Shelly Beach and Transkei

Update from Robn, written about 13 Aug

This trip to South Africa was started by the desire to visit my friend and it turned out that she lived in the same compound where we were now staying in Shelly Beach. That was convenient, and a good thing, since she is working full time including quite a bit of overtime. She had very little time to spend with us and since the locals don’t go out at night, unless they have a car, which neither she, nor we did, I’m not sure we would have ever actually been able to get together other than on her day off.

We had a good visit, but we unfortunately got more information about the South African economy than we really wanted to know. We thought things were bad in the USA – and they are – but it is worse here. The locals describe it as having gone from a first world economy to a third world economy. Minimum wage varies from job to job: I saw one figure of only 10.78R per hour! (13R equals $1) or less than a dollar an hour. My friend was making more than that, due to the nature of the job, at about 16R per hour. Even though quite a bit more than some jobs pay, it is still insufficient to live on. Next May a new national minimum wage of 20R (3500R per month) will kick in. But that doesn’t help now. Wonder what will happen to housing rents.

She wants to be self sufficient and have a place of her own so we helped with shopping for a rental. Found a place for 1500R/month with only a bedroom. Toilets/showers were a few hundred meters up a hill. Electricity for lights was extra. It was way off the main road. The same complex had another unit for 2500R with bunk beds to sleep 4 people and a derelict bathroom. No kitchen. No electricity. I believe the water was extra. These are, I gather, typical housing for the under classes – although better than the shanty towns. The difficulties of keeping a job while living in such conditions overwhelm me just thinking about it.

On the other hand for 3000R ($230) we found a really nice apartment, with bed, bath, lounge, and kitchen – furnished! Modern, middle class. Go figure! Trouble is, until she gets a raise or two, that’s just not doable. She had a fellow worker eager to share such a room with her, which would have been a great solution, but she was warned by others that she would be left holding the bag as the eager one was not likely to be working there much longer! (Plus she had an infant child to boot, which had not been mentioned.)

So we researched options to the best of our ability for a few days and then decided to go ahead with our road trip to Cape Town. We had only turned up one possible option which was far enough away to make commuting a problem. Until something came up through the grapevine, the search would need to be suspended or, at any rate, there wasn’t anything more we could do.

We traded in a 2 day rental for a 30 day rental. (Not waiting 2 days would have doubled the price of the month long rental! Why are cell phone and car rental contracts SO COMPLICATED!?!) Said our goodbyes and good lucks and on Aug 5th, we headed down the Transkei. This was a section of SA that is mostly just widely separated black residential areas. Places where families live while the bread winner is elsewhere earning money. The homes dot the hill sides along with fields full of livestock. Mostly cows, goats, sheep. Saw only 2 or 3 pigs. The only chickens we saw were being loaded into a car’s boot (trunk in America). I suspect there are more chickens that we just didn’t see.

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Above: The Transkei was pretty empty most of the way, and this time of year, dry and brown.

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Above: Nearing one of the few towns near the highway. Notice that the houses are generally widely spaced.

We saw almost no sign of any vegetable gardens, but maybe because it is winter. More likely because the soil doesn’t support much besides grass for livestock. No signs of any industry or commerce except for tiny bits in a couple of townships. Far far too many people with no evidence of any source of income – but as I said, the income earners are elsewhere. Further north there were lots of sugar cane fields around Durban, but not in the Transkei.

There are no fences and the livestock are sometimes on the road – usually crossing but potentially just standing! The speed limit through most of this region is 100 Kph (62.5Mph) but is often, or rather usually, exceeded – except when there is a heavy truck slowed by the hills and safe passing is not possible. Not surprisingly there is a high accident rate in the area. One man almost walked out right in front of us on the freeway!!! Happily he realized at the last hundredth of a second. A very near thing. We were going 100 kph / 62 mph.

At one point early in the day, a line of vehicles was slowed by one of these trucks. At the head of the line was a very long empty Sugar Cane truck with two long semi-trailers, followed by a Greyhound Bus, followed by a heavy equipment truck, with a couple of cars in between, then us, then a few more cars behind us. The bus recognized that it was not safe to pass so it crawled along at the speed of the Sugar Cane Truck (Don’t know why it was so slow when it was empty, but it was.) The cars recognized that passing both these long vehicles required extra passing space and also prudently waited for a passing lane that would eventual be available.

The truck slowed down even more. The entire line came to a crawl. Someone behind us decided that he could pass the entire line if it was going that slowly, and came roaring past us, accelerating as he went. Meanwhile, the lead truck was turning 90 degrees to cross the highway into a field. The passing idiot found himself facing a wall of truck across the entire highway. I do believe that would have ended his passing career if the bus driver hadn’t dove toward the ditch fast enough to give him room to pass behind the cane truck. We are glad he was watching.

It helped me to stay on my own toes and warily watch for other idiots and recognize when they might try to pass despite it being dangerous. They still managed to surprised me, but we had no personal close calls. The traffic was not actually heavy. I did my own passing but only in the passing lanes after getting stuck behind the real slow pokes. We saw 5 or 6 dead dogs and I think one dead sheep. Sheep, cows and dogs all crossing the freeway at times.

In this remote area, they had a proper divided, limited access highway much of the time, but it went right down the main street of some of the towns on the route. A few times we found ourselves in what appeared to be downtown pedestrian districts judging by the number of people wandering around on the road carrying on conversations and the like. Sort of like after a parade has just finished back home. Happily we were moving at a crawl, but still….

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Above: Entering a different town/city in the Transkei.

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Above: The “Expressway” goes right down Main Street and the pedestrians sometimes just wander across the street in the traffic. But, we are not going fast at that point.

We made it to East London, just as it was starting to get dark and settled into our AirBnB. The wi-fi router chose that day to give up its ghost after we grabbed a couple of e-mails, so we were unable to do much on line. Our hostess had sold the home a few days earlier and was preparing to move to the UK before Christmas. Hosting was not high on her list of desirable activities but she welcomed us anyway and we had a pleasant visit.

Next day I visited the yacht club where I had made my second landfall without Gerhard, enjoying a trip down memory lane. I was surprised at how huge East London is compared to what I had seen of it from the harbor, which was practically zilch.

Enough for now. More soon.

Cheers, Robn and Dave

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