We fly while they cry.

My mother turned 60 years old in early August. That was 3 months ago. This past weekend I was finally able to book a Sunday-family-day where we could celebrate and give her the gift that she had, not so subtlety, hinted at.

As a freelance artist and part-time teacher it is difficult to know how much income I will be making at the end of each month. It is also difficult to know what days I will be working. Both my mother and sister work 6 day weeks . Somehow we were finally all off on the same day. This life takes time.
I have been working 13 hour days for the past month to be able to afford to pay for everyday life as well as book a Cape Canopy Tour in Elgin for 4 people. My, not so little, little sister was and is amazing – she paid for her own ticket. At her age I was definitely not earning the kind of money that she is.
There was a moment though where I almost killed her – she bought a new cellphone and wanted to pull out of the payment. My WhatsApp-finger-work was functioning at lighting speed as I flung dangerously stern replies her way, and she flung 20-something year old reasoning back at me. It was touch and go for a while. Paying for her would have meant: no meat this month, no chocolate for pre-period week, no half price pizza night. I was not ready to live without my little pleasures so that she could have another, yes, another cellphone. ( I digress.)

We left early in the morning and drove through to Elgin. The sun blazed and the wind whispered sweet nothings through the open car window. On arrival, we were greeted by our guides. The first thing that jumped out at me and my sister, being the only people of colour, was that all the guides were of colour. We were put into harnesses, helmets and gloves, briefed and then taken up to the tippy tops of the Hottentot Holland. My mother had not once stopped smiling.
Our guides Challo and Thembela were awesome. They made us feel safe, encouraged our singing and dancing as we waited in line for my mom to finally step off the edge and zipline to the next ledge. We laughed together, screamed together and learned about the plants and birds together. The guides made sure to keep asking us if we were happy, if we were enjoying ourselves and if we were still brave enough to carry on.
I asked about the usual clientele . The reply was as is to be expected – mainly white, often foreign – . Black tourists are yet to feel comfortable in ‘so called’ white ‘advertised’ spaces. As a black person on the tour I did feel a little strange but I am very used to ignoring peoples ignorance so that I have space to live. And when my sister and I are together we become the thing that the Power rangers become when they all join up, or is that Captain planet? Can’t remember.
The tour lasted 4 awesome fun-filled hours. It was spectacularly beautiful up there. On arriving back at base-camp my mother wanted to tip the guides. She asked management how much they each got paid so that she could calculate an accurate and fair tip. She returned after tipping and told me that the guides, who spend 4 hours creating an awesome day out, keep us watered and fed, ensured our safety and comfort, only get paid R 25 per hour.
These men and women are professionally trained guides, they work hard and give us full attention and 100% energy all the time. R 25 per hour is a shameful amount of money. They are expected to work 45 hours per week at R 25 per hour. This means that they are earning, in some cases, R 4 500 per month. Would a white company owner do that to a white employee? A qualified, white employee? It makes you wonder no?
We had the most amazing time at Cape Canopy tours but we left with a sour taste in our mouths. If you are going to do something good and invite people to celebrate your idea, be true to the cause, be honest and fair to your people.
As a visitor I then begin to worry, Dear Cape Canopy Tour manager, what if one day one of your staff members is focussing on outstanding bills, school fees and food that needs paying for and absent-mindedly forgets to attach one of the many cables that ensure my safety as I fly through the air? What will you do then dear owner and manager of Cape Canopy tours? What will you do? Fire that guide?
Think about it.
We fly while they cry.

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2 thoughts on “We fly while they cry.

  1. Dear Thola,

    We are happy that you enjoyed your tour, and would look forward to welcoming you back with open arms. We’re completely colour blind here at Cape Canopy Tour, and we hold all our guests and staff with equal esteem. It’s for this reason that your words were incredibly painful to us, and we feel very unfair indeed. We’re a small company just getting started, and negative public reviews such as this are so damaging, and we can’t understand why you would want to publicly hurt us without first checking your facts. We have a wonderful staff contingent, and we try to hire as many people as possible, so that we can make a difference in the lives of many. Did you know that we nearly went under in winter because we chose to hire 30 permanent staff members, although we only need about 6? We also hire about 20 extra temp staff, although we don’t really need to. But these people need the work, and it’s our duty to uplift as many unemployed people in South Africa. Do you know that the industry norm is to hire freelance casuals as needed and have no permanent staff?

    Do you know that we have the most compassionate, loving, family culture here and we have staff that love the work they do and all the different cultures they get to meet on a daily basis. You mentioned that our staff greeted you with smiling faces, and sing as they walk. I can promise you that this isn’t a staff body that is oppressed and disgruntled. Did you know that our staff usually double their salary with the tips that they earn?

    We’re a company that focusses on our staff, and we’re constantly growing and sending our staff on training courses. Do you know that we celebrate with our staff members that find a different job in a position of growth?

    Perhaps now you understand why assumptions can be so hurtful. It’s obviously completely up to you, but I feel that your blog post is unjust, and I would be interested to see whether you take the time to amend your words.

    Either way, we would love to have you back and would welcome you with open arms!

    Kindest regards,
    Ryan

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    1. Dear Ryan, saying that you are colour blind makes me cringe. No one in the world is colour blind and the fact that you say this to a black woman who is furiously proud of her skin makes me feel invisible. Be careful with your words. I am not trying to take away from the family that you have created. I am not trying to hurt you either, I am merely making clear what I think is unfair and slightly sour in the tourism industry. How much do you earn per month? I am guessing that it is a lot more than R 4 500 per month. I understand that there are levels to the job that I might not understand.

      As I stated, quite clearly in my bog, I am really quite taken and impressed by the setup that you have. It is wonderful to see South African people representing the minority and majority groups in buisnessess too. Finally things are starying to illustrate what our South Africa really looks like. In my blog I mentioned too, how comfortable and welcoming your guides were. I can not question their happiness or security in the jobs that they have. But I had to question their earnings. It was interesting that your reply did not tell me that I was wrong in my amounts, you merely talked about the structure of your company. Interesting. I wish you all the luck in the world.

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