Our experience so far on our safari is that we should not anticipate to find that whatever item we want is in stock at the time we are at the shops, restaurants, etc. Also, we expect to wait a while to be informed that they are out. We order the Sabie Health Fruit and Yogurt… “We have fruit, but no yogurt”. I order a pepper beef pie, to be informed ten minutes later that they are out of pepper beef. Linda orders a breakfast wrap, and 40 minutes later hears an apologetic statement that they could not find the wraps in the kitchen. I request a copy of a music CD and wait again as staff disappear into the back room, then return some time later without any more in stock. The first costumer in a store wants to buy two bottles of water. The cashier has only 100 & 50 rand notes, no change. The lodge offers free Wi-Fi service, but it is too slow to open e-mail or any other page on the internet. If you are heading to the loo, be sure to have some tissues in your pocket. You have a good chance of finding a nearly empty roll of toilet paper, or just the rings of cardboard.
Some of the out-of-stock items may have occurred during our stay because of wildcat strikes going on recently starting with the strikes at the platinum mines. But, often the issue appears to be more systematic problems. There appears to be a lack of concern for being prepared, and therefor responding after the fact… or maybe not. Could you imagine a restaurant in the USA not stocking wraps or being out of yogurt for three days in a row? Could you imagine a store turning a profit when they have a CD case out on the shelf, but none actually to sell? At the restaurant we could at least select something else out from the menu, but from the store, I shall just walk out with 120 Rand in my wallet.
A second issue appears to be the flow of people from rural areas, and bordering countries with even less efficient economies. They come to the cities with stories of wealth and expectations that they will find better work and houses than near their in home towns. Many end up in the shanty towns outside the cities. In addition to creating housing from corrugated metal, plywood, and rocks, they increase the labor pools in town and deflate their earning potential. Lots of unskilled laborers make for many un- and under employed folks; many folks standing a streets side; and lots of make-shift businesses of fruits, vegetables, craft items, and just about anything that someone can set out on a table, board, or cloth on the ground. While these folks are resourceful to find some way to earn a little money, each of their sales reduces sales at shops and goes untaxed.
In addition to expediency, an underground economy may be a response to another issue in the poor quality of the supply chain: the leadership and misdirection of tax funds. At the risk of being too general, but also to avoid the risk of pointing the finger too specifically, the talk about national leaders is of those elected or designated by monarchial lineages using public funds to build their estates, pay for their cars and airplanes, etc. They right laws or draw upon “traditions” that require that they be funded for life, even when their term in office has ended. They do not follow budgets and when their coffers run low, they demand that more be provided because their position and status demands this. When the funds are diverted for personal gain, their is little left to build the infrastructures needed to run cities and rural regions.
But, the citizens appear to accept, if not demand, that their leaders be provided luxuries, while they live in rough conditions. Beyond the shantytowns, we drive by many cinder block structures, probably no larger that 400 to 600 square feet. These have corrugated roofs with tires and rocks on top to keep them from blowing off in a storm. There is little evidence of running water (other than rain-water cisterns), sewage, or electricity going into these complexes. One day we even passed a man bathing in a creek, down the hill from one of these communities. While we see many Mercedes Benz cars on the road, we see many more people walking or riding in vans packed with up to 16 passengers. Yet, we also see resourcefulness. Near many of these compounds of structures, we also would see a larger foundation, partially built walls, maybe under roof. When I inquired about these unfinished buildings, our guide explained that people would buy a few cinder blocks when they could. They would slowly build homes as they can afford the supplies. Eventually, they would finish the home, probably with water, a septic tank, and electricity (don’t ask about meeting code).
Another industry is local crafts, in glass, wood carvings, textile weaving, baktik, jewelry, etc. Many of these are organized as woman’s cooperatives. They work together, creating their products. We stopped at a couple of craft centers where neatly set up shops, sharply dressed women, and a pleasant atmosphere greeted us. Many of these business have internet connections for additional sales. The money earned in these shops goes back to the women in the cooperative, to buy mores supplies, provide food and education for their children. In the vacuum of leadership, these women are providing for their communities.
Not getting a pepper beef pie or having some toilet paper in the loo seems to pale when looking around at what supplies the people do not have. I have the option to travel on. They do not. Our 24 hours in Swaziland has been an observation in contrasts, as we stay in comfortable lodging, while driving on dirt roads past row after row of survival conditions. We see the national soccer stadium, with cows and goats grazing freely just downhill. We enjoy afternoon tea with a hill top view, overlooking crowds of people who might as well not exist for their leaders.