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As we awoke on Day 7 in South Africa, we were greeted with another beautiful, clear, crisp, winter day. I stress “crisp” and “winter” because we found ourselves standing on the airport tarmac in the wind waiting to enter the South African Airways (SAA) maintenance hangar. There may or may not have been penguin-like huddling to shield ourselves from the cold. We were all friends by then, luckily.
We toured SAA Technical as part of another corporate visit, seeing the maintenance hangar with its engines, wings and other parts awaiting service. Since at that time I worked for an airline labor organization, my knowledge of aircraft types, airlines and labor issues impressed even me. It’s not a normal moment in my life to hold an intelligent conversation with an airline maintenance supervisor, but I did that day.
At SAA, we discussed the same employment and social issues we’d heard before regarding black economic empowerment (BEE) programs, affirmative action and a “brain drain” to the Middle East. It wasn’t their fault, because we normally would have been alert and interested, but by Day 7 we just tried not to nap during the presentation.
Next we headed to Pretoria, the legislative capital of South Africa, which is very near Johannesburg. Like our Washington, D.C., Pretoria is home to most of the country’s government buildings. We drove by the Union Buildings, where the president has offices. We stopped there briefly to take pictures — and those of us with quick bargaining skills were able to purchase trinkets there at the markets. Perched atop a hill overlooking the city, the Union Buildings gave us an amazing overlook to view Pretoria. The beautiful, clear day also helped.
After our quick tour of the city of Pretoria, we drove to the home of Drs. Mokobung and Stella Nkomo. Both are professors at the University of Pretoria. Stella lived in Charlotte many years ago, where she met and became friends with our professor Karen, so the Nkomos graciously hosted our group at their home for a traditional South African braai. Even though the Nkomos live in what is termed a middle-class neighborhood, the security was tight — we were waived through a gated checkpoint, and all the homes were draped in iron bars and security fences and equipped with panic buttons. Dr. Nkomo said that may not be necessary, but it’s a perception issue.
A “braai” is a casual, backyard, South African barbecue, and ours included the requisite grilled meats, salads and stewed vegetables. It was quite a spread. We enjoyed a couscous-like corn stewed with tomatoes, a sweet cornbread made with white polenta, roasted potatoes, a savory pumpkin tart, and of course malva pudding for dessert. After dinner we gathered around the pool and the Nkomos shared their views on South Africa today. It was a delicious dinner in a beautiful place, and the Nkomos opened their home and their lives to us. Incredible.
On the way home to the hotel we stopped at a market that Willy recommended for affordable, quality souvenirs. We basically had the run of the place, and found ridiculous deals on jewelry, household goods, wood carvings and art. I have since learned a lesson that I must share with all of my fellow travelers — buy everything you think you want, and then buy two of them. I was much too conservative on that buying excursion, and I’ve been mad at myself ever since. It’s not like I go to AFRICA everyday, sheesh.
At the hotel, we gathered again at the Polo Lounge for some drinks and small plates. No one was much hungry after our braai spread. And then to bed.