The 2010 visit to Cape Town also revealed two really special accommodation establishments.

Akela and Mike Oughtibridge

Akela and Mike Oughtibridge

First there was Dongola House in Constantia.  It’s a place that just gets everything right, but there was one even more memorable reason.  While Akela always made friends easily with women and children, she avoided other men and pulled away when they tried to touch her.   She would spot a female friend at the far end of the beach and charge across, jumping up and trying to kiss on the lips.  But men she had walked with for a long time remained frustrated in their attempts to pat or stroke her.

But at Dongola House, on her second meeting with Mike, she sidled up behind him and was quite happy for him to rest his arm on her back and stroke her.  A first in her 12 years!  Thank you Sally for this pic.

Mike, Sally and manager Peter are perfect hosts.  Peter attends to every need in the most unobtrusive way, almost anticipating one’s needs.  It’s a lesson in how to attend to guests.

Mike, a seasoned gaming industry executive, and Sally moved from Johannesburg after tiring of the security-obsessed lifestyle there.  We enjoyed humorous recollections of working with Sol Kerzner.  He and Sally are hospitality industry professionals, spending holidays as guest managers of five star lodges, picking up ideas they can apply to their four star guest house.  It shows, and Dongola House is easy to recommend.

Akela, Kenya & Daniel Balbach

Akela, Kenya & Daniel Balbach

The other memorable establishment was 11 Cape Diem Lodge in Green Point, a stone’s throw from Cape Town Stadium.  Daniel Balbach has turned a charming Victorian home into a designer gem.  It’s the sort of place you’ll visit and leave with ideas to apply at home.  Staff are attentive and very friendly, and Daniel is a great host.  This was another establishment where Akela felt completely at home.

But I owe Daniel for something very, very special.  He wanted photos of Akela at his guest house so badly that he got his friend, photographer Dimitri Vervitsiotis, to come across.  And Dimitri took the photograph that defines a big era in my life.  It shows clearly just how different Akela was to any dog — the skinny legs and narrow chest which allows them to run through deep snow.

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis

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The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry's Pass above Gordon's Bay and Somerset West.

The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry’s Pass above Gordon’s Bay and Somerset West.


Bezweni: At night, one could be on a flying saucer overlooking over the Cape Peninsula.

Gordon's Bay harbour

That hand is trying to hide the smell from the bag of fish.

After living outside the Western Cape for nearly four years, the biggest highlight was returning there — and especially to Cape Town — after just over a year away.  What made it such a highlight was that it was all planned around giving a little girl the best holiday of her young life.  Jennezee was four years old in April 2010 when this holiday took place.

We couldn’t have arrived in more perfect weather, driving along Clarence Drive from Pringle Bay — surely, one of the great drives of the world — to Gordon’s Bay.  Gordon’s Bay harbour has always been one of my special places and it was Jennezee’s first visit to a harbour — smells and all!

It doesn't get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

It doesn’t get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

The base for the first two days was Bezweni Guest Lodge — you won’t find a more stunning setting and the same luxury very easily.  The views take in the whole of False Bay and the Helderberg valley.  It’s a perfect base to explore Cape Town or for a romantic weekend away for locals.  There’s a penthouse suite under the thatch, with its own kitchen and a huge deck with panoramic views, as well as poolside rooms.  Akela & Kenya loved it!

Little train in Somerset Mall

Train ride in Somerset Mall

Somerset West has one of Cape Town’s best shopping malls — probably one of the best in South Africa — Somerset Mall.  And the big excitement that day was the little train that wound its way through the mall.  A ride was called for!

The next morning it was off to  the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.

Of course, one highlight was Nero, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

Of course, one highlight was Nemo, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

No matter how jaded one is, seeing the expressions on the faces of children and adults at the Two Oceans Aquarium must lighten anyone’s day.  Wonder, amazement and fascination rule in this watery world.

Everything is bigger, brighter and maybe even more scary!


The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium - awe-inspiring

The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium – awe-inspiring

The tunnel through the predator tank.

The tunnel through the predator tank.

Government Avenue and the Company's Gardens alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city... and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city… and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden is a very special part of Cape Town, surrounded by Parliament, Iziko Museums and Gallery, the Planetarium and St George’s Cathedral at the top of Adderley Street.

But for most, it’s a place just to stroll or chill out away from the bustle of the city… and the feed or just sit and watch the squirrels.

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon's Town

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town

First train ride
The train  from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town runs right alongside the shoreline.  It’s a great trip and, if one has time, breaking the journey to explore Kalk Bay is highly recommended.  Of course, Simon’s Town is where you’ll find Boulders Beach and its penguin colony.

Boulders Beach penguins

Boulders Beach penguins

Table Mountain Cableway

Well this is an unusual view... Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

Well this is an unusual view… Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

This must be one of the best-operated visitor destinations in the world.  It’s a huge tribute to CEO Sabine Lehmann and her entire team (who, after this visit, went on to get Table Mountain recognised as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature).  In SA, how many places can you go without seeing a single security guard?  All Cableway staff take ownership of their turf, and handle visitors with aplomb!

For Jennezee, it was a little scary at times but memorable fun nonetheless.  Akela and Kenya took it all in their stride.



A historic pic?  A wolf on Table Mountain.

A historic pic? A wolf on Table Mountain.

It's not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that's the Capes Bay buzz

It’s not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that’s the Camps Bay buzz.


There's usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs - inflated bubbles on water.  It was easier just to sit down!

There’s usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs – inflated bubbles on water. It was easier just to sit down!














And that was three days in Cape Town!







Another view from Bezweni towards the Helderberg Mountains

Another view from Bezweni Guest Lodge towards the Helderberg Mountains

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It’s almost six months since Akela the wolf and Kenya the staffie died, and the loss is still felt as sharply… it hasn’t diminished.  While Kenya was “just” the devoted dog in the pack, he lived to be part of the pack.  His life wasn’t diminished as a result but strengthened.

But it is Akela that I miss most (and this is not being unfair on Kenya, he would have agreed).  Kela was far more independent, yet totally dependent at the same time.  She had a presence one could never escape and gave me an insight into a world which most people can never appreciate.  And she was always a happy and playful animal.  Infuriatingly so, at times.

So their memory will always live on.

When this blog started, stories were added largely as they unfolded.  Before long I realised that it’s not just stories that count, but rather the insight and perspectives.  So stories as they were experienced stopped.  And now they begin again — with the benefit of the broader perspective covering a period of over three years.

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The oddest couple – and true soulmates – who were my ‘kids’ for over 14 years, are no more. Akela the Grey Wolf – wilful, insightful, submissive and far more intelligent than any dog. Kenya the Staffie – ‘n liefbare dier in the words of a 4-year old, Mr Personality and loved by all. He lived to please.

Akela’s tongue started bleeding almost a month ago. I took her to Hermanus Animal Hospital where the vet examined her, said it was a cut under the tongue and that there was little she could do, but gave her an injection to stop the bleeding. That didn’t work and was followed by two homeopathic remedies, which worked to a certain degree, and a visit to a second vet. Our travels slowed down completely to give her more “calm time”. Two Saturdays ago, she didn’t want to eat and preferred her bed in the back of the bakkie to anywhere else, but still jumped out on her own when she needed to pee. By Sunday she was really weak and I asked Facebook friends to recommend a very good vet.

I was at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch at 8am on Monday when they opened and said we’d wait there until Dr Maree Potgieter could see us. She found that Akela had a tumour on a vein and that her red cell count was around 10, a quarter of what it should be. She recommended putting her down because of this combined with her age. I felt I hadn’t done enough and wanted one more try, with the vet saying she would last a week at the most.

She was given medication to stop the bleeding and a tonic for post-operative animals. The bleeding stopped a day later and she started eating – tripe and liver. On Thursday she seemed well on the road to recovery. On Friday morning she seemed to have just given up completely but was better in the afternoon. Over the weekend she devoured almost a kilo of raw ox liver each day and seemed well-enough to share with friends that the battle might be won. Those who saw her said she looked good. But then she ate very little on Monday, just drank milk on Tuesday and nothing since except water. The battle was lost.

Kenya, who’s been ridden with cancer for five years, had the same problem several months ago on his abdomen. He was treated and has been fine since. So I wonder if proper treatment wouldn’t have saved Akela. Kela and Ken are inseparable. Seeing his sister ill has shattered Ken and he hasn’t left her side. She was the one who always looked after him. He was always the one expected to go first and I’ve checked to see that he’s still breathing many mornings over the past two years. And so they went together and are buried together.

They leave a huge void in my life, a quarter of which was defined by a wolf.

Akela chose me when she was five weeks old. Kenya was left with me when he was six months old and Akela was two months. I never wanted a second pet but it’s the best thing that could have happened. The best photo I never got was tiny Akela curled up in Kenya’s tummy space.

The sounds I regret never recording were her deep wolf howls at the door in greeting when I came back from somewhere, and the more typical wolf howls while she was dreaming. Being woken by a wolf howl in the middle of the night is not any everyday experience. When she was younger, she did howl for me when left at home, but it was Kenya who took this up in old age and cried and cried. And there were Akela’s huffs and puffs when a stranger came to the door. Wolves don’t bark.

They grew up on Clifton and Llandudno beaches, where they socialised with other dogs. They enthralled school kids in Bredasdorp, the Cape Flats and at St Cyprian’s & the French School in Cape Town. Akela changed the perceptions among kids that adults so often teach – wolves are not aggressive.

Akela taught me a different language too. A growl or a snarl does not necessary mean aggression. She sometimes climbed onto my lap, snarling ferociously against my face, but then her tongue came out to kiss my cheek. That meant, “I don’t want to be here.”

Kela and Ken have done what few South Africans have done. They’ve been up the Table Mountain Cableway. They’ve travelled from Cape Agulhas to Beit Bridge – SA’s southernmost tip and northernmost border point. On their second visit to the tourism Indaba in Durban, I was asked to keep them away from the entrance of the ICC because they would draw attention away from Jacob Zuma, who was due to arrive. They were good at making friends wherever they went.

It was Kela who gave me the determination to cope when I woke up blind in 2006 – from tick bite fever I didn’t know I had – and was told that all previous recorded cases had resulted in permanent blindness. Turning it around was a first, and my eyes were published.

Kenya had the warmest heart of any dog I’ve ever known. He really tried very hard to be good all the time. And if he was scolded and his feelings were hurt, tears streamed down his cheeks.

Kela on the other hand was a handful, especially when younger. Inquisitive, playful, a tease and a thief. I’ve lost count how many shoes were buried in the garden, food stolen out of the fridge or off the kitchen counter. When I got cross with her, she’d say, “okay, let’s have a game.” They say “if you call a dog, it comes. If you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” In many respects, Kela was more like a cat, fiercely independent, but very shy.

A dog is a wolf, but a wolf is not a dog. Dogs adapt to a family, but one has to adapt to a wolf, and it is a full-time commitment.

Click on any of the images below for larger images in a slide show.

Postscript: The Hermanus vet got it totally wrong. Had she been thorough, both animals would still have been around for a little longer. She was informed by Dr Potgieter about the correct diagnosis and treatment but when I saw her afterwards, she made no apology nor enquired about Akela’s health. The vet who put Akela down examined her and said she was surprised the first vet had made an incorrect diagnosis. That’s not the sort of vet I’d recommend to anyone. I’m sure others will sing the vet’s praises, but I subsequently emailed the practice to complain and I’m still waiting for the call I was told I would get. That’s not professional!

I subsequently heard from a friend that she had stopped breeding ponies because Hermanus Animal Hospital — the only equine vet in the area — was too unreliable and several ponies had been lost. A breeder must have a reliable vet.

I do recommend Dr Maree Potgieter at Pronkberg Clinic in Stellenbosch. She was very thorough and compassionate.

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Akela the wolf turned 14 years old yesterday — that’s a venerable 98 in human years!  And she shared her celebratory dinner (pig’s trotters) with Kenya the staffie (14½) and Beezus the pomchi (1½).  For Beezus, it was his first “dedicated” bone, as opposed to dinner left-overs, and his small piece absorbed him totally for 40 minutes.  For Kenya, it was bliss — he ignored the rest of his dinner (special pellets @R670/12kg bag with trotter gravy) and gnawed & gnawed on the bone with the few teeth he still has.   And Akela?  She ate her pellets and gravy, and Kenya’s too, and buried her bone!

Both Akela and Kenya are old animals now, both largely deaf.  Kenya was given the name “Oupa” by Gawie Fagan five years ago and I’ve been amazed as he’s reached successive birthdays.  He’s been riddled with cancer for years and two tumours have “erupted” in the past few weeks, the one reaching a blood vessel.  But he’s still a happy dog with a good quality of life — a voracious appetite and goes outside to pee and poo, in spite of being too stiff for any real walks — so it’s a matter of stitching him up with minimal interventions.  I don’t expect him to last much longer… but I’m sure he’ll amaze me some more!

Akela’s hindquarters are much weaker but that, and deafness, are the only signs of old age.  She still charges off at great speed when she plays outside, but her cornering is not so good and she sometimes takes a tumble.  The average age of wolves in a domestic environment is 12 years, compared to seven years in the wild, with a maximum of 15, so she’s doing pretty well.  She and Beezus (35kg vs 3.5kg) spend hours playing and she’s taught him to bury shoes and toys, only to dig them up and bury somewhere else.  And to think someone at Onderstepoort told me six months ago that it was time to think of putting her down!

There is a “secret” to longevity and quality of life.  My dad died two weeks ago at the age of 86.  For a few years, his quality of life was minimal.  His twin brother on the other hand is active, energetic and healthy, and says he’ll retire from running the farm when he reaches 90.  My dad retired 20 years ago and had little daily responsibility or demands.

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I’ve just started reading Wolf Totem, a million copy Chinese best-seller by Jiang Rong, and was reminded again of just how intelligent wolves are.

The book is set in the 1960s, the heyday for the people of the Inner Mongolian grasslands, and celebrates a time when an age-old balance based on culture and tradition maintained by the nomads, their livestock and the wild wolves who roamed the plains.

Authorities had decided that stone walls should be built around all the birthing pens for sheep.  But no sooner were the walls up than wolves were stealing the sheep again.  Legends were starting that wolves were flying over the walls, since folklore also has wolves, when they die, flying to Tengger, the nomads’ god..

Of course, this didn’t sit well with communist authorities and solving the problem was made a priority.

Careful examination of one of the “crime scenes” showed, with the help of a magnifying glass, two faint, bloody pawprints.

The police chief discovered” that one large wolf had leaned its front paws against the wall, rear legs on the ground, and made its body as a springboard.  The other wolves ran full speed, jumped on its back and shoulders, and sailed into the enclosure.  From inside, wouldn’t look as though they flew in?”

As soon as the stone enclosures went up on the grassland, the wolves figured out how to deal with them.  But what about the poor wolf used as a springboard on the outside, was it just so devoted to the pack that it got nothing to eat?

The police chief explained that too. “Wolves have a strong collective spirit, they stick together.  It’s not their nature to abandon one of their own.  A wolf on the inside acted as a springboard for another one, which had eaten its fill, to leap back across the wall.  Then it acted as a springboard for the hungry wolf to fly into the enclosure to eat its fill.  The bloody paw prints were left by the second wolf. How else would they be bloody?  The first wolf hadn’t made a kill when it was the springboard, so its paws were clean.”

But how did the last member of the pack get out safely?  Where was its springboard?

When the investigator went into the enclosure, sloshing through all the blood, he discovered a pile of six or seven sheep carcasses against the wall, and everybody assumed that the last wolf was one of the smartest and most powerful pack leaders.  All by itself, it had made a springboard out of a pile of sheep carcasses and flown out of the enclosure.

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If one thing stands out about Limpopo for me, it is that it’s an inside-out province.  The towns, in general, offer no attraction whatsoever while the country areas are stunning!  The towns, generally, are a mess!

One Polokwane product owner on CapeInfo wrote to say that Limpopo Tourism is embarking on a roadshow to find out why the province isn’t getting its share of international tourists.  I would have thought the answer is quite simple.  The lodges are world-class but that doesn’t spread tourism around, and the towns are best forgotten in any tourist’s itinerary.  Locals are accustomed to what they have; you need to look at the province through a visitor’s eyes.

Looking at Mokopane as an example: the Mogalakwena municipality covers an area of 1,683km² and comprises three towns, 117 villages, nine traditional leaders and five kingdoms.  The municipal area has a population of over 300,000 — certainly no dorp –  of which 38% is under the age of 14.  Almost 96% is black followed by whites at 4% and Indians/Asians/Coloureds combined at about 0.4%.  The Indian/Asian group has a long history in the town and is proportionately the most economically active, even having its own school.

Is it a sustainable town that can meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens?  I think the answer is an emphatic “No!” as things stand.

The Town
The town has no urban design framework or aesthetic controls.  If I speak to bankers, as good a yardstick as any, business in the town is not good.  If the town doesn’t develop a clear vision — which is not just about service delivery but rather economic growth and social development — its inexorable slide will continue.

Now I don’t believe that Waterberg towns like Mokopane, Mookgopong, Modimolle and Bela Bela have the resources or abilities to tackle what needs to be done.  And since it is a province-wide problem and challenge, it needs to be addressed at a higher level.

The Waterberg regional authority could establish or engage the necessary skills and provide a service to all the towns in the district. Good urban design and aesthetic control is a prerequisite for economic opportunity and successful businesses. (Cape Agulhas Municipality did this to very good effect for the several towns it administers about 10 years ago.)

Towns also need to establish formal public/private partnerships so that everybody reads from the same book.  (Both Johannesburg’s Inner City and Cape Town have done this with great success.)

Something locals may be accustomed to, but it surprises a visitor to the town -- just a handful of the scores of funeral parlours in the town. Death is a big business in Mokopane. Limpopo has very high HIV infection rates.

The Mines
AngloPlatinum has the largest mine in the area so most comments will be directed at them and, unfortunately, I need to draw comparisons between what they do in Mokopane and what Rio Tinto has done in Phalaborwa.  I have no doubt whatsoever that Anglo means to do well in the town, but I believe they need to rethink their corporate social responsibility programme.

A waste of shareholders' funds on "feel-good" projects: Restoration was completed months ago but the swimming pool never opened because the Municipality can't find a life guard!

  1. In Mokopane, Anglo donates generously to many ad hoc projects in the town, often just paying for things the municipality can’t afford… with little legacy impact.  Anglo’s refurbishment of the town’s swimming pool (which had been closed for years) was rather wasted.  It’s still closed because the municipality can’t find a life-guard to be on duty.  In Phalaborwa, Rio Tinto established the Palabora Foundation with initial funding of R176 million.  It does excellent work and has made a big difference to the town.  (In Musina, the Local Economic Development official said they had been trying to get Anglo to establish a similar foundation there.)
  2. In Phaloborwa, the mine sold the golf course to a private developer because it was not their core business.  Developers turned the golf course into the world-famous Hans Merensky Estate — today of the town’s greatest assets and attractions.  In Mokopane, the municipality swapped the golf course  for services the mine provided to the town.  Wasn’t this an opportunity lost?

I don’t believe that Anglo is doing nearly enough to prepare the town for the day when it retrenches all its workers, or retrenches large numbers (as it did in 2009) during the next slump in the platinum price.  As things stand now, Mokopane lives or dies by the mine’s fortunes.  If “Diamonds are Forever,” mines are certainly not!

The ticking time bomb — housing the poor
Driving into Modimolle recently, I saw a sign advertising “Sustainable Houses” on large plots.  How the hell can they make that claim, I asked myself?

I worked at the Mitchells Plain Planning Unit in the mid-1970s.  The original rental plans had been scrapped and the challenge was to build affordable housing that people wanted to buy.  We built full-scale, furnished mockup houses inside an old factory and thousands of families passed through, being educated about choices and what they could afford.  We adapted the existing mock-ups and built more as we refined the process in response to visitor comments.  Matching expectations and affordability was a very difficult task.

The original town of Potgietersrus is in the bottom righthand corner. The rest is urban sprawl showing only part of Mahwelereng Municipality

The fact that South Africa has plenty of land does not mean that one can afford urban sprawl.  One simply cannot meet expectations of  paved roads & street lighting, water & stormwater reticulation, waterborne sewage, refuse removal, and even schools,  health and sporting facilities nearby when you have large plot sizes and low densities.  It’s just not possible!

Urban sprawl also adds to the costs of all road networks and personal transport expenses.  Successful towns of the future will be those that are the most efficient for those who live there.

Central government’s infrastructure grants may address some expectations in poorer areas, but it’s the municipality’s  responsibility to maintain and service the infrastructure, but that alone will be sufficient to bankrupt municipalities or mean that the level of service they render is vastly diminished.

Large plots could be partially justified if they were used to sustain the inhabitants with extensive planting of vegetables and fruit, but this doesn’t happen, or it’s the exception… there is no water!

I attended a meeting of township residents on the outskirts of Mokopane where the only service they receive is electricity from Eskom.  (They have to buy water from those residents that do have boreholes.)  “What do they need most?” I asked.  “Jobs and job opportunities,” was the unanimous reply.  Municipalities need to rethink their roles.

What was possible and affordable 50 years ago is not possible today.  Towns and townsfolk trapped in the past are doomed to failure.

Mokopane faces even greater challenges.  Many of its citizens live on tribal lands and pay minimal rentals to tribal chiefs.  The municipality collects no rates and taxes. It’s going to take brave and inspired leadership to tackle these challenges.

What sort of future can the town guarantee to the 38% of the population who are under the age of 14?

One measure of a successful town is the number of tourists and travellers who make a detour because the town offers some or other attraction or facility that makes the detour worthwhile.

The other measure is the number of people from outside the town and region who choose to relocate to it for their retirement because it is an attractive place.  Local pride is important but what others think of you is as important.

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Postscript: Driving east from Polokwane on Route 71 did impress (after one finally leaves the peri-urban sprawl of Polokwane).  Mopane region does seem to do things differently:  Haenertsburg must be Limpopo’s gem, but Tzaneen and Phalaborwa also impressed.

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