After four days in Johannesburg my feet are beginning to atrophy, on account of the fact that life in the northern suburbs basically revolves around getting off the couch, getting into the car, and sitting in a coffee shop in a mall.
I was determined this afternoon to do something relatively unheard of. I went for a walk.
Aside from the fact that finding your way around even the newest suburbs on foot is like trying to find the northwest passage, there’s another good reason not many people walk here. Unless you really understand the subtle nuances of different brands of razer wire and electric fence, there’s not a lot to see. Seas of terracotta paint and cooncrete walls and… bugger all else really. Except for that other distinguishing feature of Joburg housing – private security road blocks on public roads.
Still, I did have two revelations. Firstly, I understand why people drive so recklessly (although in fairness the roads feel safer than last time I was here) – anything to inject a bit of excitement into the place. The only shop within walking distance is – course – a garage. I did find a pub. It was closed.
Still, the other revelation was a little more abstruse. I have no idea why almost every house in the suburbs is painted in a similar shade of terracotta. But while pondering this, I suddenly realised why the South African operating system Ubuntu has stuck so religiously to its brown colour scheme over the years, despite much mocking from anyone with taste.
It’s based on the look of suburbia.
The town of Hazyview is considerably more developed since last time I was here. Back then, there was an open market in a gas station for all your needs. Now there are several malls, including one with a camera shop that sells universal chargers. The old town may have had more charm, but the new one at least means we were able to fire off 100 shots of these two kudu almost being eaten by a crocodile this morning. The face off (shall we drink the water? Is that a log?) lasted well over an hour before the kudu walked off and the croc went hungry.
Still, if we hadn’t sat watching them, we’d have missed this gorgeous chap just around the corner when we left the lake.
I can’t believe we’ve been lucky enough to see a cheetah just three days after the leopard. These two are almost impossible to see normally, and yet both were just by the side of the road, waiting for us. amazing creatures. Thank you.
As I’ve been fond of pointing out to people prior to this trip, there may not be snow in Africa at Christmas, but there’s a hell of a lot of rain south of the equator this time of year. The day we arrived in Sambonani, a lodge just outside of Kruger Park where we’re spending a few days, it’s was to a full on monsoon. In the dark, with the power constantly failing, the lightning storms that illumated the first two nights here were staggeringly beautiful.
Apparently, we have a family of hippos and a crocodile living in the river opposite us. I haven’t seen them yet, but I do hope there’s a backup generator for the very fragile looking electric fence keeping the crocs out.
One lesson I have learned is that the old adage about the the most important camera being the camera you have with you is very true. My trusty GF1 is a lovely piece of kit, but without a powerful zoom and a reliance on contrast-based auto-focus, it’s not the best for taking pictures of game. Fortunately, we also have Tamsin’s Nikon, with my 300mm VR lens on it. Which is perfect.
We’ve been very lucky in our first two days in the park. We’ve seen rhino, a huge herd of elephants, hippos, nearly every type of buck and possibly a wildcat or caracal or two as well. The most impressive spot so far though was this one.
A leopard – the last of the Big Five I haven’t photographed in the park. Asleep in a tree in the late muggy afternoon. These cats look lazy, but they’re incredibly hard to spot – they hunt at night and hide during the day. Seeing one is a rare and unusual privilege.
This would, however, be the point that Tamsin’s battery dies, and we discover the charger is back in Joburg. Hence the rather disappointing blur-o-vision above, cropped in from the maximum range of my GF1.
Sigh. I love my GF1, but it does have it’s limitations. If anyone wants to buy me one of these for Christmas, don’t hold back.
Still, it’s hard to get too upset. I’ve been waiting years to see a leopard, and come close twice in the past. And look at the position he’s in, all four legs hanging down like he just doesn’t care about cameras and all the cars jostling for position at the base of the tree.
He probably doesn’t.
That’s all of them – not just the ones in the UK right now.
I feel utterly remiss that the two biggest stories of the year – Wikileaks and the student protests – are going on while I’ve been either preparing for a long trip abroad or while I’m on it. I’ve all the protests in person, but here’s my thoughts about yesterday’s demo.
Higher education may not be a basic human right, but any country that has a system like the one the UK had 20 years ago should be bloody proud of itself. The fact that successive governments of all flavours – Tory, Labour and Coalition – have finally taken it apart is a matter of national shame.
University fees aren’t an economic argument – there’s a convincing school of thought that says any state investment in higher education is more than returned through the tax remmitances of the enhanced earning potential a degree offers. It works for Scotland. This is about the perception of a subsidy to more of the ‘underserving poor’, in this case students.
Free and universal education to degree level is about creating a better society. About saying that we, en masse, value the benefits that learning brings. It’s about saying i doesn’t matter whether or not your degree turns into a career and a massive paycheck (mine didn’t), rather that there are some things about the value of learning which can’t be measured financially.
It’s not a coincidence that the introduction of tuition fees – along with a raft of other Labour policies – marked the beginning of an era which many commentators felt was all about personal avarice and understanding the ‘price of everything and valu of nothing’.
Discovering, when I was 18 and about to leave school, that people from modest or poor backgrounds to decide – without considering the finances – that they’d ‘like to’ go to university, rather than ‘need to’ or ‘can’t afford’ to was one of the valuable, inspiration and life changing experiences of my life. It set the stage (literally, I studied English & Drama) for everything that happened afterwards, and while I don’t work in theatre, it has enriched my world more than that 18 year old boy’s imagination deemed possible.
Anyone had the opportunity I had. It was one of the few things that straddled the class divide. That my daughter will not be able to make that decision with the same freedom breaks my heart.
She will have the opportunity, because I am certain I will be able to provide it for her – but only because my own education was free.
Education is a subject close to my heart. In three weeks I’ll be going back to Zambia to visit Simakakata primary school and see what effect 18 months of help from Care International and LearnAsOne has produced. Not because I work for a charity or because I’m being paid to write about it, but because I believe the best way to help people out of poverty – like the people at Simakakata I’m proud to call friends – is to help them build a good school – and I want to see if I’m right.
People who have recently been remanded in custody without bail pending extradition proceedings in the UK:
People who are believed to be in the UK without a visa, living freely with an extradition request pending since June:
Just my two penn’orth.
I wasn’t aware that power cuts even happen in the UK in the 21st Century – unless there’s been some major incident like a gale blowing over pylons of course. I’m sure I remember arguing with an electric company call centre may years ago who told me they were virtually impossible even then.
Clearly they are, and they happen. The last time I was in my office on Shoreham high street was last Wednesday, when the power went off twice in one day in an even apparently unrelated to the snow. I was away at a wedding on Thursday and Friday, but today we lost electricity for the entire day from around 11.30am on in every other building along the road. The supermarket next door – which has no backup power for its fridges – is particularly unamused.