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April 18th 2014
Published: April 21st 2014
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Se and Danda pizza prep'ingSe and Danda pizza prep'ingSe and Danda pizza prep'ing

Danda was feeling a bit peckish and not so keen to wait for dinner.
I flew into South Africa on Friday morning after dog's-legging it via Dubai. Did you know that some of the door handles are detachable in Dubai International? I discovered this to be the case when I went to the toilet which got me thinking about their aircraft. It was not conducive to a healthy state of mind (I was flying Emirates on both legs: UK -> Dubai -> Joburg) so I pushed that to one side...

Detachable door handles aside the flights were fairly uneventful. I watched a couple of movies and caught a few winks where I could. The best part as far as I was concerned was looking out the window over Southern Africa after sunrise. I've always felt that if geography lessons were taught from the bird's eye perspective of a Being 777 at 39 000 ft the subject would take on a whole new dimension literally and figuratively speaking! With the GIS information now available to customers which include on-screen flight-path info-graphics and statistics (altitude, distance to destination, time to destination etc) flying has become a little less tedious. And what's stopping them from fully integrating with Google Maps for instance? There's so much scope for
yum yumyum yumyum yum

Whilst the oven warms up Danda gets stuck into the pizza topping...
further development and innovation. So what was there to see from way up there? Quiet a lot actually. First up my old haunt, Zimbabwe, the first country to emerge from the sub-Saharan cloud cover. I fancied I could see Lake Chivero glinting in the distance. I used to go sailing and fishing there as a youngster. Some happy memories. We were flying over granite country: inselberg and plain landscape if my geography serves me correctly. To those unaware of such geomorphological jargon that basically translates to domes and inter-lying valleys and sparse to moderately-vegetated plains. This is what is referred to as the highveld (averaging 800m asl or so in elevation). Also visible were a patchwork quilt of fields indicative of the rural or so-called communal lands, each field farmed by a particular individual or family as it has been for countless generations, various river courses and a few mines as well. I took some pics with my mobile phone (in flight mode of course!) and recorded the flight data in a memo. Mental note to self - decode information and upload! Probably the best juncture was where the great Limpopo River (now heavily silted) divides Zimbabwe from South Africa

All's well
from Botswana. A point I knew on the map but could never have visualized accurately. I had driven the roads below more than I had flown overhead and a part of my heart will always reside in those wild places like the Bubye River, the Mopane forests and memories of hotels and motels en route...

South Africa is immediately recognisable by the increase in land under commercial cultivation, large centre-pivot circles being the most obvious. The towns are also built differently. We passed over some impressively large flat-topped hills somewhere in the Limpopo province before descending towards Johannesburg, touching down right on schedule: 1050 in the morning. The formalities were blessedly quick and I was on the Gautrain in a jiffy, part of the country's first mass-transit system, completed a few years earlier in time for FIFA 2010. I had taken it once before but never from the airport. I was impressed. Perhaps a little shorter than a standard UK intra-city passenger train but nonetheless tidy and comfortable. I messaged my cousin Sera who informed me that her ex, Richard, would collect me from outside the station. A little perplexing since they were currently battling it out in court

Se and Danda in her expansive apartment.
regarding maintenance payments for their little boy, Alexander (also known as Danda or Ali-Danda - his pronunciation). It turned out the little fella was suffering a tummy bug and Sera was looking after him back at her apartment. It was all surprisingly civil as the three of us - Richard, Sera and myself - sat and chatted whilst Danda played with the plastic block-piece fire engine and tractor I had bought him in England. He loves vehicles so I had been fairly confident he would enjoy them. All the same you can never be quite sure so I was secretly relieved...

Later we enjoyed a dinner in Nelson Mandela Square where a large cast-iron sculpture of Madiba (how he is known by most South Africans) stands at the entrance. Flanking the square are a number of restaurants, a theatre and some pubs and bars. After consuming an above par chicken schnizel and a Castle Lager (Oh how I have missed thee) Danda and I went out into the square where he ran riot for a good half an hour or so whilst Sera and Richard remained inside talking about goodness knows. It was a happy evening all things aside

Danda and Madiba
and Richard came out and joined us for the last few minutes before he departed because he 'had to be going.' There was another woman I remember my cousin having told me previously. Sigh. However, let me stand back and take stock: Happy child, moderately content mother with a very nice apartment (did I mention she worked in interior design and all those Italian appliances and fittings?) and a father who seemed to want to play a part in his life. Certainly not as bad as things might seem at first glance.

In the basement level car park Sera stopped to slot our parking ticket in the machine only to find that it had a piece of crumpled card wedged in the slot. Turning to look for another such machine I watched a young black man disembark from a taxi. He looked vaguely familiar. He caught my eye for a second before I turned away. "Hey" he exclaimed. I turned back to face him. "Do you remember me?" I must confess I couldn't put a name to him. "Passaportis isn't it?" he queried. Spot on. "Kadani" he replied by way of explanation. Of course, Xavier Kadani. He had lived
Madiba's footMadiba's footMadiba's foot

Yes, he's a mighty man my little friend
just up the road from me in Harare. His father had been a big wig at Air Zimbabwe and allegedly the reason it had tanked back in the 90s. It was periodically revived but so far as I knew was in serious trouble again. Like me Xavier had flown in earlier in the day except that he had come from Harare. I didn't ask which airline and he didn't stick around to chat long. With a wave he strode through the doors to Mandela Square, evidently keen to enjoy some evening's entertainment.

One thing I did notice about Joburg, or at least Sandton, arguably the most affluent suburb therein, was that the roads were pretty awful and some of the traffic lights were not working. This was not unusual my cousin told me. The state of the roads could probably be put down to all the construction that had been taking pace over the last decade including a number of global financial institutions which now resided there. It needed a bit of spit and polish I thought to myself. The Sandton Tower also looked a bit tired and faded, unchanged as it was probably from sometime in the mid-80s.

Taken against a backdrop of fountains in Mandela Square.
I had to be up early the next morning for my domestic flight out to Durban, so that's all I would be seeing of Jozi until I return the following Wedneday...

Additional photos below
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Danda and Richard
The SquareThe Square
The Square

Madiba at both ends

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