A new age of Africa

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - NEWS - danie@leisurewheels.com

I write this af­ter com­plet­ing the an­nual Seven7 Drive, cov­er­ing 7 000km in seven days in aid of kids with can­cer. Oh, how I can elab­o­rate on “man-with­badge syn­drome”, the ter­ri­bly reck­less driv­ing habits, the trucks on the N1 high­way that pass other trucks di­rectly into on­com­ing traf­fic, the im­pa­tient nin­com­poops who jump the line at bor­der posts, and so on and so forth.

But in­stead of harp­ing on about such mat­ters, I’d rather fo­cus on a dif­fer­ent phe­nom­e­non, one that has un­ob­tru­sively taken a firm grip on parts of South­ern Africa.

Dur­ing our Seven7 Drive trip we spent one night in China. The So­ge­coa Apart Ho­tel of­fers a spread of au­then­tic Chi­nese cui­sine, pre­pared by Chi­nese chefs. The rooms fea­ture ap­pli­ances cov­ered in Man­darin in­struc­tions, and the lay­out is as sim­plis­tic as any worker bar­racks in China. There’s even an au­then­tic Chi­nese aroma lin­ger­ing about the place. Chi­nese front of­fice staff han­dle guest re­la­tions.

But here’s the thing: this ho­tel was not in Bei­jing. It was in Ma­puto, Mozam­bique. And it is but one of a num­ber of Chi­nese es­tab­lish­ments in the city.

Dur­ing our stay in Ma­puto, we skipped the Chi­nese restau­rant in the ho­tel, and headed off to a lo­cal seafood restau­rant, along with friends who as­sisted us in Ma­puto.

The con­ver­sa­tion around din­ner turned to the sur­real Chi­nese ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence, and soon af­ter, to that cu­ri­ous new phe­nom­e­non that we’ve come across in­creas­ingly of­ten in South­ern Africa; from the re­mote moun­tains in Le­sotho to the bustling city of Ma­puto.

We’ve heard the same story from a num­ber of peo­ple across the con­ti­nent: African coun­tries hand over pre­cious min­eral rights in re­turn for roads, in­fra­struc­ture and so on. For in­stance, a $900 mil­lion sus­pen­sion bridge is cur­rently be­ing con­structed in Ma­puto. It’s a mon­strous, beau­ti­ful thing, but it comes, at least partly, at the cost of fish­ing rights off the Mozam­bi­can coast.

Some fish­ing in­dus­try in­sid­ers reckon the fish stocks are all but de­pleted, har­vested in­ten­sively by Chi­nese trawlers since 2010. Some of those trawlers use drag­nets. Th­ese nets pull out ev­ery­thing: from sharks to dol­phins to tur­tles to fish, speed­ing up the de­ple­tion process.

All th­ese in­dus­tries re­quire man­power, and the Chi­nese com­pa­nies seem to pre­fer to im­port their own work force from the home­land. Hence the au­then­tic Chi­nese ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence. And, seem­ingly a large num­ber of Chi­nese na­tion­als im­mi­grat­ing to Africa.

Es­sen­tially then, an in­con­spic­u­ous form of coloni­sa­tion is tak­ing hold of some re­gions in South­ern Africa. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials hardly seem to take note of the long-term im­pli­ca­tions, clearly not keen to of­fend the goose that is lay­ing the prover­bial golden egg.

Yes, for­eign in­vest­ment is es­sen­tial to any sov­er­eign state’s econ­omy. How­ever, if the so-called in­vest­ment ex­ploits a nat­u­ral re­source to de­ple­tion, the long-term ef­fect to the coun­try and its in­hab­i­tants is much more harm­ful than it is ben­e­fi­cial.

A poignant ex­am­ple: with Mozam­bique’s nat­u­ral fish stocks at a low, lo­cal fish­er­men, who rely on the fish for their daily meals, have found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to fill their din­ner plates. In some ar­eas, hun­gry lo­cals have taken to slaugh­ter­ing sea tur­tles as they exit the In­dian Ocean to lay their eggs.

This new trend has now also put ex­tra pres­sure on the sea tur­tle pop­u­la­tion as the an­i­mals are slaugh­tered left, right and cen­tre. It has be­come such an is­sue that spe­cial sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion projects have been launched in re­cent times, to try and pro­tect the num­bers.

It’s a bit of a catch 22: con­ser­va­tion ver­sus peo­ple who don’t have food to eat. Yet one can’t re­ally blame some­one who des­per­ately wants to feed his fam­ily be­cause there are so few fish left, and has no other means but to take to a vul­ner­a­ble sea tur­tle.

Colo­nial­ism, which has in re­cent times been turned into a po­lit­i­cal hul­la­baloo of sorts, may take on a whole new spin in a decade or two, never mind 50 years down the line.

By then, the chil­dren of those African gov­ern­men­tal and in­dus­try lead­ers who are now bask­ing in the glow of the ‘golden egg’ may very well live to re­gret the cur­rent min­eral drain of our con­ti­nent’s pre­cious re­sources.

And then it will be too late to ask: “What have we done, Mama Africa... what have we done?”

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