Friday, October 26, 2007

From the grey zone

Last 36 hours of our holiday. I can't say we're particularly looking forward to going back to Kinshasa, but nor will we have to be dragged back. Two weeks is just about right.

Hanging out in Observatory, aka Obz, the Brooklyn (or dare I say, Camberwell) of Cape Town. After the luxury and playing grown-up, we're back to our old backpacking ways, which means we get to crash in the bohemian, racially mixed part of town - a so-called 'grey' area in capetonian speak. After spending ten days in areas that, despite the end of apartheid, remain predominantly white, this is refreshing.

It is striking, to us as naive visitors, how much colour is still an issue in South Africa, even among people of our generation and younger. On several occasions we found ourselves unsure how to react to openly racist comments being made to us unapologetically by white South-Africans. Of course, there is a huge amount of racism in our countries as well, but we are used to at least some level of political correctness, however hypocritical.

According to Allister Sparks, whose book I am currently reading, foreigners make the error of equating the end of apartheid with the civil rights movement in the US, when in fact it is closer to the struggle for nationhood between Israelis and Palestinians, or between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. As such, we should be amazed at the level of cohabitation that there is, not criticizing how slowly it is happening.

Nonetheless, sixteen years after the Group Areas Act was repealed (the act that assigned races to different urban areas and the cause of the infamous forcible relocations of non-whites) and thirteen years since Mandela became president, it is still shocking to drive through posh white areas - akin to some of the nicest suburbs of Los Angeles - then turn a corner and find yourself in front of a huge expanse of derelict shanty town - poorer and more shoddy than anywhere I have seen in Kinshasa.

According to our (self-defined) 'coloured' taxi driver yesterday, all eyes in South Africa are turned towards the ANC's elective conference in December, which promises bitter in-fighting. The current ANC leadership has secured its own comfort and forgotten about the blacks in the townships, he said. If the wrong politics are used, South Africa could yet go the way of Zimbabwe.

Thankfully, this seems as yet unlikely from where we are today. Tonight, we hope to visit one of the black townships.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Angelina Effect

Over the past few days, my uncle and I have been exchanging e-mails trying to figure out which celebrity would be most likely – and successful – in taking the DRC under its wing and bringing it forward on the global radar. You know, mention that the war in DRC has killed most people since World War II, and hope that statistic sticks. Maybe even boost tourism, who knows?

Our thoughts naturally turned to Paris Hilton, the woman whose most selfless thought to date is that she wants to be frozen with her pets, Chihuahua Tinkerbell and Cinderella, when she dies. I could already imagine her posing with the bonobos, all giggly and blond, while the cameras flashed frantically around her. Unfortunately, it turns out she’s already booked for Rwanda. Damn.

Many call it the Angelina Effect, which seems a bit unfair on Bono. Whoever is responsible, celebrity star power has never shown so brightly on Africa since “We are the World” and Ethiopia: Angelina and Brad in Namibia, George Clooney in Darfur, Madonna in Malawi, Don Cheadle in Uganda, Ralph Fiennes in Kenya, Mia Farrow in Angola (and Darfur), Oprah in South Africa…and now, Paris Hilton in Rwanda.

For five days in November, Paris will visit clinics and schools. She claims that she is determined to change her ways and “leave a mark on the world” – but she will be followed by cameras, and the film will be sold as a reality TV show titled The Philanthropist. Puke.

So, who does that leave for DRC?

A quick look at Forbe’s top 100 celebrities reveals that Tom Cruise is still #1 (really?). I’d rather have the Rolling Stones, or even the cast of the Sopranos, given the choice!

Under da sea

Today we spent the day spotting whales.

Yesterday, t'was the penguins.

Small useless fact: The testicles of the right whale are the largest of any animal, each weighing around 500 kg (1,100 lbs).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the road again

Yesterday, from the terrace of a beachside cafe where we were having lunch and cocktails at 3.30pm - so civilised - we saw on the horizon a whale leap clear into the air. Just like that.

Oooh, I really like Cape Town - a mix of the Med and California, with a touch of New Orleans, a city nestled between amazing beaches and superb mountains, with funky shops, organic cafes, great jazz, and oozing history. I'm pleased that it's twinned with Nice.

So after four days of pure indolence in Cape Town, we're off to explore. First stop, probably Cape of Good Hope, then Hermanus from where we hope to see more whales.

Heading off - from Two Oceans Aquarium

Monday, October 15, 2007

From a safe distance

Today is the deadline President Kabila gave dissident general Laurent Nkunda, the rebel leader based in North Kivu with an army of some 5,000 - 6,000, to reintegrate his forces into the national army. Nkunda says he will ignore the deadline. Kabila says he will attack. MONUC has a mandate to support the Congolese armed forces and will probably have to go in alongside them. Watch this space.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Carine is...

...basking in capetonian luxury.

F punched and growled his way out of Kinshasa, and I crawled and gnawed my way out. Only fellow Kinois expatriates can really understand.

There was a minute yesterday morning when we thought that extra, desperate hour of work may have cost us our flight out, and we both knew that would really have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

But here we are, and WOW! So far we've spent the morning giggling like lunatics, slightly disjointed and not fully able to interact normally with civilisation yet, but absolutely loving every minute of it. Cape Town, watch out!

Our hotel room

Our breakfast spot

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Les dieux sont tombés sur la tête

I got no less than five phone calls checking whether I had been obliterated by the airplane that crashed in Kinshasa on Thursday. The answer, clearly, is no.

Yet another Antonov fell from the skies over DRC. That’s at least six since my arrival in November 2005, and another four had crashed just before I arrived, making a total of ten dead Antonovs in less than two years. Not bad!

Fortunately, this one was a cargo plane (although confusingly, it appeared to have as many as 20 passengers on board); unfortunately, it crashed in a populated area of Kinshasa called Kingasani. The latest death toll appears to be over fifty.

Ten years ago, another Antonov hit a Kinshasa market, killing 300.

Another particularly memorable accident happened in 2003 when the rear door of a cargo plane burst open at 33,000 feet, sucking some 150-200 passengers out of the plane. Others survived by clinging on to bags, ropes and nettings as the plane returned to the airport in Kinshasa. One survivor explained that the plane had taken off with the door improperly fastened, then flung open after three failed attempts to fully shut it mid-flight (BBC).

The DRC has accounted for over half of all air crashes in Africa over the past decade, and last year the European Union put all but one Congolese airline on a blacklist. In August, the government suspended the licences of several private local airlines after an Antonov carrying three tonnes more than the recommended cargo capacity crashed in Katanga province. However, my cynical Congolese colleagues suspect that this was little more than an excuse to extract bribes, and that the Minister for Transport has spent the last couple of months signing exemptions from the ban. All be it, he is now fired.

At the risk of being tiresome and repeating for the zillionth time a now-familiar rant, what amazes me is that Kinshasa’s implosion last March registered with absolutely no one outside DRC, and yet this plane crash, the last in a long list of similar but unreported events, has suddenly made the news.