News / Africa

'Blantyre Boys' Make Good in South Africa

Versatile Malawian brothers are barmen, bouncers, chefs and tour guides in unique South African town

The entrance to the unique South African town of Kaapsche Hoop, where some Malawian brothers known locally as 'the Blantyre Boys' are working
The entrance to the unique South African town of Kaapsche Hoop, where some Malawian brothers known locally as 'the Blantyre Boys' are working
Darren Taylor

South Africa, with its vibrant, multimillion dollar tourism industry, is home to thousands of holiday resorts – offering everything from pristine beaches to bush teeming with wild animals.  But only one tourist haven is managed by three brothers from Malawi, in an isolated village that seems lost in the past.  

In the town of Kaapsche Hoop, in the craggy mountains of South Africa’s northeastern Mpumalanga province, Emton, Aaron and Harvest Kalimanjira are known as “The Blantyre Boys.”  

And while that description conjures up an image of a ruthless street gang wandering the alleys of Malawi’s commercial capital, it’s with respect and affection that the Kalimanjira brothers are spoken of in their adoptive village.

“It’s not a difficult place to stay.  It’s nice and quiet, everything’s fine, no problems.”  Emton, the eldest of the trio, who are in their mid to late 20s, speaks from behind the bar in the restaurant he runs. Aaron adds, “It is wonderful being here and meeting people from all over the world.  They are great people, but sometimes quite strange!” 

Emton Kalimanjira behind the bar at Kaapsche Hoop, South Africa...He enjoys meeting lots of
Emton Kalimanjira behind the bar at Kaapsche Hoop, South Africa...He enjoys meeting lots of "strange, but wonderful" people from all over the world here

There are, indeed, many unusual aspects to Kaapsche Hoop.  It’s a silent, spooky place, often engulfed in thick fog from which a resident herd of wild horses emerges.  They graze among old wood and tin houses that once belonged to gold miners in the 1800s.  Even the town’s name is incongruous – Dutch, for “Cape Hope.”  Yet South Africa’s coastal Cape region lies more than a thousand miles to the south.

History books say a few centuries ago, prospectors named the village “Kaapsche Hoop” for the area’s unusual rock formations and swirling mist that reminded them of the Cape.  

Locals say the Kalimanjira brothers only add to the village’s peculiar aura.  Kaapsche Hoop is one of the last places in South Africa where one would expect to find three Malawians – unless they were tourists.  Foreign Africans usually settle in or nearby South Africa’s big cities.  But Kaapsche Hoop is so small that its entire population is less than 100.  It’s “literally in the middle of nowhere,” says Harvest Kalimanjira.

The pull of the South African rand

Three years ago, after a bus journey of almost two days that took them from Malawi through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and finally into South Africa, the brothers arrived at Kaapsche Hoop.  They’d been alerted by a fellow Malawian working nearby about probable job openings in the town.

“Because of our friend’s good work, the owners of this place wanted other Malawians to work here,” Emton says.  In Blantyre, he’d been struggling to make ends meet as a heavy-duty truck driver.  “The Malawi kwacha is worth almost nothing,” he explains, shaking his head.

Kaapsche Hoop is a quiet little town, where roosters and wild horses roam the streets lined with houses that belonged to gold miners
Kaapsche Hoop is a quiet little town, where roosters and wild horses roam the streets lined with houses that belonged to gold miners

“The amount of money that I get from this side is 20 times the money I get from Malawi,” adds Harvest, who has an interesting theory about why his parents gave him his rather “unusual” first name.  “I think I was born in a time when they harvested a lot of maize (near my home village),” he says, smiling.    

Aaron Kalimanjira says South Africa – and specifically Kaapsche Hoop – is “beautiful,” but he and his brothers are really here “for the money.  With money we send our families in just one month, they are able to live in Malawi for about five months, because basic foods are much cheaper there.”

‘King Aaron’

Popping the cap off yet another beer for a thirsty patron, Emton exclaims, “We do everything here! I’m a barman, but I’m doing everything here – painting stuff or gardening, everything.  Driving also.  Chopping wood!  All (that) stuff; we don’t have a choice!”

Harvest Kalimanjira takes a break from his duties inside the bar at Kaapsche Hoop....He says he and his brothers are in South Africa to make
Harvest Kalimanjira takes a break from his duties inside the bar at Kaapsche Hoop....He says he and his brothers are in South Africa to make "20 times more money" than they would in Malawi

Inside their restaurant, the ears of customers are more often than not assailed by the Kalimanjira trio’s favorite music – reggae.  “As loud as possible!” Harvest shouts, above the din from an overhead speaker.    

“While one of us is playing music, the other is cooking, the other is serving drinks.  Then the other must stand by the door, when we have the nightclub nights on weekends – lots of tourists,” Emton says.

When darkness descends on Kaapsche Hoop, the mellow reggae ends, and the “heavier, pumping stuff,” as Aaron describes it, begins.  The blasting music causes the bottles behind the bar to rattle and shake, just like the people on the dance floor.

While the party rocks, the brawny Aaron Kalimanjira – muscular arms crossed over his chest and a mean glint in his eyes – mans the entrance.  He jokes, “Any trouble here and it’s pow, pow!”  He punches the air with a violent right-left combination.  The skull of a dead animal nailed to the door looms over his head.

Although he prefers cooking, the muscular Aaron Kalimanjira works as a doorman when the Kaapsche Hoop bar turns into a nightclub on weekends
Although he prefers cooking, the muscular Aaron Kalimanjira works as a doorman when the Kaapsche Hoop bar turns into a nightclub on weekends

Aaron says he “hates” being a bouncer.  “But when things get out of hand, like when a fight breaks out or when the visitors are very drunk, then I must do something to stop the trouble.”  

Harvest adds, “That’s how he got his nickname, ‘King Aaron.’”

The Queen of England’s train carriage

Aaron, though, insists he’s more into “public relations” than maintaining public order.  He says, “I’ve met with lots of kinds of people – other people from Canada, other people from India, other people from everywhere!  To me that’s a very, very important thing because then I learn more things than before.”

But Aaron’s “best” job is to cook, and he especially enjoys making “a whole lot of different pizzas, burgers, pancakes – everything in the kitchen, I make it!” he laughs.

Another of the Kalimanjira brothers’ tasks at Kaapsche Hoop is to maintain an extraordinary train coach as accommodation for tourists.  It’s the original carriage that England’s Queen Elizabeth II traveled in on her visit to South Africa in 1947.

“It’s got the same bed, the same carpets,” says Emton.

The Kalimanjiras miss their families.

The Kalimanjira brothers manage one of South Africa's most unusual places of accommodation for tourists--a train coach used by the Queen of England on her visit to South Africa in 1974
The Kalimanjira brothers manage one of South Africa's most unusual places of accommodation for tourists--a train coach used by the Queen of England on her visit to South Africa in 1974

Despite the Kalimanjira’s good work at Kaapsche Hoop, Harvest says he doesn’t like staying in South Africa.   Whenever he phones home, he says, it seems as if a “new tragedy” has happened.  

“And then I think to myself, ‘Maybe if I had been at home this bad thing would not have happened….’”  

Harvest says he “bitterly misses” his wife, Sarah, five-year-old daughter, Sharon, and six-month-old son, Paul.

Emton says while he and his brothers have “good times” at Kaapsche Hoop, it’s “desperation” that drives their stay in South Africa, and again he repeats that there’s “no money to be made” back in Blantyre.

The cost of being economic refugees is etched on the brothers’ faces, and in the regrets they frequently voice.

“I’ve got a little daughter,” Emton says.  “Her name is Praise.  She’s now almost a year old.  And I have never seen her.”

He says he “feels shame” because of this, and it’s a feeling that “never goes away” – no matter how much money he earns in South Africa.

Aaron says he, too, misses his daughter.  “She’s two.  Her name is Queen.”  He laughs when he’s reminded that his nickname is “King Aaron….”

But work the Kalimanjiras must, adding unexpected cheer and diversity to one of South Africa’s more unusual tourist traps.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs