South Africa + Botswana observations

samfloy~23 March 2019 /East Africa/East Africa Culture

This week’s email is an assortment of encounters and observations from 1.5 weeks in South Africa and Botswana 


I spent 5 days in Cape Town, 3 in Johannesburg and 1 in Gaborone (capital of Botswana). Weekdays/ -nights were consumed with work and then the weekend was in CT.

Joggers aplenty in Cape Town

Morning exercise was a big thing in Cape Town. Lots of outdoor boot camps, and people running along the waterfront both sunrise and sunset.

Power outages in Johannesburg

There’s currently daily “load shedding” where the power goes off for 4-6 hours a day. Apparently there’s an infrastructure issue, but critics are claiming it could be the state-run organisation doing some funny business in the run-up to elections.

Happiness in “Habaronay”

Lesson #1 upon arriving in the Botswanan capital: Gaborone is not pronounced with a G sound. 

It’s a slightly anomalous African country in that it’s landlocked and yet outperforms on many economic indicators. The people are peaceful and there doesn’t appear to be much corruption/ animosity towards the government (which there is in SA, Kenya, and Uganda, say).

I was in at 07:00 and out by 19:00. A few weeks previously I’d emailed some people in Botswana and one (CFO of a supermarket) said sure, he’d meet, and as such, I factored it into my trip back.

The Botswana trip consisted of: airport > taxi > mall coffee shop > meeting > mall coffee shop > taxi > airport

As such, I didn’t really see the centre, however, it had a feel of a large town in the US mid-West: wide, smooth roads; hills/lakes always visible on the perimeter; big discount outlets as the go-to; only a handful of buildings above four stories.

Botswana has a population of 2.2 million which, my taxi driver said, consists of most people who just get along well.

“There’s not much fighting here like there is in South Africa, people are just happy”.

Repressive education systems

An Uber driver in Johannesburg and I had an interesting 3am chat on the way to the airport. He’s from Zimbabwe, and is also working in crypto currencies.

We got onto education and how, despite the various wrongdoings in the Zimbabwean economy during Mugabe’s reign, the public education system was always high quality (perhaps because Mugabe used to be a school teacher). 

Anyway, I’ve generally found most Zimbabweans I’ve spoken to be very smart. Kelvin (included) said how in SA, under apartheid, the black population was intentionally given a lesser level of education, and the effects are still being felt today.

When Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” it came in part from “his people” being systematically repressed in what they were allowed to learn.

I’d never fully appreciated his quote until I understood the context of the Bantu Education system.

Noticing gay people

I had a strange meta observation when I noticed that I had begun noticing two men walking in Cape Town hand in hand.

Elsewhere, you wouldn’t think twice, but because homosexuality is outlawed in Kenya (i.e. it’s literally illegal), I’d not seen such a thing for months.

Cacao nibs in Cape Town; Juices in Jo’burg; Grease in Gaborone

On the food front, Cape Town was full of Instagram-y places serving trendy vegan food and hipster coffee. Johannesburg had lots of comprehensive salad bars. Gaborone was less of a foodie haven (for me at least).

My meeting guy recommended a restaurant/ bar which is one of the city’s best hangouts and 80% of the menu involved some use of a deep fat fryer. The one vegetarian option was a margherita pizza.

My understanding is that Botswana is more of a cattle rearing society, and so I imagine barbequed beef would be up there.


I’ve been to South Africa twice now, both times with work. I’m hesitant to draw too many conclusions on the country/ surrounding countries as a whole, as my time has been spent almost solely within the metropolises.

The big takeaway is how the mindset of people does seem to be noticeably different from East Africa. The developed aspects of South Africa are striving to be like Europe/ US whereas the developing regions still (from what I read) have much of the struggle as poorer regions in other parts of the continent.

Despite the obvious disparity in wealth, the narrative throughout the country though is one of inclusion and giving a hand up which, when the majority of the population in East Africa are still trying to get a secure economic footing, is a difference in position.

In other news…

I read an interesting article this week that looked at how societies across the world independently developed the notion of a “vengeful God” once the population hit a million people.

The concept is that an angry supernatural being is a good controlling mechanism for large bodies of people. A solution to a societal scaling problem, if you wish.

Anyway you can read more about it here

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