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 "strange, but wonderful" people from all over the world here
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 "20 times more money" than they would in Malawi
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

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid