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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs