Almost Getting Killed in South Africa
By Reza Ganjavi
high-speed James Bond-style car chase...
DISCLAIMER: This is only one side of the story - on the other hand, I very much enjoyed my stay in South Africa and met some really wonderful and kind people.]
The first time I was sent to South Africa for a 3-week mission and ended up staying 3 months! The project I was sent to manage was way behind schedule and no one even knew it. The project team was demoralized by yet another manager who had zero people skills. People are not machines. There are many cases of technical people becoming managers without any people skills, and they do a horrible job. This time, the manager was an accountant - a nice guy, but he just didn't know how to talk to programmers. So the programmers just took their sweet time and played computer games without any real motivation. There was also the problem that there were 2 co-managing directors - I wouldn't want to eat a meal prepared by 2 cooks!
No one had any idea how far in the project we were. So the first thing I did was to prepare a status of where we were at, and basically by getting the people involved and a bit of common sense people skills, we made it. My boss referred to my role as "you went there and took the bull by the horns".
The most memorable experience of S. Africa was nearly getting killed in a high-speed James Bond-style car chase. I met a girl at the organic market on Saturday. She wasn't particularly attractive. We talked and I told her I was going to a concert that night. She came along. I had a brand new red Toyota Camry (which I managed to rent for the price of a Gulf - don't ask me how - miracle happen!). As we got off the freeway a car tried to pull me over. I stopped. A guy walked out - drunk & drugged - and the girl said: "Don't get out, he'll slap you". I took off and he took off behind me. We were going in side streets, so I stopped to make a U-turn to get back out in the open. He came head to head. I reversed and took off again - direction side-street. I was flying over street bumps and he was coming as fast. The difference was I had a brand new car and he had an old clunker which must have suffered damage over the bumps - this is how mad he was. Maybe he saw a new car in his fortune - to take off to Botswana or Mozambique with. At the same time the girl is scared and is whining: “Oh, my mother died recently now it's my turn.” And she said: “By the way, everybody carries guns in this part of town.” Thank you! I was more worried about her. I had no time to be afraid. Soon the road became dead end. I saw the wall, and a tree, and immediately made a U-turn and the car squeezed through the tree and the wall and got damaged big time, we flew past the guy who was approaching us and got away. What a way to ruin a date! We did not see each other again except in the organic market.
Another time I was sent to SA in the peak tourist season, to Cape Town, for 6 weeks or so, but they had just reserved a hotel for a week. So I had to find my own place during the peak tourist season when all the hotels were full. I stayed at these pensions and had a hell of the time. I moved several times. Each time I had to argue with these bitches, with me saying there's no hot water, and them saying, oh, yes there is - or about bugs in the bed, and you name it.
South Africa is considered as one of the most violent countries in the world. The news said even Nelson Mandela has given up on crime. It's not unusual there to hear on the news that a pick-pocketer was killed by a passerby when the pick-pocketer's wife screamed.
South Africa was famous for its terrible hotels - even the 5* ones, let alone the cheap bungalows. Once I was staying at hotel. I told them specifically not to open my windows and curtains because (of the sunlight on my guitar) but it would just not go through their thick heads, till finally I came back to find out my guitar all wet from the rain. It is a cultural problem, it's a problem with training that has to do with training. The bloody masters do not take the time to properly educate the workers (who are always black). If they are not trained well they cannot be held responsible.
I perceived S. Africa to be somewhat culturally confused. There's the old tradition of the blacks, and the years of cruelty of the white government, and the westernization. You still feel the pain of years of suppression in the air. Like in India, most of the simple blacks had the most beautiful smiles. They're happy though materially poor.
Went to Secunda for an assignment - the city is all about Sasol, a huge petrochemical manufacturer. Day workers lined up outside hoping for a job. The air smells of strong Sulfur or other chemicals. We were taken on a tour of the plant... The cows grazing around had bandages on their tails. We asked why. "To test them for toxicity from time to time" because the grass is watered with the water that's used for cooling the plants!!!