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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back in Zurich

     I’m back in Zurich now after working from South Africa for six weeks. We landed at the Zurich Flughafen about six in the morning after an eleven hour flight where we’d been unexpectedly upgraded by Swiss airlines to Business Class. I do believe the sweetest words in any language are, “Excuse me, sir, you’ve been upgraded” just as you are about to board an airplane for a long flight. After we landed, we left the plane briskly, walked along the moving walkways, took one minute to clear customs, and arrived at baggage claim to find our luggage had already beaten us there. Zurich and Swiss efficiency – you gotta love it!  But I must say that Johannesburg and the new Durban International airport gave Zurich a run for its money in the speedy luggage department this trip. We hardly had to wait at all in either place.
     Speaking of South Africa: in my last post, I mentioned the shooting of the striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg. Here’s the rest of the story. Things settled down after forty-four people had been killed, and now the miners have tossed out their unions and are negotiating directly with the mine owners. The miners are striking for more pay. They want an increase from 5,500 rand per month to 12,500. Well, it turns out they already are making 11,000 rand per month, but didn’t realize it. Somehow it never registered that money was taken out of their monthly paychecks for taxes, medical insurance, pension, and room and board (apparently they live in dormitories). Sad. Maybe the average miner didn’t realize what their true salaries were, but their leaders certainly did, and now the South African authorities are charging hundreds of the strikers with murder – presumably the leaders – for inciting the miners to attack the police.
    Final note: South Africa has an unofficial unemployment rate of over 40%. You can’t really see it where we are in the beach community of Umhlanga, but in Durban, or if you move inland into the townships of Ndlovu and Kwamashu, crime is very high and things are very desperate. Young men without jobs have nothing to lose. Without a job they have no prospects of getting married or having a life. In South Africa there is an ironclad tradition among the Zulus of grooms paying a ‘lobola’ to the father of the bride – usually about 11 cows at 4,000 rand per cow – an impossible sum for a man without a job. Hence, crime and desperation are high.

Best regards,

Jim
Zurich, Switzerland   

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