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Enterprising Kenyans invade South Africa

By | October 6th 2009

By Omulo Okoth in johannesburg

A few kilometres north of Johannesburg lies Diepsloot, a low-income residential area which was most affected by the bloody xenophobic attacks that rocked several South African townships.

Further down, east of Rustenburg on the way to Sun City, is a small urban centre known as Haartbeespoort, slightly smaller than Naivasha. A huge electricity-generating dam, from where the small town derives its name, was built here during the Apartheid era.

The dam looks like a very popular venue for yachting competitions, given the numerous vessels on its banks.

Its typical touristic nature is what attracts a visitor. Nicely designed makuti thatch houses, huge modern shopping malls, tourist hotels and conferences centres, good roads, complete with a market for selling curios, assorted artefacts and carvings stand out in Haartbeespoort. Still very much white, the town is doing a roaring artefacts business in its equivalent of the Nairobi Maasai Market.

The Chameleon Village is a huge structure housing the Flea Market, restaurants, a bank, a post office, a souvenir shop and, as expected, another big open air market.

A paved side street in Durban. Photos/File

Flea Market has a large population of Kiswahili-speaking residents alongside the popular Tshwana, Zulu and Pedi speakers.

Most of the Kiswahili speakers at the market are discerning Kenyans, Englishmen and Indians on this half-way mark to Sun City, as guests of South African Tourism.

"We are from Kenya and are selling our stuff here. Are you interested?" a middle-aged woman asks.

A few pleasantries and we strike conversation. These are Kenyans, who have carved an enterprising niche among hundreds of business people competing with native South Africans and others from neighbouring southern African countries.

The Kenyans have made a name selling Akamba and Maasai carvings and soapstone from Kisii.

Kenyan artefacts

Mama Junior, a Kamba woman married in Nyanza Province, says: "Kenyan artefacts are very popular with tourists here. We bring them every Sunday and we still can’t cope with the demand."

"Life was becoming unbearable at home so we turned our focus down here and eventually settled down to do this business," she says.

We leave and proceed to Sun City, an exclusive tourist resort built on the edge of a mountain deep inside the Platinum-rich North West Province, formerly a fiefdom of Lucas Mangkope’s Bophutatswana homeland.

Sun City has hosted three Miss World pageantries, and a host of global icons like golfer Tiger Woods and the late Michael Jackson.

The Palace of the Lost City, one of its five-star hotels, is a Maghreb design structure, with an intimidating facade surrounded by sparkling tree-cloistered cabro works, a dense monkey-infested forest and fast-flowing streams, which are not natural rivers. The Cascade, another five-star ‘beach’ hotel, is designed in the shape of a pyramid.

Huge pools

Behind it are huge pools and white sand very popular with tourists. A visit to North West is incomplete without a ride inside the Bakubung Lodge. Bakubung means ‘people of the rhino’. With a topography that resembles Kenya’s Masai Mara, Bakubung Game Reserve has wild animals in their hundreds, mostly rhinos, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, lions and other big game. This side of the North West is a welcome break to the busy commercial cities like Jo’burg and Pretoria.

On the way to Pretoria, on the eastern banks of the Haartbeespoort Dam, is another very white small market, known as Broederstroom, but which has countless resorts.

What strikes Kenyans in this delegation is a board with the message ‘Coming Soon. Carnivore. Restaurant." Our own Carnivore, of the Dunford Family, is about to open a second outlet deep inside the North West Province.

Apart those doing business, hundreds of the Kenyans do professional jobs. Nearly every major university in South Africa has Kenyans in its lecturers’ roll. Many of them, holders of doctorate degrees, head key departments.

Others have been absorbed in senior banking jobs and other financial sectors like the insurance industry and the stock market.

Droves of Kenyan nurses and doctors work in major hospitals here and across the border in Botswana, Namibia and in land-locked Swaziland.

"Kenyans are among the most respected professionals here. They are preferred by banks and university to other African nationals because they have a reputation for honesty and being very hard-working," says Peter Buthelezi, a senior South African banker.

Low cadre jobs

During the xenophobic attacks last year, mine-working South Africans mainly targeted Zimbabweans who compete with them in low cadres jobs.

Kenyans interviewed here said most of them are in business or professional jobs. It is hard to find any among them doing menial tasks.

Ingenious Kenyans have set up nyama choma joints in mainly African-populated towns where they do booming business. Statistics once related by Unesco showed that many adult South Africans who grew up under Apartheid were now accorded quality education.

It left many without even a college diploma or certificate. Africa’s largest economy was left with no choice but to out-source for qualified personnel from abroad

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