Jo'Burg Notes

I got familiar with South Africa and to a limited extent what to expect of its people in the mid-1970s. Young lads from that country had been admitted to study with us at Edo College, Benin City. Education of South Africans was one of Nigeria's benevolent initiatives for combating the forces of apartheid. The young men had dreams to achieve much in life and also envisioned the liberation of their fatherland from the racial segregation. They also "enjoyed" the spoils of Benin. Of the lot, Amos Chabalala was quite popular. Being relatively older than us, I recall the oversized knickers of Amos. Beyond those great blokes, we read two novels of Peter Abraham - Tell Freedom and Mine boy. The famed novelist did a masterly work telling the travails of Xuma, the main character, life around the mines, the day to day living and struggles of the poor and ordinary South African.

The chauffeur at the Oliver Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg gave a hint that possibly, all couldn’t be well with South Africa. He seemed quite versed and did engage us for most part of the ferry in his neat new car.
To be safe, we contacted a pleasant Tourism official who helped arranged the young chauffeur. The chap told unexpected tales of disappointment with the governance of his country – deeming politicians miserable betrayals of their people. He lamented that despite the sacrifices and wanton loss of lives to win South Africa its independence; politicians carry on as if nothing is amiss.More frustrating, to him was the corruption visible in high places.

I sought to obviate the discussion, changing the subject to agriculture, the thrust of my mission in South Africa. Interestingly, he had some prowess in the turf too! Knowing that we were from Nigeria, where cassava is a staple food, he wanted to confirm outcome of research he had conducted. He also needed information about the requirements in its cultivation, the market value, the technologies of production, name it! 
The educated mind was indeed an impressive introduction to a nation. Odd enough, despite his sleek car, the beauty and sophistry of Oliver Thambo International Airport and the alluring sights that the first feel of Johannesburg was presenting, this man wasn’t proud of the achievements of his country. Could this be discontent over the challenges of city life? Is this another routine insatiability of humans over needs? Just why is this ebullient employee of a transport company this unhappy about his dear native land? I kept pondering, what it was that so ails the nation to necessitate the outburst?

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Economy (DREA) of the African Union Commission had arranged the South African Development Community (SADC) consultation on Geographic Indications at the Pan African Parliament, Midrand, Johannesburg,  in the rich Gauteng province. Some twenty academicians, agro and allied experts from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana Nigeria and Kenya – specialists in organic agriculture, law, the media and government met to jaw- jaw and strategize on employing Geographic Indications (GIs) to enhance the socio - economic circumstances of the continent.      
The DREA, African Union and the Legal experts - resource persons explained Geographic Indications (GIs) as signs that attest that goods emanate from a geographical area and do possess characteristics, reputation or qualities that are specific to geographic regions. GIs are aimed at conferring proprietary rights to communities that produce or add value to produce or products that are peculiar to their terrains. Much like trademarks and patents over industrial goods or technologies, GIs intend to win ownership rights for communities over their ancestral or traditional produce, skills, products and technologies that have been associated with their geographical regions.

There are enormous potentials in Geographic Indications to positively impact the agro industrial economies of beleaguered African nations if well exploited. Expectedly, the relatively advanced nations of the globe are reaping fortunes through Geographic Indications. Through strategic protectionism, engagement of marketing communication tools and positioning in the minds of consumers, European farmers are making fortunes from the likes of Parma Ham, Roquefort Cheese, Scotch whiskeys. Americans have been reaping fortunes from Florida oranges or Idaho potatoes name it! 
Importantly, through global, regional, bi- lateral or multi-lateral agreements, nations protect consumers, ensuring that they access the true qualities they demand, thus saving their farmers and industries from competition - keeping them in business and having their economies running.

What need border the African continent is the reality that there is continuous erosion of resources owing to inability to maximize or optimize potentials. Undoubtedly, more can be gained from putting some indication on a vast range of produce of the continent and employing the tools of marketing communication to draw gains from these produce. To drive the point home, imagine what losses the economy of a State like Kenya would have incurred if it hadn't showcased and built its economy on tourism and conservation of wildlife?

Africa for now is lacking compelling laws that control or protect its resources that necessitate Geographic Indication. In spite of this, there is the painful reality of absence or abysmal cohesion of efforts to reverse the ill-tide in the interest of millions of challenged farmers across the continent. What is needed is a development of strategies to stem further erosion of the rich array of agricultural products, handicrafts, foodstuffs that are domiciled in the continent, traditions and knowledge passed on over generations.

Good enough, the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union  is taking great strides at raising a crop of stakeholders that hopefully would develop strategies for wining for the continent, grounds lost by inertia and uncoordinated approaches towards GIs for agricultural goods.

Beyond the quite illuminating and bewildering revelations of the lecture sessions of the DREA, African Union, there was a limited but worthy time to see South Africans in their elements - the people, their rich culture, the day to day conduct of the man on the street, visit to the Pretoria the administrative capital, Soweto, night life etcetera.

There is a skilful marriage between architectural designs, landscaping and conservation of nature in Johannesburg. There is an impressive care to minimise disturbance of natural landscapes – designs simply accommodating or harnessing what nature has bequeathed. Designers of the city’s countless beautiful masterpieces also seem involved in some rivalry to outdo each other. You wouldn’t miss towering Carlton centre, the beautiful skyline of Jo’burg and the University of Witwatersrand. The university derives its name from South Africa’s well-known large sedimentary range of rocky hills – Witwatersrand.

Johannesburg has interesting offers at night. Visit the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and after pictures afoot the gigantic statue of the statesman Nelson Mandela. You can savour from salivating offers of numerous Chefs that are in their elements in the myriads of restaurants. You mustn’t miss a slice of South Africa’s well cured beef - Biltong. Follow on to Monte Casino, get deceived by its false skies and amidst music then request whatever delicacy from hunted bush meats of the high and low veldts to sea prawns. Mind you, the night would inch deeper into the wee hours and South Africans would rather be craving extension of each day beyond 24 hours - just having fun, spoiling themselves on and on!

Get back onto the well laid road network in and out of Johannesburg. You don’t have to border much about visibility. The streets are well lit; the neon lights never blink, thanks to power that I understand is sourced from different sources, chiefly harnessing power by combusting coal. One note of caution though, never attempt contravening traffic or whatever laws - there are ubiquitous Police men and women at every nook and cranny.

Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto has been popularised by the legendary Nelson Mandela. It also has a reputation of being the only street worldwide to be home to two Nobel laureates.  Laureates, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond fought against the insane inhumanity of mankind to mankind - Mandela from political battlefields and Tutu largely from the pulpit.  As I toured Mandela’s House 8115 – the living room, children’s bedroom, photos and relics of his historic battle that eventually crumbled the evil walls of apartheid, I saw clearly that even poverty would not stifle the will in man to achieve what his heart is set to attain. I couldn’t agree less with Nelson Mandela:

 “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education… but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of every human soul” - Letter to Winnie Madikizela Mandela, 1977.

Nelson Mandela and his freedom fighting colleagues had a choice of rowing along the easier tide of compromise and leaving their people kowtowing to the manacles of the racist forces. So glad, Mwalimu was steely in the fight. He will forever live in the hearts of his people and every soul with conscience, deserving the immortalisation by his grateful country men and the larger world community.

After about 25 minutes of ride on the well laid road connecting Johannesburg, Centurion and Pretoria, we were greeted by an extensive dark cream structure of the University of South Africa. The building seemed designed to barricade access to Pretoria. Gladly, the road meandered round the university unto inner Pretoria even as darkness crept unto the city. Pretoria didn’t seem to have broader streets as Johannesburg but then they were well laid. There was an imposing 12 – 15 white painted storey complex in the University of Pretoria. By the time we ascended the colonial architectured Union Building, the seat of the South African government, the darkness paved way for an alluring panoramic view of Pretoria, cast in glowing neon, white,… glistering lightening below.

South Africans are also a restlessly shopping lot. Most times, you are to see droves of people queuing to pick wares. If you also recall that this is the home of the mall brands Shoprite and Game, you would appreciate their looming presence. I must also remember the presence of communication giants MTN and Vodacom. They were in their elements - expensive charges.

There was an interesting encounter with a Nigerian. He was in the informal money exchange business. Some tourists were stranded and as official sources had closed and contacts were made with one Emeka to come to the rescue. He was so acclimatized that you could mistake him for a South African. His explanation: “when you are in Rome, you have to behave like the Roman”. He was afraid about the amount of cash he was carrying; he must not fall into the hands of the law enforcement agencies or base fellows. “My brother don’t you know that there is xenophobia here”? He queried and disappeared as soon as his business was done! Added to that was the case of two very brilliant young Nigerians that I understand had emigrated to South Africa but wouldn’t move freely because their “papers were not complete”. The encounter with Emeka and the story of the young men had me come to terms with the high price that some of our citizens are paying for seeking “greener pastures”. I couldn’t imagine being entrapped in such a fugitive living. How valuable freedom could be!        

Interesting as the trip to South Africa was, I was alarmed somewhat at the sustained racial divide. There wasn’t much of social mix. Virtually all the odd jobs are done by the blacks. They drive the taxis, ceaselessly mop toilets, man the payment points, serve at the restaurants, do the petty trades, take the rickety mini - busses, live in relatively poorer apartments, etc.! They may intermingle with fellow whites all over the city, but comparatively, there was a gulf of distance between the levels of living of whites and their black contemporaries. If this yawning divide is indeed the reality in the South African society, then I should understand the rumblings of the chauffeur at Oliver Thambo. Was this tolling in certain terms that it is not yet uhuru in South Africa?

I was grateful for the courtesies extended by immigration officials at Oliver Thambo, and after a six hours flight, got heralded unto the choky and disorganised Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos. It’s under construction, thank God for Stella Odua, the Aviation Minister and of course, President Goodluck Jonathan, but then the construction has dragged for too long. Nigerians received relatively prompt attention at the immigrations, but I felt much for our non - Nigerian visitors. They were somewhat receiving “tally numbers” and subjected to unnecessarily drag. Those immigration fellows were poor misrepresentation of our native courtesies - making mockery of Jonathan’s attempts at having the nation attractive to foreigners. Sadly, titanic Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, aboard the same flight was too distant to see these. Naturally, she was cocooned in the comfort of first class seats all through the flight and vamoosed through the VIP lounge just soon after touch down.

Niyi Egbe, a media practitioner based in Lagos, Nigeria can be reached via Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Artice title: Jo’Burg Notes