chest. (I do the veggie thing, so I’m not being mean….I’m being real). Kenyans and purists will tell you that the South African Carnivore is a knock off and poor cousin of the original Kenyan Carnivore, but if their complaints get a little much for you, smile nicely then tell them to back off unless they’re prepared to fly you to Kenya. Alternatively, tell them that Kenya doesn’t have the lovely South African wine that complements the dining experience. That should do it. (Really….‘some of my best friends are Kenyan’ J )
  • Rhino and Lion Park (only if you can’t get to see game in the wild)- 45 min drive from Sandton
  • Rosebank Flea Market – Sundays and Public Holidays only, 5 minute drive from Sandton.  Best bet for one-stop gift shopping and for buying “I-was-in-Africa-for real” things for your house. Woodwork, art, craft, clothing, jewellery, basket work, textiles, hand made souvenirs, ostrich egg art, wire art…… Rosebank never disappoints. Don’t spend too much time looking for ‘African’, (read, West African clothing). You won’t find it here. Instead, check the Woodin store in Maponya Mall, Soweto, for West African clothing.
  • Market Theatre District (Newtown Cultural Precinct) for plays and shows. 011 832 1641, [email protected]
  • Sandton City/Mandela Square – if you want to check out the local retail scene and one of the biggest shopping malls in South Africa. Dine on the (Mandela) Square and take a picture beside the big statue of Mandela. Just because.
  • Moyo Restaurant – Zoo Lake, my favourite for a lazy Sunday brunch or evening meal with a cultural twist, which includes face painting and a buffet with local fare. Ask to sit outside during the day—even if it’s cool they’ll give you blankets, and the sun will feel great. 360 degree social eating experience conducive for lazy meals. www.moyo.co.za
  • Johannesburg Zoo – kid-friendly activity, 10 mins from Sandton.
  • Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, Cradle of Humankind, 1 hour from Sandton
  • Constitution Hill (Home of the Constitutional Court, formerly a prison where many famous apartheid prisoners were detained.) www.constitutionhill.org.za
  • Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden – 30 mins from Sandton, if picnicking and looking at plants and being outdoors is your thing.
  • Gold Reef City. An amusement park done around the theme of a gold mine, mainly for kids.
  • I’ve heard there is a tour of Alexandra, but haven’t been on it. Alexandra is the township featured in the book “Kaffir Boy” by Mark Mathabane, which was popular in the US before the birth of democratic South Africa. The closest township to Sandton, reportedly the richest suburb in Africa.
  • I’ve heard about a cycling tour of Soweto—a small business idea that is gaining in popularity.

Johannesburg puts you within 3-4-hours of ‘the bush’, of which South Africans are extremely proud, and fiercely loyal. The vast expanse of land and mountains, and the quiet rugged landscape dotted with thirsty trees and aloes, is radically different from the tropical images that we often associate with Africa.

Pretoria is 45 minutes away from Sandton, Joburg, an easy commute. I know I should say something profound about Pretoria, other than the fact that their Zoo is bigger and nicer than the Joburg Zoo, but….I just don’t ‘feel’ Pretoria personally, and haven’t got great feedback from visitors. If I think of something profound, I’ll add it later. The government ministries/departments and diplomatic missions are located there, including those of Jamaica and Trinidad. There. I said something diplomatic about Pretoria.

Cape Town
Cape Town is a 2.5 hour flight or so from Johannesburg, or a 12 hour drive that the fainthearted don’t bother with, unless they’re doing it for the experience or want to take lots and lots of photos on the way, and have time on their side. However, if you’re coming from the US, and have had to work 3 years to earn a few deggeh deggeh leave days, I’d pass on the drive.

Cape Town is beautiful and has a completely different look and feel from Johannesburg. Lots of picturesque scenery, decorated by coastline, vineyards, Cape Dutch Architecture, all spiced by the Cape Malay culture. I haven’t spent a lot of time there, but here are the usual spots/activities that Jamaicans talk about:

  • Wine tours. Now’s not a good time to go off alcohol…
  • The V & A Waterfront
  • Cape of Good Hope, the mythical southernmost tip of Africa (it isn’t, but who’s counting?). Perfect for the “I-was-there” photograph.
  • Robben Island, where prisoners of apartheid, including Mandela, were held for many years.
  • Khayelitsha, if you want to see the ‘real’ South Africa for many South Africans. Not your typical tourist attraction, but worthy of attention if you want a robust view of South Africa and its complexities.

Kruger National Park
Kruger Park is a 5-7 hour drive from Joburg. Check out the map….it’s a magnificent expanse of land adjacent to Mozambique. A drive through Mpumalanga, on the way to or from Kruger Park, is well worth slowing down the trip for. 
If you plan to go and do a game drive, make sure that your trip to Kruger will allow you to be there for sunrise at least twice, and sunset at least twice. Trust me on this one. Game viewing is a SLOOOOW process, and animals don’t just rock up every five minutes so that you can take pictures. A nuh zoo dis. There is something magical about setting off on a 3 hour game drive at sunrise or sunset, not knowing what to expect. You know there is a chance that you won’t see the “Big Five” (lion, hippo, rhino, leopard, elephant), but bask in the stillness of the land, the amazing glow of the sun (it BIG yuh see!), and in the knowledge that your guide can identify various types of animal droppings–In Jamaica our poop-identification skills are limited to dawg, puss and fowl, and the ubiquitous black and white lizard doo on the wall. South Africa gives you the real deal, and for Jamaicans, even the welcoming committee of the ‘common’ giraffe, zebra and monkeys make for big stories back home. And you cost-conscious West Indians….no boddah complain and ask for your money back when you don’t see the Big 5!! Savour the moment ad the simplicity of it all. No big big raucous laugh while viewing game….it ain’t kosher, albeit tempting as the wild calls out our deepest emotions….hold back on the booming laughter and the constant commentary until you get back to your private room. Yuh want a dutty look from your game companions?…..talk loud and scare away the animal dem.

If you can’t go too far from Joburg to check out animals, Pilansberg Game Reserve is an alternative national park to go to, 2-3 hours from Joburg and very close to the widely known Sun City. In addition, there are countless other high quality private game lodges, hotels and opportunities outside of these parks to see animals in the wild.

Durban is a 5-6 hour drive from Joburg, or a 45 min flight. It’s by the sea, looks like Jamaica in parts, tropical, unlike Joburg and Cape Town.  Many South Africans of Indian descent make Durban their home. I seldom find West Indians getting excited by the prospect of Durban…not ‘different’ enough for them, too similar to home. Nobody nuh wan’ travel so far to see sumting dem see everyday.

Random topics that always come up

  • Transportation in South Africa

·        Land transportation in SA in the various cities leaves much to be desired. For example, in my 8 years here, I have NEVER seen a brochure or map showing bus or minibus (called ‘taxis) routes. People waiting for public transport on the side of the road use mind-boggling hand signals that only the insiders know (someone’s even written a thesis about them http://www.adaenup.co.za/content/taxi-hand-signs). If I ever decided to take the minibus one day I wouldn’t know where to start….and this from a lover of the idea of public transportation and pedestrian living who’s lived here for 8 years. Cabs are relatively expensive – the drive from the OR Tambo airport to the heart of Sandton will cost you R350 (aprox US$40). However, you can also use the Magic Bus shuttle which does frequent daytime trips between the airport and some Sandton hotels.   My advice would be to get a car while you are here. Signage, roads, maps and GPS are good, so the self-drive option (we drive on the left) is a strong one. Otherwise, link up with a cab driver and cut a deal for the duration of your stay, especially if you’re in a group.

·        Air Transportation is good – you don’t have to worry about any fly-by-night airlines, and you don’t have to worry about sharing a row with goats, or running on the tarmac to get a first-come-first-serve seat, despite some of the funny stories you may have heard about ‘Africa’. The airports are good and efficient and airlines allow online booking. Kulula.com, 1-Time, SAA, Mango, BA/Comair are some of the regulars. Apart from OR Tambo International and Cape Town International, there’s also Lanseria Airport in Joburg and multiple regional airports.

  • Passport – You need at least 2 CLEAN pages to get on a plane heading for South Africa.

There’s what I can only refer to as a ‘silly’ South African rule that says that you cannot get on a plane destined for South Africa unless you have 2 absolutely clean pages in your passport. TAKE THIS NOTE SERIOUSLY. I’ve known people to get to the airport with 1.5 clean pages in their passports, and not being allowed to get on the plane. Serious ting. This for me will go down in history as one of strangest requirements. If you’ve heard of any other country with this rule, let me know. If anyone from SA Home Affairs is reading this, do let me know why this rule exists, and how someone who doesn’t need a visa and therefore won’t have interacted with a South African High Commission before arriving at an airport is supposed to know this rule …..This is a tourism-killing rule for sure.

  • Planning your trip – timing

If you are over 35, don’t underestimate the power of jet-lag. You aren’t as young as you used to be. ‘Back then’ you could pull all-nighters on a cup of coffee, now you can’t. Jet lag coming from the Americas to SA will have you a little woozy, and wondering which way is up, for a couple days. Do yourself a favour and don’t plan to do anything major the day after you get here or you mightn’t remember it by the time you get back home.

  • Allow 1 lazy day for jet lag
  • Allow at least 5 days for Greater Joburg
  • Allow 3 days for a Kruger Trip, including travel to and from
  • Allow 3-4 days for Cape Town.
  • Bring an extra cell phone, charger and adapter and buy a local sim card.

It’s arrogant and unfair to expect your local cab driver or host to contact you on your international line if you are roaming. You can buy a local simcard at the airport, gas stations and supermarkets for less than US$1, and buy airtime anywhere as you go along. You won’t find phone booths on every street corner.

  • Medication and inoculation

Yellow fever
We don’t quite know why, since apparently yellow fever was eradicated yonks ago, but if you are coming from elsewhere in Africa, immigration sometimes demands that you show your yellow card. If you can’t show your up-to-date card they charge you a whopping US $80 and jab right there and then in the immigration area, no receipt provided, no lollipops for being brave, no way out. I have my own cynical opinion about that, and wonder why people aren’t reminded about this by airlines, travel agents and high commissioners before getting on a plane, but hey. I’ll just do my thing and tell you that up front, especially since my Ghanaian and Nigerian bredrin might be reading this. 

Malaria and anti-malaria medicine
Let’s put it this way. Most people I know who live in and around Johannesburg have never taken anti-malaria medicine and have never had malaria in their lives. Some of the medicine prescribed in the US (e.g. Lariam) has had dodgy effects on some people. Do your reading, ask around….. I’m no doctor. Come with some decent insect repellent if you plan to do game drives or plan to spend long evenings in the bush listening out for animals.

  • Greeting people

There a relatively more rushed, hurried way of interacting with strangers in the US than there is in South Africa. If you are Jamaican, go back to the lessons that your grandparents taught you about interacting with people. Start by saying ‘good morning/afternoon’, ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ when you greet drivers/customer service people/strangers, before you launch into a series of rushed questions about how to get to your destination, how to find the loo, and when the flight is taking off. Slow down, take your time between questions, and remember that people are people and want to be treated with dignity and courtesy, more courtesy and warmth than you are probably used to exuding in your average interaction with strangers in the US.  

  • Crime

You’ve heard about it, and it is real. Keep your wits about you and don’t get carried away with your ‘hakuna matata’ notion of Africa. Smash and grab incidents are real and frequent, (smash a car window, steal a bag) so don’t leave valuables on passenger seats or in full view of passerbys and fellow shoppers in parking lots. Also, remember that all beggars are not legitimate beggars–I once saw a ‘disabled’ beggar do a back flip once the traffic lights had turned green and the cars had pulled away from the intersection. Don’t think that you have to have a full blown conversation with every beggar that approaches you. Let your conscience and judgement be your guide. That said, don’t glare suspiciously at everyone. Most people genuinely want to help tourists more than you’ll ever imagine.

  • Accessing Money in SA

ATMs are all over the place, and credit cards are common currency. You might want to alert your US bank to the fact that you are travelling as some banks freeze cars once they realise that there is sudden and frequent use of a client’s bank cards in Africa. Carry multiple cards in case one happens to let you down. It’s been known to happen.

  • Going to other African countries while you’re here

This sounds like a good idea – travelling to multiple countries while you are on this side of the Atlantic. Be prepared however as:

  • All countries will have different visa requirements.
  • Air travel within Africa can be tricky and expensive. South African Airways and Kenya Airways can get you to most English speaking African countries, but to some French-speaking African countries
  • Distances between countries may be underestimated by the uninitiated. FYI – It’s a 6-hour flight from Joburg to Nigeria or Ghana, and a 4 –hour flight to Kenya. Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia are short trips, though may seem expensive to people who think that they are nearby countries and should be inexpensive to get to.
  • Clothing requirements will be different if you come to SA for the World Cup. It’ll be winter in South Africa in June, and hot in tropical Africa. Baggage allowance within Africa is limited, so plan carefully if you do a multi-country visit.
  • Temperature

June falls in winter in South Africa.  However, on a winter’s day in Johannesburg, you can go from 5˚celsius (41˚F) in the morning, to 22˚degrees celsius (71˚F)  at midday. Therefore plan to wear layers that can be taken off and put on easily. If you wear a thick woolly sweater in the morning you mind end up sweating buckets and looking a little odd by midday, when the glorious winter sky and amazing South African sunshine take over. Bring a scarf and beanie to take the edge off the Cape wind chill, to keep you warm while you’re watching soccer at the stadium, and to break the wind as you drive in an open topped Landrover at  6 am, looking for a lion in the wild. A jacket is a must for June/July, the type you’d wear in the late fall in Washington DC. The air around Joburg is extremely dry so bring the strongest lotion and lip balm that you can find or you’ll become crispy in no time.

  • Spas, tour operators and other miscellaneous info

People often like to end their visit with a trip to the spa–a final relaxing treat before the reality of the US kicks in. Spas are good, plenty and reasonably priced. A couple around the Joburg area that you can hit before you hop on an evening flight are Urban Sanctuary in Fourways www.curtleys.co.za/urbansanctuary, and Mangwanani Day Spa.

Travel operators abound locally, but a Jamaican travel consultant in the US, has already started to package tours to make the trip easier for people coming from the Caribbean or the US. www.JazzyWorldTravel.com (email: [email protected]). They’ve been sourcing local tours and rates and are keen on creating enjoyable experiences for travellers in 2010 in particular.

So that’s it from the yardie on the ground. Drop me a line to let me know about your experience and tell me what you really liked about South Africa. Who says you can’t call more than one country home?

Photos by Ruth Wade Kwakwa and Kirk Thame