North America and South Africa: University Linkages
Vice President for Research
University of Charleston, SC
As part of a developing program of faculty and student exchange between North America and South Africa, I visited several Historically Disadvantaged Universities (HDUs) in South Africa last month to continue discussions of their needs and the possibilities for the development of projects involving universities and colleges both there and here. (HDU is their terminology referring to nine universities, eight established as “Black” universities and one as the “Coloured” university.)
The visit was completely exhilarating and exciting. I was very cordially received by every institution I visited. There was a high degree of interest in the development of exchanges, at the faculty level, at the student level, and at the administrative level. The universities, particularly the HDUs, in South Africa, are in the midst of great change, as is the nation as a whole; the possibility that we could assist in a revolution in higher education brought about by a newly democratized society is dramatic.
The three universities I visited were the Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA), the University of the Western Cape, and the University of Venda. These three universities, although vastly different from one to another, probably are broadly representative of the nine HDUs taken as a whole. I also visited with the Minister of Education for South Africa, the Honorable S. M. E. Bengu. I would like to describe each of these visits.
MEDUNSA is the only Black university in South Africa developed for medical education. As a result, it graduates most of the Black doctors in South Africa. As with the other HDUs, it has a rather young history. Most of the HDUs were established as part of the policy of apartheid; as a consequence, the physical location of the HDUs was also a part of that policy.
MEDUNSA is located just outside of the border of Ga-Rankuwa, in the former Bophuthatswana homeland. Indeed, the former homeland is separated from Gauteng Province, in which MEDUNSA is located, by a barbed wire fence. Although the area around MEDUNSA is quite rural, it is located only about 30 kilometers from downtown Pretoria. With the change of government last year, the political boundary divisions were thoroughly changed. The homelands no longer exist; Gauteng is a newly created province; MEDUNSA as a university is funded by national government and the Ministry of Education; however, MEDUNSA also runs a hospital in the former Bophuthatswana, which was formerly funded by the homeland government of Bophuthatswana and is now funded by the province of Northern Transvaal.
I began my visit to MEDUNSA with a meeting with the Principal, Dr. Ephraim Mokgokong. Dr. Mokgokong is a widely-known and respected medical and educational leader in South Africa. In fact, he currently serves as the Chair of the Committee of University Principals, the South Africa-wide organization of university heads. Principal Mokgokong also had me visit with his Vice-Principal, Dr. Andy Mogotlane.
Dr. Ephraim Mokgokong, Principal of Medunsa
Dr. Mogotlane is a well-respected Professor of Anatomy and he has recently become Vice-Principal. Dr. Mokgokong expressed to me that his retirement will come within a few years; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dr. Mogotlane take his place.
MEDUNSA is organized into four Faculties: Medicine, Dentistry, Basic Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine. Each faculty has several departments. I met with each of the four deans:
Dean Jan deVries Dentistry
Dean Jacques Kriel Medicine
Dean J W Groenewald Basic Sciences
Acting Dean Colin Cotton Veterinary Medicine
Each of the four deans had in mind a particular exchange that they would like to see develop in their faculties. Deans deVries and Kriel converged on an idea that we developed during the course of our meeting. They both feel that although they would be happy to receive faculty support, what would be even a higher priority for them would be a stimulus for their research. They feel that they have good faculty, who have done valuable research work, but their is no tradition at MEDUNSA for either scholarly publication or grantsmanship. They would be very interested in having someone visit in the area of grants administration, to set up an office of research, and particularly to work individually with faculty to teach them how to write grant proposals. South Africa has an agency comparable to the USA’s NIH, called the Medical Research Council, or MRC. (Later I drove by the MRC, which was described to me at the University of the Western Cape as “two kilometers as the crow flies, and a million kilometers otherwise.”)
Further into that discussion, Deans deVries and Kriel also agreed that a very high priority for them would be to find someone with both the science background and editorial skills sufficient to take the many research results that exist on their campus and help faculty get those results in a publishable form. Establishment of a culture of research and grantsmanship would do a great deal to help MEDUNSA’s development. I heard comparable messages at the other institutions I visited.
In my meeting with Dean Groenewald, we discussed more disciplinary and curricular problems. As with every university I visited (and I believe this to be true across all HDUs), there is a demand to develop computer science; permission has been given to offer computer science degree programs; the students are ready; but there are no faculty, no curricula, and in most cases, a need for infrastructure. (With regard to the Internet, for example, Western Cape has been on the Internet for a short while; MEDUNSA has just gotten on; and Venda has yet to get Internet access.) Furthermore, Dean Groenewald also asked about other areas that he would like to develop, in particular, they have a new program in environmental science under development, and would like to explore the concept of an undergraduate degree program in biotechnology.
Dean Cotton is very interested in the concept of an extension service such as exists with our land grant universities in the United States. It is interesting that Veterinary Medicine is taught at MEDUNSA in South Africa --- veterinary programs in the US and Canada are not usually found in medical schools. Nevertheless, as one of only two vet programs in South Africa, Dean Cotton’s program has an important role to play. They are currently developing an outreach program that combines veterinary medicine with agricultural services provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. The emphasis that we have placed at the College of Charleston on the development of relations with small farmers is very much of interest to MEDUNSA.
Another area of general interest at MEDUNSA (and everywhere else) was the idea that their young faculty might find a North American institution for professional development, or in some cases, degree completion.
Another meeting I had at MEDUNSA of great interest was with the Registrar, Carl Berndt. For a while, I was puzzled as to why I was meeting with the Registrar, until I learned that Mr. Berndt had instituted a MEDUNSA-wide committee on research, and had also been chosen to head that committee. Consequently, he reiterated most of the desires expressed by Deans deVries and Kriel concerning the development of a research culture. Also, later in our discussion, Mr. Berndt expressed a desire for communication with university registrars in North America for his own professional development.
Finally, the most interesting political discussions I had during my visit to South Africa were with MEDUNSA’s Director of Transportation, Henry Letebele, who served as my host while I was on campus. Mr. Letebele was very forthright about the pluses and minuses of this new era in South Africa. Himself a resident of Soweto, he conveyed the feeling that many Soweto residents and other blacks were impatient at the pace of change in the country. He felt that some had become disillusioned with the ANC and the government (Government of National Unity, or GNU). He is one (of many) who used to be arrested for being in Johannesburg (i.e. outside of Soweto) after curfew, or for not carrying the hated passbook. He also took me on a tour of the former homeland that is just outside of MEDUNSA’s property. To visit a homeland or a township makes one quickly realize that housing is one of the critical areas for the development of that nation. Imagine thousands of identical, four-room, 600 square-foot houses on very little land --- that is the life-style for millions of township and (former) homelands residents.
University of the Western Cape
Subsequently, I traveled to Cape Town to visit the University of the Western Cape, in the town of Bellville, about 30 kilometers from the center of Cape Town.
It is probably fair to say that University of the Western Cape is the most advanced of the HDUs. It is older than most of the HDUs, dating back to the 1940s. Furthermore, UWC was established as the “Coloured” university in South Africa. Although official designations like “Black” and “Coloured” are losing their meanings in law (that is, the “Het Blankes” signs --- whites only --- are only seen in antique stores), in practice they are still widely used. About ten years ago, UWC Rector Jakes Gerwel, himself Coloured, and a prominent figure in the ANC, announced a policy of admitting many more blacks to UWC, to the point that today the racial makeup of UWC is about 49% Black, 49% Coloured, and 2% white. Gerwel left UWC when Mandela came to power, and is now his chief of staff.
The current administration is led by Colin Bundy, in an acting capacity; during the month of August, a new Rector, Cecil Abrahams, will take office. Dr. Abrahams is current the Vice President - Academic at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. A South African native, he has been in Canada for many years. Dr. Bundy will remain as Vice-Rector when Dr. Abrahams takes office. (Bundy also has a Canadian connection --- he had just returned from teaching in a summer institute at Carleton University in Ottawa.)
Acting Vice-Rector Colin Bundy
The University of the Western Cape, whether because it is older, or because it is in Cape Town, or because it was the Coloured university --- for whatever reason, has much greater experience in international contacts than the other universities I visited. For example, UWC has a long established exchange with the entire University of Missouri system. Among the people I met with, for example, were Denver Hendricks, the Chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on International Relations.
University of the Western Cape
Student Lounge and Cafeteria
. However, UWC is still interested in the exchange possibilities, especially in the areas of the sciences.
UWC has about 15,000 students today, and they are in Faculties of Arts, Business, Community Health, Dentistry, Education, Law, and Sciences. About 80% of their funding for the national government, and the balance from tuition and fundraising.
The areas of greatest need expressed by the administration in terms of exchanges were in the Sciences, in a new program in Demography, and in interdisciplinary programs, such as in the environmental sciences. They also expressed interest in the concept discussed at MEDUNSA concerning development of grant-writing capabilities.
It is also worthy of note that the Afrikaans language plays a more important role at UWC than elsewhere. The language of instruction is English, but most of the Coloured population is also fluent in Afrikaans. Thus, you hear Afrikaans spoken widely at UWC. Also many of their documents are published in both languages, again with a note that English is the official version.
University of Venda
My third and final university visit was to the University of Venda. Venda is probably the youngest of the HDUs. It was founded in 1983 ---previously it was a branch campus of the University of the North, which is located about 200 kilometers to the South, near Pietersburg.
The University of Venda was created by the former Apartheid government to serve the homeland of Venda. The “homelands,” of course, were treated by the former South African government as independent nations (but nowhere else in the world were they recognized as such). As part of that policy, eventually universities were established in each of the homelands.
The Univesity of Venda Cabinet Plus One
Principal Nkondo third from right
The homelands, and especially Venda, were highly rural. Venda no longer exists as a political jurisdiction, and the area is part of the province of Northern Transvaal. Of course, the university, being funded at the national level, has less to do with the provincial government of the Northern Transvaal.
The University of Venda is located in the town of Thohoyandou, which was the capital of Venda. To get there, one drives about 500 kilometers northeast from Johannesburg, on the “Cape-to-Cairo” highway, highway N1. The fascinating aspect of the trip is that (at least at the end of July, the mid-winter) one leaves Johannesburg for a countryside that is basically brown, with sparse vegetation. The further north one travels, the more one is reminded of the high desert or high plains of Colorado and New Mexico --- indeed, this land is called in South Africa the “bushveld.”
Just before reaching the Zimbabwe border, at the town of Louis Trichardt, one turns east to enter the region of Venda. Within a few miles, the environment is transformed. This part of Venda is in a valley --- and is semi-tropical. In the midwinter, there are literally hundreds of roadside vendors selling tropical fruits from the neighboring farms.
Even Thohoyandou is very rural. Besides the University, my hotel, and a shopping center, I did not see any other signs of urbanity. Still, throughout the countryside, there is a large population --- University of Venda (also called UNIVEN) now has over 8,000 students.
The Principal, G. M. Nkondo, has spent a number of years in US academe, most recently at Northeastern in Boston. UNIVEN has seemed to move further than the others in placing blacks into positions of leadership. For example, all of the leadership cabinet, and most of the deans, are Black. Furthermore, Nkondo has been aggressive at seeking South African academics in exile and bringing them back to the country. His Vice-Principal had been at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for many years; his Dean of Research had been at the Free University in Amsterdam for twenty years.
University of Venda
I found UNIVEN to be the most challenging school to visit. In the first place, because of their location, they have the least contact with visitors, both South African and international. In the second place, they showed the greatest interest in having exchanges develop of any nature. And in the third place, again because of their relative isolation and the economic level of the area, they have the greatest need.
The University of Venda is organized into eight Faculties, with Deans leading each faculty. These are Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Forestry; Business; Education; Environmental Sciences; Fine Arts; Language and Arts; Law; Mathematics and Natural Sciences; Social Sciences. UNIVEN has 8,000 students; while visiting the Faculty of Science, I counted about 30 faculty mailboxes. However, it was pointed out to me that many of the faculty in science are part-time faculty.
The areas which the administration at UNIVEN indicated were the greatest concern for exchange programs were Agriculture, Environmental Science, Science, Education (especially Special Education), and Public Administration. UNIVEN has previously and continues to provide for most of the teachers and the civil servants in the Venda region.
There are several problems rather unique to UNIVEN. Because there is little public transportation in the area, most of the students wish to be in residence. However, there is only dormitory space for about 2,000 of the 8,000 students. A few hundred students solve the problem by having small trailers towed to the university property, which then become their residence. Another several hundred have become squatters on vacant buildings left by the former Venda government.
Another consequence of this shortage of housing is that the library must devote about 80% of its space to student work areas. There is even an outdoor overflow for student seating in the library.
Of course, for any visiting faculty, this is also a problem to be addressed. However, I was assured by Principal Nkondo that the University has its own housing which could be made available for any visiting faculty.
Given the rich agricultural surroundings, I asked if the development of their agriculture program, with a view to the economic development of the area was of primary importance -- I was assured that it was. The university does have a small demonstration farm for the use of the agriculture program.
Other administrators who were particularly interested in exchanges were Dr. Vincent Ndoro Vera, Deputy Vice Chancellor --- he had been at Lincoln University for a number of years; Dean of Research and Development, Prof. Johannes Marius (Johnny) Nchabeleng -- who had been at the Free University in Amsterdam; Prof. Omara-Ojungu, Dean of the School of Environmental Sciences; and Prof. Ezra Djuluba, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences (himself a mathematician).
My host from UNIVEN’s Department of Public Relations was Norah Macheba, who, I later learned, was not only an administrator at the university --- but also a student, and also a farmer! Ms. Macheba was one of the few women administrators I met during the visit.
Ms. Norah Macheba
Minister of Education Sibusiso Bengu
I also had the good fortune to be able to meet with Nelson Mandela’s Minister of Education in the Government of National Unity, the Honorable Sibusiso M. E. Bengu; also with his assistant, Sheila Sisulu. Minister Bengu is a widely-recognized figure in higher education in South Africa. He was formerly Vice-Chancellor of Fort Hare University, and has been a leading figure in the African National Congress. He holds a PhD in political science from the University of Geneva. He was also secretary for research and social action for the Lutheran World Foundation
Hon. Sibusiso M. E. Bengu
Minister of Education for South Africa
I had met Minister Bengu originally in the United States in November, 1994, when President Sanders asked me to represent him at the annual meeting of Presidents of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Both he and Ms. Sisulu were very gracious and we spent a good deal of time discussing all of the contacts that I had made in the higher education system. He was also very encouraging and pledged support should we develop exchanges. In one concrete pledge, he promised to ease all visa and labor permits for anyone coming on such an exchange. We also discussed pre-college education at some length, and I expect continuing discussions with the Minister about Project SEED in South Africa.
My meeting with Minister Bengu and Ms. Sisulu occurred before my visits to the universities, so I was not able to report to him personally on the outcome of these visits.
There are a number of aspects of higher education in South Africa that are common to all the institutions that I visited that should be of interest to any North Americans interested in working with South African higher education.
First of all, because of the inverted seasons in the Southern hemisphere, December and January are the warmest months, and July and August the coldest. For this reason, the university year begins in January, and goes through November, with a “winter break” of about one month in July.
Because of the influence of British higher education, the school year is not on a quarter or semester basis. One begins one’s courses in January, and carries them through until November; then, at the end of the year, rather than accumulate individual course credits, one either passes the entire year, or doesn’t. This system is seen as being increasingly problematic, and it is reasonable to think that the South African universities will be on some sort of semester system before long. For one thing, having the full-year curriculum discourages part-time and adult students; and given the demographics and history of South Africa, it is reasonable to think that there will be a great demand in the future for what we call continuing education.
About 40 miles from Cape Town and UWC
However, it is also the case that a single course in South Africa may have several instructors. In other words, Professor X may begin a course in January, and lecture until April. Professor Y may then take over from him or her, and continue until September; and Professor Z may finish the course. This works best, of course, when the curriculum has natural divisions.
It seems that a normal teaching load is two courses. However, one can usually expect to find many more students than in a North American university. (I was told that the University of the North, which I did not visit, has some classes with 800 students.) Furthermore, from the student’s point of view, each course in South Africa may correspond to between 1.5 and 2 of our 3-credit courses (based on the number of hours of lecture in each).
Salaries for academics in South Africa are probably 30-40% below salaries for comparable experience and rank in North America. For one example, MEDUNSA was recruiting at the Instructor level in science, offering a salary of approximately $20,000.
However, also for comparison purposes for North Americans, costs of living in South Africa are also probably 30-40% below the average in North America. I rarely ate a meal that cost more than $10. Furthermore, a few of the meals I had were in very good restaurants. My hotel bills were about $50/night, staying in center city Holiday Inns. Petrol (gasoline to us North Americans) is more expensive than in the US, but about the same as in Canada. Housing seems to be inexpensive. Books and tapes are expensive. I went to the most popular live theater in Johannesburg for about $10, and to the top level professional soccer in Pretoria, in the higher grade of seats, for $15.
All of the universities I approached seemed to be amenable to paying at least part of a salary for a visitor. I have since my return learned that there are prospects for US AID also to pay part of one’s salary, if one is from the US and in certain disciplines.
With respect to housing in general, of the three universities I visited, MEDUNSA and UWC are close enough to urban areas (Pretoria and Cape Town) that there would be ample housing and schooling available. As I mentioned above, UNIVEN has its own housing, but I do not know about school availability for children.
Health care is another concern. There is universal health care now only for children up to a certain age. This is likely to change in the future, but for now a visitor might have to obtain his or her own insurance. Health care is reputedly good in the cities (remember that the first heart transplant in the world was done here).
The NON-Historically Disadvantaged Universities
I would be remiss in not mentioning the better-established universities in South Africa, in particular the University of Cape Town (UCT), Stellenbosch University, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the University of Pretoria, and the University of Natal - Durban.
UCT probably thinks of itself as the Harvard of South Africa. Stellenbosch probably does too, although it is an Afrikaaner-language institution. (Every National Party President graduated from Stellenbosch.) Wits may think of itself as the MIT of South Africa. All of these schools are very good.
Most of these universities take the viewpoint that since they never bought into the Apartheid system (and several were active opponents of Apartheid), they should not be held accountable for the evils of Apartheid. In fact, most now are recruiting Black students --- however, here in North America we will recognize the phenomenon that the top universities will select the very best of Black students.
Clearly there are some faculty at the non-HDUs that are very sympathetic to the development of the HDUs. But their institutions are under pressure from the national government to cut back on their funding (sound familiar?). Furthermore, the historic relationships are not necessarily very good. So the role that the non-HDUs can play in the development of the HDUs is limited.
However, it was suggested at MEDUNSA that should we have North American faculty on loan to South Africa, we might be able to have them teach partially at MEDUNSA, say, and perhaps one course at the University of Pretoria. MEDUNSA and UP, incidentally, are discussing forming a joint school in veterinary medicine, just as UWC and UCT are establishing a joint program in community health.
A Workshop has been organized here in Charleston for November 3 and 4, 1995. Present at that Workshop will be the Principals of the three South African universities visited. I am hopeful that after that Workshop, we will be able to decide if this exchange project should proceed, and, if so, how to begin making placements.
Your participation in this Workshop is encouraged. You will receive further information in the near future concerning the program for this meeting.
A Baboon Stops Traffic at Chapman Peak
(near Cape Town)
Part II - General Observations
In addition to the observations about higher education in South Africa, I thought it might be of some interest to discuss some random observations I made during my nine days in that country. These are, of course, completely naive, given that I am only an amateur observer of the human condition, and that I had (and have) no expertise whatsoever on South African society, history, or anything else South African.
Furthermore, I am jotting down these observations without regard to order, or importance, or probably in many cases to relevance!
It is indeed the New South Africa. Consider the impact of the change in a society where the majority population, 80% of the population, have only had the vote for one year, and where they have elected a government that has turned out the government of forty years’ standing.
On one political subject you can now get virtually unanimous agreement in South Africa --- Nelson Mandela is a genius and a visionary leader. It is even conceivable that he is now more popular among South African whites than Blacks!
One master stroke came when he attended a practice of the rugby Springboks last May. For the uninitiated, the Springboks are the national team, and rugby is the (white, particularly Afrikaaner) national sport. South Africa was hosting the rugby World Cup, and the Springboks had a good chance of winning. One must also realize that because the Springboks were the white team, and had never had a Black player before this year, they were also particularly hated by the Black community. Mandela went to a practice, put on the team jersey (with number 6 on the back), and emerged saying, “these are our boys and we must support them all the way.” Needless to say, South Africa Springboks won the World Cup, the nation went crazy, and Mandela is now commonly referred to in the press as “number 6.” When you arrive at the baggage carousel at the Johannesburg Airport, you are greeted by video clips on a twenty-foot high, sixteen-screen television set, of the World Cup match, with the victory song “Tshotsholoza” playing over and over again.
Also while I was there, Mandela hosted a luncheon for many of the great women leaders of the nation --- the wives and widows of former Apartheid presidents going back to Verwoerd, and the widows of leaders in the revolution, such as Mrs. Steve Biko. It did not escape public notice that these leading women were able to sit around the table and break bread with another. Finally, last week, as you may have seen, Mandela traveled to the enclave where lives the 94-year old widow of Henrik Verwoerd. Verwoerd is considered the most hated architect of the Apartheid system.
Clearly Mandela has done an enormous amount to unite his nation. One hopes fervently that he will have good health for a few more years.
The most evident form of transportation in South Africa is the “cambee.” A cambee is, usually, a Volkswagen minibus, normally a twelve-seater, but often carrying as many as twenty-five passengers. Cambees are privately owned, and provide the transportation for workers coming from the townships or the homelands into the cities to work. In Johannesburg between four and five in the afternoon, one sees literally hundreds of cambees, all headed for Soweto.
Also the rail system in South Africa seems to be extensive. It is electrified, and seems to be in considerable use for intercity travel. South African Airways are courteous, relatively inexpensive, and run on time (in my experience). The formal urban transportation systems seem to be limited in their routes.
As I was driving most of the time myself, I had less opportunity to experience most modes of transportation. It’s British-style right-hand driver’s side, drive on the left-hand side of the road. The automobiles are all European or Japanese --- can’t remember seeing a GM or Ford product.
Traffic is congested in the cities --- no more so than a comparable-sized North American city. (Los Angeles and Washington excepted.)
The roads are good. The main highway through South Africa is the Cape-to-Cairo, highway N1. In Cape Town and Johannesburg, it is a limited-access, divided highway, with speed limits of 120 km/h (75 mph) outside of the downtowns. Even the least developed highway I drove upon, R28 in Venda, was at least as good as the secondary roads in my native New Brunswick, Canada. There are also dirt roads indicated in some places, but I didn’t need to travel on any.
Radio and TV
First, television. It is easy enough to describe South African television. It is the same throughout the country --- there are four channels. One is educational, one is CNN, and one is an HBO or Showtime movie channel relative. The fourth alternates programming in several of the eleven national languages (soap operas, sitcoms, sports, American reruns).
It is alleged that this will shortly change, and that the hundreds-of-channels, direct satellite era is about to come to South Africa. Not yet, though.
Radio is another story. A lot of people seem to listen to Radio 702 --- talk radio. No Rush Limbaughs have emerged yet, though. 702 seems to have its programming all in English. As I left, 702 was proudly announcing that the Premier of Gauteng, Tokyo Sexwale, was about to become a regular talk show host. This isn’t like Mario Cuomo going this route once he is out of office --- this is the sitting Premier. By the way, if you wonder how you get radio 702 on an AM band, it seems that many countries, including South Africa, have a 9 kilohertz spread between stations instead of 10 here in North America. (That means, one gets approximately 10% more stations in the same bandwidth. It also means --- check your nearest math prof --- that all the frequencies, when their digits are added together, yield a number that is divisible by 9! --- 7 + 0 + 2 = 9.)
The other radio stations, both AM and FM, seem to mix languages quite easily. It was the norm to listen to a music station, with a few cuts introduced in English --- then when the announcer returned, he was speaking Afrikaans or Sotho.
In Cape Town, seafood is king. Everywhere else, red meat triumphs. I now have two favorite restaurants to recommend which are worth a trip to South Africa by themselves. In Johannesburg, a visit to Iyavaya is mandatory. Apparently Denzel Washington preceded me there. There are recipes from about 20 African countries on the menu. One can sample dishes from Tunisia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, ... and of course South Africa.
Ivayawa is in the middle of Yeoville, kind of a village-type section of Johannesburg. It is also the case that the most lavish meal at Ivayawa will not cost you more than $15.00. Furthermore, Ivayawa is on the upper end of the expensive restaurants in Jo’burg. Every dish I tried was terrific. I did, however, pass on the fried Mopani worms. (See the menu attached.)
In Cape Town, my favorite was a little bistro called the Woodstock Bistro. It is really a bar, and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it after 8 pm --- but the food is really splendid, and when I ate there at 6 and 7, the bar patrons really hadn’t arrived yet. The peri-peri chicken livers were probably my favorite dish. Average bill: less than $10.00.
I should not forget to mention the fast food world. There is a chain called Steers (nationwide), which would do very well here. Imagine a McDonald’s with about 15 choices for hamburgers, all of them served on bread that tastes like it’s just out of the oven. The burgers cost about $2.00. The monkeygland burger is to die for.
On the other end of the scale, I drove about an hour to the Randburg Waterfront (a Jo’burg suburb and a local joke --- the water is entirely manmade and the 150 shops seem to aim at the lowest common denominator) for a Sri Lanka restaurant. Wasn’t worth it. Also, I did not go to a restaurant chain called Carnivore, which advertises extensively as follows: COME TO AFRICA. SEE THE ANIMALS. EAT THEM. Apparently, at this establishment, waiters constantly circulate to give you yet another slab of impala, springbok, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, or who-knows-what.
Cost of Living
My best estimate of the cost of living in South Africa is that it is 30% below the USA. As I have mentioned, food, lodging, and most goods are very inexpensive. (Not to mention some of the crafts at the many flea markets --- ask me about my $5.00 mahogany goblets.) Petrol is more expensive than the US but about the same as Canada. Books and tapes are hard to find and expensive. Wages are generally low --- thus the cost of services is probably equivalently low.
I never really found a pure bookstore. There is a pharmacy chain called CNA that often has a pretty decent book section (and tape and CD section). I also found a fair bookstore in a Cape Town suburb while looking for something else.
I wanted to find lots of books by South African authors. By and large, I failed. I have a small reading list for anyone interested.
The air quality in most of South Africa that I experienced is not good. My first impression on coming into downtown Jo’burg was that I was in Los Angeles. I also was perplexed by this since we were in midwinter --- the one time of year that Los Angeles is sometimes smogfree. What I learned is that winter is the worst time for air pollution in South Africa. Part of the problem is auto emissions, but the greater problem is that almost everyone burns coal for heating purposes --- but only in the winter, of course. Even in the totally rural environment of Venda, the coal hung in the atmosphere.
Just on the basis of my own taste buds, the water seemed to be fine everywhere. There is, however, a raging debate about whether or not to fluoridate the water nationally. Of course, talk radio 702 featured this debate. It brought me back to the 50s. Water fluoridation, for some people in South Africa, is --- gasp --- a Communist plot!
The Dean of Dentistry at MEDUNSA did tell me about some interesting research in his field that has allowed a number of countries to solve their fluoridation problem by distributing individual kits to citizens throughout the country.
Environmental study is a new field in South Africa, but one that is rapidly growing.
South Africa is absolutely sports-mad. I’ve already mentioned the Springboks rugby team (“Viva De Bokke”), but while I was there, soccer was in full season. Just as rugby is the Afrikaaner sport, soccer is the Black sport. Hey, let’s hear it for the Orlando Pirates, the Kaizer Chiefs, and the Mamelodi Sundowns!
I did get to attend a soccer match, at the Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. It was the United Bank Challenge, a $50,000 challenge match (I know, no big deal for Mike Tyson) involving two top Europeans teams, Leeds United of England, and Benfica of Portugal, against the Mamelodi Sundowns and the Kaizer Chiefs. Scores: Chiefs 1, Benfica 0; Sundowns 1, Leeds 0. Many choruses, with 40,000 voices, of Tshotsholoza.
Also, while I was there, the South African team (all white) reached the world finals in netball. Netball, folks, is basketball without backboards. The team passes and dribbles the ball down the court --- looks like basketball --- and passes the ball to a shooter --- looks like basketball --- and then everything stops dead! The defender takes one swipe at the shooter ... then the shooter takes the equivalent of a free throw! Then everybody fights for a rebound --- looks like basketball. Go figure?
Cricket, of course, is big. Hockey is field hockey. Major League Baseball scores are reported, thank goodness. One game a week is televised. Golf and tennis are popular. Basketball is played, not exceptionally well. American football, thankfully, is unheard of.
Only got to see one play. It was, however, the longest-running SRO play in South African theater. Its subject? Well, rugby of course. Called, “Heel to the Head,” it purports to recount the story of a couple of rabid Springbok fans who arrive in Jo’burg on the eve of the World Cup Final match between South Africa and New Zealand. To give the flavor, imagine your usual bawdy British farce, mixed in with equal parts Gong Show, rugby jokes in Afrikaans, bare breasts, and Japan-bashing.
After the theater manager got me the last remaining ticket (total cost of $10), and looking at the audience waiting in the theater lobby, which seemed to have an extraordinary number of people lined up for a kickoff. I remarked to the manager, a suitably artsy type, that I thought this audience probably didn’t look like his normal one. He sighed, and said, “anything to get them to the theater once --- maybe they’ll come back.”
My timetable did not permit some other theater which I discover at the last minute --- “The Island” by Alan Paton in Cape Town.
I went to the movies in Cape Town --- most of the North American first-run films are there, perhaps a couple of months behind. I caught the Robert Altman 1994 “Pret-a-Porter” in the “arty” theater.
There are probably more newspapers per capita than in North America. Johannesburg has about five. Cape Town probably has more. Part of this is because of the different languages and racial groups. The newspapers are probably on a par with our own.
Canadians friends take note: there are eleven official languages in South Africa. None of them are French. One is English, which almost everyone speaks. One is Afrikaans, which everyone assumes you speak, if you’re white. (I don’t, except I can say “viva de Bokke,” “fyftig rand,” “braavleis,” and “robots.”) Among the other nine are Sesotho, Zulu, !Xhosa, Siswati, Setswana, Sepedi, Shangaan, and Venda. Next time, I will try to learn some of these languages.
Flea markets, craft markets, roadside vendors abound. Crafts are very inexpensive --- who am I to judge about their quality. I know the mahogany goblets for $5.00 have been admired since my return. The $1.00 clay pots from Venda are pretty popular too.
Johannesburg - big city, very European. Middle of downtown a little worrisome at night.
Pretoria - home of the government. To quote one writer, the most dangerous place in South Africa is Pretoria at 4:01 pm. (The civil servants leave at 4:00 pm.)
Soweto - still the home of almost all of Johannesburg’s Blacks. Soweto isn’t one place, it’s about ten different towns all stuck together. Orlando is one. Disney World isn’t there. But the Orlando Pirates are.
Sandton - the polar opposite of Soweto. Home of more barbed wire than you can imagine. Very rich, very unappealing.
Randburg - the Randburg Waterfront is another suburb of Jo’burg. But it’s a great local joke. Sort of like Cleveland used to be.
Yeoville - the Bohemian area of Jo’burg. Best restaurants.
Hillbrow - mixed racial area near Yeoville. Reputedly the home of illegal jazz clubs.
Bruma Lake - the largest flea market in Africa (so it claims). Like all of Jo’burg, the lake is manmade.
Medunsa - a town containing only the Medical University.
Cape Town - just as European as Jo’burg but much more cosmopolitan. If Jo’burg is Frankfurt, Cape Town is Amsterdam.
Bellville - suburb of Cape Town containing UWC and the Medical Research Council.
Woodstock - funky near suburb of Cape Town. On the water, more interesting than Woodstock, New Brunswick, or Woodstock, Ontario.
Stellenbosch - center of the wine country as well as home of Stellenbosch U. Probably 30 wineries in the area.
squatter city - the most depressing sight in South Africa. Conditions that were much worse than in the homelands or the townships. Actually worse than homelessness in the US.
Muizenberg - suburb of Cape Town on the beach. Craft markets abound.
Kalk Bay - further down towards Cape Point. Noted for antique and junk stores. And the sustainable agriculture folks.
Simonton - closer to Cape Point. Beautiful beach, neat restaurants.
Cape Point - the tip of Africa. Look closely, you can see Antartica.
Fish Hoek - Coming back to Cape Town along the Atlantic Ocean side. Town named for its geographical features.
Pietersburg - 300 kilometers north of Jo’burg on the way to Venda. Nothing much else to say.
Thohoyandou - home of the University of Venda, the Venda Sun, and a shopping center.
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