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Jun 21, 2012

My Anabasis

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Anabasis (from Greek, ana meaning ‘upward’ and bainein, meaning ‘go’) is an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country.

Thus, I arrive at Cape Town International Airport to fly on South African Airways (SAA) to Johannesburg. The airport is very quiet (this is because my consulting practice designed the acoustics of the departure hall, ta daa!). The airport departure hall absorbs sound so well that the truly awful ‘airport radio’ is unintelligible and almost inaudible, save, appropriately, in the toilets.

I check in. I had prebooked seat 21C to Johannesburg and 15B to Gaborone (‘Gabs’), Botswana, from Johannesburg – both aisle seats. SAA had changed 21C to 21D (a middle seat) despite my book- ing. SAA does this as routine – who knows why.

You’ve got to love the process of air travel. They say that you will depart at 13:10 and arrive at 15:05. All untrue. You arrive at 11:45 at the airport and join a queue. You touch down at 15:05, sit in a bus for ten minutes and wait for the baggage for 15 minutes. So, in fact, the whole journey takes 100% longer.

I fly to Gabs and get the hire car. For the years that my staff and I have been visiting the Botswana capital we have had to negotiate the traffic ‘circles of hell’ (two lanes – cars from inner lane dart past you), or the ‘circles of death’ (the same as the circles of hell, only three lanes) and the long road of ‘eternal delay’ (a single lane road which winds with the traffic slowly, ever so slowly and forever).

But, surprise! The Botswana govern- ment has eliminated the circles and replaced them with controlled junctions and the road of eternal delay has become a four lane ‘highway of pleasure’. Well done!

I have my meetings and fly back to OR Tambo International Airport. My plan is to experience the Gautrain first- hand.

At the airport, I have to buy a ticket. Now, let me give you some advice: don’t bother getting a degree in engineering or actuarial science. It won’t help you work out how to buy a ticket from the ticket machine at the Gautrain airport station.

One would think that a simple touch screen requests information such as ‘from’ and ‘to’, as well as ‘date’ and ‘return’, followed by an invitation to pay would be sufficient. Oh, no. The machine asks if you ‘have a gold card’. Do you want one? Do you need one?

Finally, on the train. I was pleased to see that the proud tradition of British Railways seats (small seat, near vertical back, minimal padding) has gone hand in hand with French ticket prices (the near astronomical R115 one way to Sandton).

They say it’s only 15 minutes from Sandton to the airport. True, if you are flying a Cessna 210 twin. It’s actually nearer to 24 minutes. What they don’t tell you is that Sandton station is at the depth of ‘City Deep Gold Mine level 88’. It takes four escalators to get to the surface.

The décor? Minimalistic. The station makes the 50-year-old Metro in Minsk, in Belarus, look smart and snappy. The public address system just works otherwise . . . ‘fergetabahtit’.

Now, an interesting thing. If you want to sit down on the platform, there are, wait for it, no benches or seats. There are two ellipsoidal pipes bolted to the wall at an angle against which you can prop you rear end. How a pensioner would cope is anyone’s guess. A multi- billion-rand project and they couldn’t afford benches!

But, I must say, I took the Gautrain to Pretoria and it was, yes, way better than by car. So it’s not all bad.

But it would be cheaper to take a taxi from Sandton to the airport, fractionally longer and you would at least have a conversation and be able to sit.

So I had my meeting and the following day went back to OR Tambo, where I was allowed into the British Airways lounge. Totally brilliant. Makes the SAA lounge look like a badly decorated shebeen.

Only problem is that booking British Airways via the Internet is an absolute nightmare. And so I flew home again.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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