Preparing For England
Within minutes of our arrival I was on the beach and wallowing in the warm, shark-infested, waters of the Indian Ocean. Cape Town beaches are great; with wide open expanses of sand and dunes on the West Coast you can walk for miles and often hardly see another soul. But even brass monkeys don’t swim in the Southern Atlantic. The Indian Ocean on the other hand is so warm and inviting that it is easy to forget the undertow of the huge rollers and the razor toothed predators that skulk nearby. The lifeguards and surfers are watchful and skilled and the shark nets generally provide adequate protection to the beach-goers.
But leisure time is limited now as I prepare to return to England after my first three months at the bottom of Africa.Back in Natal
With the Northern hemisphere behind me once more slipping into the Umhlanga Rocks lifestyle of Natal again was an easy fit for me. My home in England was sold and my roots in the Country of my birth had been pulled for a different, challenging and altogether more exciting, albeit risky, way of life. Whatever the outcome I would not be short of fun and stimulating experiences that I could never have imagined in my youth.
Despite the sometimes overpowering heat and humidity of this sub-tropical microcosm I was in love and Natal was my lover. Everything about the lifestyle was new, fresh and intoxicating. Even the less important elements intrigued me, like the people from Durban having the finest skin, self-cleansed and oiled through ever open pores oozing perspiration in the continual humidity.
But we were soon on our way to the concrete jungle of Johannesburg and the dry, throat-parching climate of the Highveld. Mission number two was the bedding down of a new charity scratch-card lottery being launched by Operation Hunger as part of its fund-raising activities.
Hillbrow was a far cry from Umhlanga Rocks. Here we were holed up for two months in the Protea hotel in one of the most notorious inner city areas of Johannesburg. Known for its overcrowding, poverty and crime, Hillbrow, by the time we arrived in 1991 had become an urban slum of major proportions. Travelling the short distance, by car, from the safety of the hotel’s underground car park to Operation Hunger’s offices every day for two months kept us very focussed. Seldom did we venture outside the hotel on foot but after a while I got used to the familiar sound of gunshots in the night. Occasionally, to get away, we would drive to somewhere trendy like Norwood for dinner always mindful of having to get back to the Protea safely.
We were on a mission to help Operation Hunger get their new scratch-card lottery up and running by selling the first tranche of ten million lottery tickets they had purchased from us. Gambling in South Africa was illegal in 1991 and as usually happens in times of prohibition illegal gambling was rife throughout the country. But registered charities like Operation Hunger were allowed to run scratch-card lotteries legally under the fund raising laws.
Operation Hunger – My introduction
Arriving at the charity’s offices on the first day we were ushered into a dingy smoke-filled room which appeared at first sight to have no occupant. Then through the haze I noticed the head of a wizened old lady peering over packets of cigarettes and an ashtray overflowing with dead butts.
“In the 1970s, when apartheid was at its height, starvation swept the rural areas of South Africa. By the 1980s, millions were suffering from chronic hunger, especially children.
In 1981, this lady established Operation Hunger, a non-profit organization that she ran practically alone from this small office at the South African Institute of Race Relations in Johannesburg.
She begged for leftovers at all the large grocery stores, packed the goods into her Volkswagen Kombi van and then travelled day after day all over the country to faraway villages in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. These were the days long before mobile phones or even a decent land line system and the isolated areas to which she travelled on deserted roads were extremely dangerous.
Ina Perlman, who died in 2012 at the age of 86, was a South African Jewish activist who quietly saved millions in the face of starvation with Operation Hunger, the organization she founded at the height of apartheid.” (Extract from ‘Haaretz’).
Fortunately the meeting with Mrs. Perlman did not last long as I fear passive smoking in that room may have shortened my life considerably. I wonder how long past 86 she would have lived had she not been a chain-smoker?
She was pleased we were staying long enough to assist the ‘Fund Raising Department’ with establishing the Lottery and we were soon taken to another floor where the operations staff were beavering away.
The time spent in Johannesburg and the experience of working with an organisation like Operation Hunger was vastly different from life in Natal, launching a lottery in the Transkei, Cape Town and the West Coast cruise. Having sampled a little of four of South Africa’s Provinces I had already gained an understanding that this was both an environmentally and culturally diverse country. Maybe, knowing that South Africa has 11 official languages, in itself, should have been a pretty big clue!
Our deal with Operation Hunger had been set up by Roy Bailey, the father of South Africa Broadcasting Sports Presenter and former Manchester United goal-keeper Gary Bailey. Roy, who was a charming man and great character, agreed that the purchase price of lottery scratch cards was to include the cost of our time and expenses for the two months assisting Operation Hunger in the Lottery establishment. However, extracting payment from the Charity against the contract of sale proved to be difficult and unfortunately relations became rather strained as we had to employ the services of a high powered firm of attorneys. Fortunately the debt was settled before we returned to Durban so in the words of the great Bard ‘All’s Well that ends Well.’
James King is a writer, blogger and photo-artist. Born in England, he travelled to over 20 countries and in 1995 emigrated to South Africa. In 2011 James moved to Thailand, in semi-retirement, where he built and sold one house, renovated another, wrote various e-books and started a blog (jamoroki.com).