Out of South Africa

Leopard_webE and I just got back from a trip to Johannesburg, where I was speaking at a conference on globalization and democratization. We had some good conversations with the political activists, think tank writers, diplomats and academics who attended, although we all divided firmly on whether democracy is "inevitable" and whether economic development is "a" precondition or "the" precondition to demoracy. The locals we spoke to were justifiably proud of the political and social changes that South Africa has seen, but the country remains racked by economic challenges. South Africa currently is saddled with a staggering unemployment rate that hovers around 50%. Violent crime is high, and many of the places we visited in "Jo-burg" felt like hardened compounds. Yet the people we spoke to were largely optimistic, recognizing that the huge shift in ownership of resources was bound to be a challenge (one they consider surmountable). We were struck by the parallels between Taiwan and South Africa, especially how they both transitioned from minority-ruled to more majority-based government in "relatively" bloodless ways.

E and I also made a sidetrip to Sabi Sand, a 153,000 acre "private reserve" adjacent to the Kruger National Park. There is surprisingly little written in the guidebooks and web sites about the different lodges you can visit (apart from the high end lodges like Singita), so we ended up going through Adventours, a travel agency recommended by our Jo’burg hotel concierge. We stayed at a lodge called Idube, which turned out to surpass our expectations, helped by the gregariousness of lodge manager Andy. Our ranger Rob (who patiently answered each inane question of city slickers like us) and tracker Titus were adept at tracking down game, and we saw more on each drive than I would have expected to have seen in weeks in the brush.

It is amazing how close you often get to the animals. (I have posted some of my photos on pBase.) On one of our drives through some thicker
brush, we ended up surrounded by about 14 elephants.
(We later learned that there were about 20 in total in
the herd we saw; another jeep reported being down by
the river, on the lowerside of the ridge where we
were, with another half dozen or so elephants.) Parts
of the group blocked both sides of the road, and there
was a young bull that kept nearing us (about 3 feet
away from us and the jeep at one point). Rob
kept saying to him, calmly but firmly: "Don’t touch my
jeep." And the young bull backed away. A young calf approached us
from the other end of the road, which was fine at
first, but then from behind him came his mother. She
crossed her legs and laced her trunk on her tusks,
which we were told are signs that she was unhappy. Rob claims she was unhappy because her calf was
complaining about being fed, but Euching will happily
tell you that we were "ambushed." Needless to say, we
tried backing up, but then found ourselves backing up
into another elephant. At one point, it looked like we
were going to have to exit through the underbrush, but
the elephants finally gave way.

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Out of South Africa

Leopard_webE and I just got back from a trip to Johannesburg, where I was speaking at a conference on globalization and democratization. We had some good conversations with the political activists, think tank writers, diplomats and academics who attended, although we all divided firmly on whether democracy is "inevitable" and whether economic development is "a" precondition or "the" precondition to demoracy. The locals we spoke to were justifiably proud of the political and social changes that South Africa has seen, but the country remains racked by economic challenges. South Africa currently is saddled with a staggering unemployment rate that hovers around 50%. Violent crime is high, and many of the places we visited in "Jo-burg" felt like hardened compounds. Yet the people we spoke to were largely optimistic, recognizing that the huge shift in ownership of resources was bound to be a challenge (one they consider surmountable). We were struck by the parallels between Taiwan and South Africa, especially how they both transitioned from minority-ruled to more majority-based government in "relatively" bloodless ways.

E and I also made a sidetrip to Sabi Sand, a 153,000 acre "private reserve" adjacent to the Kruger National Park. There is surprisingly little written in the guidebooks and web sites about the different lodges you can visit (apart from the high end lodges like Singita), so we ended up going through Adventours, a travel agency recommended by our Jo’burg hotel concierge. We stayed at a lodge called Idube, which turned out to surpass our expectations, helped by the gregariousness of lodge manager Andy. Our ranger Rob (who patiently answered each inane question of city slickers like us) and tracker Titus were adept at tracking down game, and we saw more on each drive than I would have expected to have seen in weeks in the brush.

It is amazing how close you often get to the animals. (I have posted some of my photos on pBase.) On one of our drives through some thicker
brush, we ended up surrounded by about 14 elephants.
(We later learned that there were about 20 in total in
the herd we saw; another jeep reported being down by
the river, on the lowerside of the ridge where we
were, with another half dozen or so elephants.) Parts
of the group blocked both sides of the road, and there
was a young bull that kept nearing us (about 3 feet
away from us and the jeep at one point). Rob
kept saying to him, calmly but firmly: "Don’t touch my
jeep." And the young bull backed away. A young calf approached us
from the other end of the road, which was fine at
first, but then from behind him came his mother. She
crossed her legs and laced her trunk on her tusks,
which we were told are signs that she was unhappy. Rob claims she was unhappy because her calf was
complaining about being fed, but Euching will happily
tell you that we were "ambushed." Needless to say, we
tried backing up, but then found ourselves backing up
into another elephant. At one point, it looked like we
were going to have to exit through the underbrush, but
the elephants finally gave way.

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