Newsletter from Liz at Lancaster January 2024

I was somewhat shocked to see that the last time I sent out a newsletter was in late 2019, shortly before the Corona virus began to wreak its almost-3-year havoc around the world from 2020.  For more on this see our blog post. But after some regrouping and revamping we are back to business as usual with the full team still with us.

Staff News

Catherine at a game in Sydney

During Covid, Catherine did some child-minding for a mother of 2 toddlers who was then sent as an official to the 2023 Womens’ Soccer World Cup in Australia. As she was taking her young boys and would be working all the time, she asked Catherine to accompany her to look after the children for the 6-week period. Catherine attended the matches that were held in Sydney and managed some sightseeing as well. She said it was a great experience but was pleased to come ‘back home’.

Tagala has had a tough year with late rains in Zimbabwe leading to a loss of some of his cattle. (With cows valued at about R8,500 each, this is a major blow). Thandie’s two children are both doing well at school and Alick has become a great grandfather – a mixed blessing as he and his wife Joyce, as pensioners, are now paying for both the mother (a schoolgirl) and the baby. Teenage pregnancies remain a huge challenge for the social structure.

I had my right hip replaced in April 2022 and my second hip replaced very successfully in late August 2023. So now I will really set off the airport metal detectors!

Ongoing positive guest feedback

The most common feedback is the eye for detail: “everything one could need to make the stay comfortable and easy”. Elliot’s ongoing maintenance during 2023 (patching, painting and fixing) has not gone unnoticed by guests.  And bird lovers continue to comment on the birdlife in the garden. Sometimes there are up to 6 or 7 different species at the bird feeder at the same time. All species are catered for – be it seed, fruit, suet or bonemeal!  The garden remains a lush green oasis – a peaceful escape. For more info – read here. 

Glossy Starling, a Go-Away bird, and a Rose-ringed Parakeet at the bird feeder

Don’t be put off by what you hear about Joburg

Jozi has always received bad press – some deserved and some not. Yes, the energy and focus of the officials and politicians in the Metro Council is spent on bickering, in-fighting, and jostling for power.  (So what makes them so different from most current politicians globally?) There have been 6 different Mayors in 22 months which says it all.

But South Africans and particularly Joburgers, have a get-up-and-go attitude

Cultural life revived fully in 2023 and the years saw wonderful exhibitions, theatre, festivals, art fairs and cultural events in Joburg.

If politicians are left out of things, the average South African shows a remarkable spirit of generosity and tolerance of difference. (There are of course exceptions on both sides of the political and social spectrum). A regular ex-pat South African who is very socially culturally and emotionally invested in his country of birth, but now lives in the US, returned with his partner who had never visited South Africa before. We were chatting on the day they left, and Michael bemoaned the state of the infrastructure and the degradation of key tourism and heritage sites. And then he turned to his partner to ask her the question he had asked her the night before which was: “In the two weeks we have been here have you ever been aware of anybody being rude or unpleasant” and her answer was  “No, never.  In fact the opposite, everyone has been open, friendly and welcoming.” This was uplifting and says much about the average Joburg citizen. For more on Joburg click here.

Despite, or maybe because of, our melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and languages, we seem to share a common sense of humour and a sense of the absurd and the slightly zany.

  • Bongi Mbonambi’s comment in the scrum during the World Cup semi-final taken up by England’s Tom Curry as a racist slur, is a case in point. Cartoonists and meme-makers had a field day here back home, with the Afrikaans word for “side” being “kant” (rhyming with brunt … and another unusable word!)
  • With load shedding a whole new informal sector has grown up with self-appointed traffic conductors taking control of traffic flow when the lights are not working. Their vigour and aplomb are marvelous to see, often at very large and busy intersections.  Some have adopted white gloves and I have even seen a few with brightly coloured whistles. While many of these men usually eke out a living begging on street corners and most have almost certainly never driven a car, their ability to make motorists obey them and to keep the traffic flowing is quite extraordinary. In this regard, a normally unbiddable and chaotic South African society is remarkably submissive!

  • On Saturday morning before Christmas last year, I was in a small Italian deli and a delivery man came rushing in with a box of bread. He said to the man behind the counter “She’s in labour, only 2 more days to go” and rushed out again to his van to get the next load. Philip behind the counter looked at me bemused … until I explained he was talking about Mary, with two days to go before baby Jesus’ arrival!!  The whole deli roared with laughter.
  • My niece was going home on a hot, late summer afternoon with her 2 toddlers in the car, windows open because of the heat and both girls having a total screaming meltdown. She stopped at an intersection and a man on the pavement looked at her and with a deep heartfelt empathetic slow shake of his head, uttered: “Eish Mama, Strength”.
  • As any rugby fan will know, the Springboks won the World Cup quarter-final and semi-final by one point and in the final minutes of the game. On the day of the Final, a car guard in a parking lot was talking to me about the game that evening. Again, the ubiquitous “Eish Mama”, followed by “they must win at the beginning not at the end” verbalizing in a quaint paradox what the whole nation was hoping for!

The World Cup

Gauteng welcomes the Bokke home at OR Tambo Airport

Which brings us to the World Cup. I know the connection between sport and nationalism is a very thorny issue often masking a whole lot of other rifts and fault lines, but there wasn’t a South African who was not behind Siya and his boys on that extraordinary day of the final on the 28th October. Even those who have little interest in rugby (like me), were on tenterhooks – the excitement, tension, and electricity in the air, was palpable.

The Bokke are somehow a microcosm of what we’d all like to strive for, in regard to a greater South Africa: totally mixed in terms of race; no talk of the quota system; a dignified, inspiring, and truly extraordinary team leader in Kolisi; management which had a long term strategic focus; a team who implemented the plan; a disciplined squad who worked for the collective team and not for individual glory; and with a tenacity to keep on fighting even when all seemed lost.

I know our three one-point wins were a crushing disappointment for France, England, and New Zealand, but as a nation we really did need the boys to “bring it home”.  See John Eligon’s article “More than just rugby”in the New York Times.

On the political front

The one thing South Africa does NOT do is UNEVENTFUL. 2023 was no exception. For some key events see our post.


And finally, these were the closing words from our 2019 newsletter:

“May 2020 be a year where protest movements against “fake news”, populism, climate change denialists and rampant capitalist greed, gather even further momentum.” 

Our wish for 2024 remains the same with an added heartfelt wish for a stop to the awful carnage happening in various regions around the world.

From us all at Liz at Lancaster: Liz, Tagala (aka Mr T), Catherine, Thandie, Elliott and from Diepsloot informal settlement: Alick and Joyce

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