South African Bureaucracy

Third Time Lucky- NOT!

I applied for a Work Permit in South Africa three times. I have been rejected three times.

Here is my tale which opens in Toronto in December 2016 where I began the process.

My first two permit applications had to be made in person at the South African Consulate in Toronto. My rejection was based on their belief that I could not work in SA as a Sole Proprietor even though I provided documents from SARS (South African Revenue Agency) saying that this is completely legitimate.

When I indicated that I had been able to work as a Sole Proprietor in my previous sojourn in SA, the tables turned on me. I was asked, “How did I obtain this permit???” The polite Canadian replied, “I applied for it and was given the permit.” This raised many questions including a strong inference that bribery had been involved. Although these South Africans work in Canada, they clearly do not understand how Canadians operate!

The lack of knowledge on the part of the SA official or her mis-use of it drove me to tears of frustration and the official coldly told me where there was a receptacle for my used kleenexes. And the SA Consulate, Toronto, is an office so efficiently run that I had to wake the receptionist who was sound asleep at his desk in order to leave the office! No wonder they all work behind bullet proof glass…….

However, the SA official in Toronto did offer me a two year Residency Visa on the spot (normal processing time, 4-6 weeks) to get rid of me. On the second rejection, I accepted the Residency Visa. What is so completely maddening is the arbitrariness of it all. It is the luck of the draw of whom one deals with. I, unfortunately, ended up with the same cranky official on both visits. Appreciate your Canadian bureaucracy. It functions well and fairly.

After these two rejections, I was assured by a private South Africa Immigration Agency that I work with that I could apply for the Work Permit in Joburg once I landed in SA which I did. After waiting almost 12 weeks, I was rejected again on two grounds: proposing to work as a Sole Proprietor and not having registered with SARS even though I has provided proof of the latter.

After this third rejection, the private Immigration Agency was thrilled to learn that I would soon be in Cape Town where they said, “They understand what a Sole Proprietor is.”  They would book an appointment for me during my stay in Cape Town with VFS who handles intake of all applications of this sort.  I could feel success within my reach.

And they tried. But the VFS computer system has been in a complete meltdown for almost two weeks and one can only book online. As of this writing, the VFS system remains down….this does not give me confidence about the process…..Living and working abroad is not as much fun as travelling abroad.

But let me leave you on a happy note. Here I am in the Drakensberg while on holiday with Glen last month.  The country’s bureaucracy may be totally screwed up, but it is one heck of a beautiful place!Rob, with a view of the Drakensberg




Life in Johannesburg


Each Wednesday morning about 8, Lucy, our domestic worker, arrives trudging into our house lugging two stuffed shopping bags. Having a “home helper” is one of the luxuries we can afford while living in South Africa where there is an official unemployment rate of 26.6% and one third of the population living on less than R800 per month (about $80 CDN).


This week, I asked Lucy what time she leaves her house in Soweto to get to our place about 8am. I was stunned when she replied’ “5:15″, but ever cheerful, she added that it only takes about 2 hours to get home. Soweto is an hour’s drive from where we live, but when one has to queue for buses and transfer several times to get here, the journey expands to two to three hours each way. Thousands of workers make this same commute daily into Joburg.


Lucy used to work for Glen’s daughter, Eve. Prior to Eve’s departure with her family to take up permanent residency in Canada, she begged us to take on Lucy. At that time, I didn’t know their backstory.


When Lucy had worked for us for only a few weeks, I mentioned to her the good news that Eve had gotten a very good job in Toronto. Lucy clapped her hands and said she had been praying for her. All I kept thinking is that if anyone was in need of prayers, it would be Lucy, not Eve the wonder woman. Lucy is a single mom to three daughters ranging from ages 9 to 20 as well as a niece who lives with them.  By working three days a week as a domestic, she supports them all.  Those huge shopping bags that I mentioned: Lucy carries a supply of chips and other snacks with her that she sells on the buses to commuters on her way to and from work. What determination! As I am constantly reminded, African women are incredibly strong. If women hold up half the sky, then African women must sustain more than half of Africa.


Lucy is a deeply religious woman, thin as a stick, although she proudly tells me now that things have improved so much for her, she thanks God that she is gaining weight. She is a member of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) the largest church in South Africa with millions of members.  The male members are easy to identify as they wear a military style cap and both men and women wear a plain metal star pinned to a piece of green cloth on their clothing. Lucy always arrives with her star pinned to her jacket.


The most powerful moment with Lucy came when we were again talking about Eve as I often show her photos of Joshua, Eve’s son, now age 1.  Out of the blue Lucy told me and I quote “I was living in a trash bin until Eve saved me.” And then she burst into sobs and continued to tell me that her life was so incredibly hard until Eve hired her and helped her to get other work, so she could finally have a small income. Only then did I understand why Eve was so adamant that we hire her. Lucy thanks God every day for her blessings and I have no doubt that Eve is never forgotten in her prayers.





Joburg Fantasy

It has been said that the fantasy never quite matches in the reality. Well, not in this case!

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I have been wanting to set up studio in our place here in Joburg in a coverted carport attached to our house. With the donation of a large table from my lovely step-daughter, Kathy, and her husband, Gareth, the fantasy is fulfilled! And better than I imagined! Here in the breezy light-filled space I can play around with creative projects to my heart’s content.  The glass doors open fully, so in the summer I can have a wall of air and light.  First project underway—creating stains from leftover paint samples for some wood plates I picked up for next to nothing at my new fav store, Mr. Price (the crazy thing about the store is that the founder’s name really is “Mr. Price”!).

When you visit, you’ll find them hanging somewhere in our house where we have so much more room than in Toronto. We fear we are ruined for returning to our little place on Marchmount Road. Meanwhile, the fantasy has been fulfilled!



The Midlands Meander

Glen and I are back from a week’s holiday that started in the Midlands, in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, about 2 hours west-ish of Durban. It’s an area that was heavily colonized by the English and Scots in the 19th century the legacy of which still remains with polo fields, an abundance of prep schools and thatched roof inns that look as if they were air-lifted straight out of the English countryside.


We rented a cottage on a farm where the main house echoed of faded colonial glory but retained a restrained elegance. Although we were self-catering, we opted for them to prepare our dinner the night of our arrival. Walking into the red-walled dining room filled with a massive table, cabinets of silver and English bone china and roaring fire flanked by two gigantic elephant tusks made us feel like we had walked into some 19th century English baronial manse.  Dinner was amazingly good and we were pleased we had pre-ordered food from the house chef, Ruth, to heat up other nights. Glen commented that the only thing missing was that we should have been seated at either end of the long dining table just like in the movies!


One goes to the Midlands, an area of rolling hills, to do “The Midlands Meander” as it’s an area full of artisans from cheesemakers to potters to shoemakers. One of the most unique is Ardmore Ceramics. I tend to prefer the more “earthly” style of pottery, but Ardmore has gone absolutely baroque working with local Africans and encouraging them to take the work in their own creative direction. One of the most interesting aspects of this company is the division of labour: one either makes the pots or decorates them. Both are monumental tasks given the complexity of the work.

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The most moving place to visit as one meanders the Midlands is the Mandela Capture Site: the very spot where Mandela was arrested on August 5th, 1962, on a tip provided by the CIA. The capture eventually leading to his 26 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. Without this monument, I would not have known about what had happened on this non-descript stretch of road in Howick. But to stand there, almost 55 years to the day of the capture, gave me a feeling similar to what I get I when I walk through a cemetery—I may not know the people buried there but I felt but I feel the presence of the place. That day, I felt connected to Mandela and the power of what had happened on that site.


In order to view the sculpture, one follows the “Long Walk to Freedom” that positions one correctly to see the portrait of Mandela in the assemblage of jagged pieces of metal. When viewed from the wrong direction (see photo below) the image doesn’t exist. The genius of the artwork honours the genius of the man.



Life in Johannesburg · Uncategorized

Accuracy, Split Peas & Soweto TV

Split Peas

Last week, I was making split pea soup as it’s winter here and nothing is as cheap or comforting as a nice bowl of pea soup.  Maybe it was the word “Canada” on the bag that caught my eye, but I had a good laugh when I learned what world travellers these very peas were. They could be from Canada or the US or UK with a few thrown in from France or Ukraine. Getting spit peas here in South Africa is clearly a convoluted matter but someone at Pioneer Foods in Paarl wanted us to know exactly where these peas might have come from.


Unfortunately, I am reminded regularly that I am living in a country where not everyone takes accuracy as seriously as Pioneer Foods of Paarl, South Africa. We live in a cluster of five townhouses. Today, for example, I texted a neighbour who seems to have some sort of decision-making power here, about the lack of an address on our complex making it very difficult for couriers and repairmen to find us. Our address is 64 – 12th Street. So I asked if the number “64” could be put up near our entrance gate to solve this matter.  Her response was interesting saying that our address is actually 62 – 12th Street despite our lease saying we live at 64 – 12th Street. So no one is sure about the accuracy of all this, but having “62” will be better than no address at all.

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This reminds me of a much bigger and more vague issue I came across when working at Soweto TV back in 2011.  We worked out of a rundown old school in the township that was reputed to be the elementary school of a major anti-apartheid leader and, hence, could not be torn down. The station’s parent company wanted to buy the building and repair it, but no one knew who owned it! So much for accuracy.


Such are the challenges lived out by a Virgo and former production Production Manager in Joburg…. as Glen is fond of saying, “We’re not in Canada anymore.”



Music in South Africa · Uncategorized

The Final Journey World Tour

White Zulu rock n’ roller, Johnny Clegg, is in the midst of his The Final Journey World Tour.  From the moment he stepped on stage and opened his mouth with a burst of “Afrika kukhala abangcwele” Clegg proved, at age 64, he can still bring the house down.  With his cancer in remission, he rocked the Teatro at Montecasino on Thursday night. Backed by his ever-so-tight band, lead female vocalist who has been with him since the ‘80s and about 15 members of the Soweto Gospel Choir, it was a night one hoped would never end.

The night was a very personal one during which he retraced his development as a musician from a teen in Joburg who wandered into the mens’ mining hostels to dance with the Zulu workers housed there—something unimaginable in the 1970’s South Africa. And learn he did! To conserve his energy he brought on dancers who were the sons of the men with whom he used to dance. But the impulse runs deep in him and Clegg would burst into short bursts of intense leg flipping dance afterwards panting at the mic—exhilarating and unnerving.  By the end of the show, the urge was too great and he performed a full-on Zulu dance to wild crowd appreciation.

Stage sized rear screen projections of him Zulu dancing with his mentor, the late Dudu Ndlovu, both dressed in traditional regalia reminded one of what he was capable of as a strong young man and how he refuses to let his aging and ailing body let him down.

It was a brilliant night that I wished would go on and on. Yet when we had to leave after several moving encores, we left with a marvelous shared experience reminding one of a clip of Nelson Mandela projected during in the show in which he said “Music and dance are what make me feel alive.”  We all left very very alive and with a tinge of hope in these very troubled political times in South Africa……..

Clegg will be in Toronto at Koerner Hall on October. Buy a ticket NOW if there are any left. Check his website for other cities on the tour. A few weeks ago, we met an American by chance here at a bush pub. He lives in Dubai and had never heard of Clegg but I knew that Dubai one of the stops on Clegg’s final tour and told him he simply had to go. This is his last chance and your last chance to be loved by Johnny Clegg. Don’t miss him.