Of corruption, abuse, ego and the experience while breaking borders in the continent!
In 2017, I traveled from Malawi to Durban, South Africa on road for the first time and in 2018, I made another trip, this time to Lesotho. On these trips, I was with 2 different groups of Malawian youths and we were on different missions. The first trip was with a group of tourism professionals, fashion designers, models media personnels etc to attend a SADC Youth in Tourism Conference organized by RETOSA (The Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa) and the latter was an Africa Tour that I single handedly organised for my then artists, The Malawian Acrobatics Group called Kufewa Acrobatics which starred in an internet sensation Malawian made action movie, The Town Monger.
In Maboneng South Africa with my RETOSA Malawi delegates in 2017. We had fun amidst the challenges.
With The Management and Staff at Limkokwing University in Lesotho
For those who do not have an idea what going to Lesotho from Malawi on road means, you have to cross the Malawi Border at Dedza into Mozambique and drive for about 12 hours before you exist Mozambique into Zimbabwe through Cumano/Nyamapanda and have some good 10 or so hours before leaving Zimbabwe into South Africa through The Beit Bridge. Last year, we had to proceed to The Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho through the Maseru Bridge Boarder which lies some 8 hours south east of Johannesberg.
The 2 groups I have recently travelled with were on a mission to break the boarders either through their trade or their talents. I have been privileged to lead these groups and being responsible to the logistics of the trips through several countries and boarder posts. While doing this, I have take it as an opportunity to learn about other countries and network with other young people, government officials, the private sector, academic bodies and the locals.
I love to always travel alone at least 2 times every year and but, I decided to organize these group trips at least once every year as a way of helping more Malawians get exposed to the outer world and to use my networks across Africa as a platform for knowledge transfer and a catalyst for collaboration mainly for the raising African talents.
When one is travelling from Malawi to South Africa by road, there is a law that demands that Malawians with valid traveling documents are allowed entry into South Africa only if they also have ZAR3000 cash as a sign that they will survive in South Africa for 30 days and return to Malawi. This only applies to travelers traveling from Malawi.
In my 2 cases I was traveling with a group of government sponsored youth and artists who had been booked to perform at different events and their travel was all paid for. But even with all the proof of the arrangement available it was not easy to convince a police officer on the boarder post in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and at Beit Bridge.
Worse still even if I have all the needed money, I am a millennial and I believe in the cashless economy so I carry my money in my VISA Cards. This is also a challenge to prove that I have cash in my card and I do not need to carry hard cash worthy R3000 x 6 as we were a group of 6 on the last trip. I have had some experience so it was not that tough this time around to be allowed to cross to the other side. One trick was to present the video clips of the acrobats in action and some physical demonstration of their art to the demanding officer and this proved enough to help us get a pass into a country.
This was different from the group of business people, fashion designers and models that I travelled with in 2017. So officers would withhold their passports in Mozambique and demand R50 without an explanation and only release them once the R50 is paid.
It is easy to focus on my issues and make a hill out of a termite mount, but observing the challenges other travels faced and even those that they subject themselves to due to lack of paperwork, knowledge or money to process valid documents is what concerned me a lot. I saw a family that was travelling from Malawi to Cape Town without any documents and they had to risk everything and trust their lives in the hands of the so called “Transporters” who help 'illegal travelers' jump the boarders through paying bribes to police officers or paying locals to use dangerous roots which means crossing crocodile infested rivers and dangerous forests that beat the boarder posts.
The corruption is so rampant on this route that those with official and legit documents are prone to be abused and delayed for simply refusing to pay bribes. So you are forced to pay a bribe even when you do not have a reason to do so. It is that ridiculous. The officers will just demand money from you and tell you that your stamps and official documents are fake while those with fake documents get their passports stamped and are let free.
With the Kufewa Acrobats, we were stopped at Beit Bridge to explain what kind of artists we were and when we showed them clips from the Town Monger film, they demanded that we perform some antics which the boys did and they became our friends and bought some of the DVDs. We did not have challenges exiting South Africa into Lesotho as well as entry as our host Naleli had already notified the border police about our arrival in the country. The entry back into SA was also smooth and we enjoyed the experience save for the character by the boys that would later end our working relationship when we returned home to Malawi.
With Pabi Moloi at Power Fm Studios in Joburg.
From attending Maestros Leadership Team Gala Nights, Radio Interviews, guest lecturing at a university to holding several business meetings in Lesotho which were rewarding in every sense, South Africa had its own share of experiences for me and the team.
From the guys refusing their secured accommodation to ending the management contract in a foreign land when they had met some"Malawians who oromised then heaven" and coming back to apologise to me in 48hrs, I learned everything about people management and how people change when they feel like they have arrived at their promised land.
"Know your people and do not assume you are on the same page".
In South Africa, I was privileged to be invited to do radio interviews with the likes of Pabi Moloi on Power Weekend Show and met several people I always admired since I was young.
Held several business meetings and secured several shows and auditions for the guys.
Visited friends and relatives and had a very good understanding of what life in Jozi is all about.
One thing that I learned on this trip is that, when you want to help people, do not always assume that the people need your help. Sometimes we sacrifice our own lives for people who do not deserve our sacrifices.
(Kufewa Boys taught me this lesson, save for one or 2 individuals from the team). I still have a lot of respect for their talent and hustle but I would beg more of their integrity, respect for people supporting and assisting them and their understanding that, "Talent alone, is never enough".
Lesotho taught me everything about the impact and perceptions we create towards people when we meet them for the first time and when we connect with them online. (This was my real currency in Lesotho). The respect my hosts had for me from our prior encounters before this trip.
Lesotho also taught me everything about receiving strangers. Mr Mpho Moeti (MHSRIP) received 6 grown Malawian men into his house as strangers but we left leaving a caring father behind.
Limkokwing University taught me, that, "I AM THE BEST" and we can be the inspiration someone needs even in the smallest way. So I keep believing in these small things I do with an attitude that I AM THE BEST!
If I ask any of the guys I traveled with to South Africa where upon arrival they thought they had arrived in the country of milk and honey, what they learned from the trio, chances will be, "Grass is always not greener on the other side, you have to do the watering yourself".
They left Malawi with the highest of expectations and they came back with the biggest disappointment.
If you ask me, I will tell you that, as Africa, we are going through similar challenges and it is through collaboration and networking that we can solve them.
From corruption to lack of trust and respect for one another, these are the things we must be addressing in 2019.
THE BIGGEST LESSON I LEARNED IS THAT, TRAVEL AND TAKING RISKS, IS THE BEST WAY TO LEARN.
WISHING EVERYONE A RISKS FILLED YEAR.
Dennis Imaan is a Global Citizen born and currently staying in Malawi. He loves to share his experiences and lessons with others. Travel, Tourism, Innovations, Media and Youth development are close to his heart.