November 27, 2014

Why Rugby Beats Football

Today is Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, which means that right now around the United States men of all ages (and many women too) are gathered around family TVs to urge on their favorite football team, while delicious smells of roast turkey and sweet potatoes are wafting in from the kitchen.

So I thought it's time I talked about... rugby!

Before moving to South Africa, I knew almost nothing about rugby, its national sport. I knew it was similar to football. American football, that is, because football is really soccer. Much like in American football, an odd-shaped ball that does not lend itself well to kicking or throwing had to be kicked and carried and tossed and ultimately moved into the opponent's endzone to score points. Except that with rugby the players were mostly crazed-looking Australians and preferred to ram into each other without the benefit of helmets, or really any padding for that matter.

I got to know rugby quite well by watching the Dainfern College 8th grade rugby team. 

A few years later, the Ravenwood high school rugby team in Tennessee
That was the extent of my knowledge of rugby when I watched my first game in April of 2010. I didn't actually want to watch it, but we were stuck in the Waterberg on Easter weekend, and it was raining cats and dogs for four days straight. Going out in a game drive vehicle was relegated to the sporadic bouts of sunshine far and in between, so most of the time we were cooped up indoors, with the choice of either watching the staff put buckets under the roof where it leaked ("It never usually rains here this time of year," we were told) or watching rugby on TV, at least until the power would go off again.

The game is almost never interrupted

It didn't take long for me to be pleasantly surprised. In just that one first game, I observed all the ways in which rugby, in my mind, is superior to football.

First, and most importantly, there are almost no interruptions to the game. A player will run with the ball, he will be tackled, he will be down, and lo and behold, that doesn't mean that all activity stops, like in football, to reassemble the line and have another go at a second down. What rather happens is brilliant: The player who is down will shelter the ball with his body from the opponents, who are only allowed on their side of it, and he will nudge it towards his own teammates on the other side, who make sure by pushing the opponents in what is called a ruck that they remain in possession of the ball. Another player lined up behind the ruck will eventually pick it up and make another run, or the ball might be passed down the line to the outside of the field and all the way back again, until a hole is found in the defensive line through which the player might run to score, or until he is tackled again and the procedure starts anew, all without a single annoying break.

Interruptions only occur when there is a foul or the ball goes out of bounds, in which case it is put back into play by a line-out, a move that also involves a player called a hooker. Rugby isn't short on interesting terminology. My favorites are mulligrubber, sin bin, and tighthead.

A good example of a ruck

You get to watch beautiful bodies

The second reason I prefer rugby over football is the fact that it is less specialized. No separate teams for offense and defense and punt-returns, just one crew of very physically fit specimens of the human race where everyone gets to more or less do everything. Sure, there are numerous specialized positions in rugby too, like the aforementioned hooker - a term that never ceases to offend a few upright mothers on American girls' rugby teams - or scrum-half. But more or less anyone needs to be strong and be able to run fast, which results in a lot of beautiful bodies you get to look at when watching a rugby match on TV.

If there is one complaint I have about rugby, it is the fact that the ball is only ever thrown underhand. In fact, it can only be passed laterally or backwards, meaning it usually gets passed to the side and slightly back, all the way down the line in search of an opening in the defense. Somehow, throwing a ball underhand seems girly to me. Same in softball pitching versus baseball; I hate it. But of course there is nothing else that's girly in rugby, and as I said, those glistening muscled bodies more than make up for the unmanly underhand tosses.

In rugby you also get to watch interesting facial hair. Hard to see here, but follow the arrow.

A "try" means you actually succeeded

All in all, rugby is pretty straightforward. When you run the ball into the endzone, you score what's called a try for 5 points, and subsequently kicking it between the goal posts gets you another point. Similar to football, you can also score 3 points by kicking a drop or penalty goal. There are 15 players on a team, 8 forwards and 7 backs,

Another reason I prefer rugby over football is that tackles are only allowed on the player who currently has the ball. This results in a lot less senseless ramming into each other, and it promotes agility in all players. You are not forced to compete against people the size and heft of a pickup truck with guts hanging halfway to the ground. Banging your head into someone or grabbing them by the neck is also not allowed, so that oddly the sport without helmets ends up being safer for your head. Not entirely - as a rugby mom I have had to live with the scare of concussions much more than I ever wanted to, along with the dislocated shoulders and thumbs - but in general rugby does not seem to be plagued by head injuries on the same scale as football.

Ever since the movie Invictus, of course, you might know a little bit more about rugby, even as an American who's spent his or her life blissfully unaware of it. If you haven't seen it, do so. It's brilliant. Less about rugby and more about Nelson Mandela, but must-see in any case.

Another must-see in the world of rugby is watching the New Zealand All Blacks perform the Haka:

If you haven't yet, go on, watch a rugby match and see for yourself. I can't promise you a delicious slice of turkey breast with gravy to go with it, but who knows, you might become a convert.

More posts on South African sports in the eyes of an expat:

What the Hell is Netball? Or: You mean, you call taking away the backboard and the dribbling and the three-point-line from basketball can still be called a sport?

Must the Ball Go Over the Plate? Or: Yes the ball must go over the plate! And there is something called a strike zone! And the batter must not hit it all those other times it is way out of the strike zone! And by the way please do call it batter and not batswoman! And while we're at it, the pitcher is not a bowler! And what's wrong with the word steal that you've made it into sneak? And we call it base running for a reason, so please tell your children to hurry up and get there... And other reasons why South Africans should perhaps stick to cricket and not try themselves at softball.

What is a Ballbox? Or: The new equipment you might have to buy for your kids playing a sport in a new country, and what that says about the psyche of said country.

Cricket for Expats. Or: The game in a nutshell as explained by What is a Googly by Rob Eastaway, which is hilarious.

Don't miss out: FREE Kindle download until Sat, Nov 29 2014 of Kilimanjaro Diaries, a Travel Memoir. 

November 24, 2014

Applying for a South African Visa

If you're an expat sent to South Africa by your multinational company, in all likelihood your visa is being sourced for you by the company lawyer, and all you have to do is gather the documents they tell you to gather (which, trust me, is painful enough).

However, you might just decide to move to South Africa on a whim. Or join your fiance, who is South African (this seems to happen quite a bit, at least to the group of people who contact me for advice). Or join your expat spouse and decide you also want to work.

Let's get some terminology out of the way first. The piece of paper or rather the stamp you need in your passport to enter the country is called a visa. That's just to get in. If you want to work, you need a work permit. However, the new visa regulations issued this year apparently have changed the word work permit to work visa, although the Home Affairs webpage doesn't seem to be updated to that effect. I am therefore using both terms interchangeably.

Types of Visa

Basically, there are three different ways a foreigner can legally reside in South Africa: As a visitor, a temporary resident, or a permanent resident. 


If you're a visitor, most likely you won't require a visa because you are visa exempt. Most Western countries are on that list. In that case you will receive your visa stamp in your passport upon arrival. It is, however, important that your passport be valid for 6 more months, and that you have at least one 2 consecutive blank pages in it where the visa can be stamped. If not, this is what can happen

Please also note that starting June 2015, the new regulation requiring parents to carry an unabridged birth certificate for their minor children accompanying them will go into effect. It was introduced in 2014 but put on hold due to huge backlogs in issuing such birth certificates for South African children. Foreign birth certificates are typically already unabridged. In addition, if the child is not traveling with both parents, you also need a notarized affidavit from the missing parent(s). ***

As a visitor to South Africa, you're allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. After that, or if you want to study or work in South Africa, you need to apply for temporary residence. 

Temporary Residence

This is the category most expats will (at least initially) fall into. To live, work, and study in South Africa, you and your dependents will need a temporary residence permit of some form (one exception I have come across: teachers at international schools are allowed to work on a visitor's visa). As mentioned above, as of this year (2014), there are new visa regulations in place (for a brief summary click here). The big change is that expats can no longer enter the country on a visitor’s visa and then apply for the work permit, which is exactly what we did, because it was quicker that way. Nowadays, you have to apply for your work visa at a South African embassy in your country and wait for it to be granted before you (or your family) can enter South Africa. I know it's not great news, but the good part is that apparently South African embassies in foreign countries are a ton more efficient than Home Affairs.

The types of temporary residence permits are:

  • Business permit
  • Work permit
  • Study permit
  • Exchange permit
  • Retired Persons' permit
  • Relatives' permit
  • Medical treatment permit

Most of these permit categories are self-explanatory. A business permit requires that you have a ton of money, like ZAR 2.5 million, and most likely isn't feasible for most expats. As an expat, the subcategory you most likely will fall into is as work permit holder, see more on the different types of work permits below.  Another permit worth pursuing is the retired persons' permit, more on that also below.

Permanent Residence

If you're neither a prohibited or undesirable person (like when you've overstayed a visa previously, though you can be rehabilitated again), you may become a permanent resident. The advantage is that you automatically are allowed to work in South Africa without an employer sponsoring you (much the same as it is for the American Green Card). 

There are two avenues to obtain permanent resident status in South Africa: First, you can apply for permanent residence once you've lived in South Africa as a temporary resident for 5 years, or if you're a dependent of a permanent resident. It's called a Direct residence permit

The other, lesser-known avenue is a so-called Residency-on-other-grounds permit. You can qualify, if you:
  • are in possession of a permanent work offer in South Africa, or
  • have exceptional skills and qualifications
  • intend to establish a business in South Africa
  • qualify as refugee
  • qualify as retired person
  • are financially independent
  • are relatives of a South African citizen/permanent residence permit holder
Some of these overlap with the temporary residence categories above. From what I gather, this means that you can hold one of those temporary residence permits and use them as "other grounds" to apply for permanent residence without waiting the full 5 years.

I'm not sure where exactly the so-called Life Partner visa falls, as I couldn't find it listed, but would assume it's in one of these two permanent residence categories. The terminology keeps changing, so please forgive me. More details on permanent residence status can be obtained here

Visa Application

To apply for a temporary residence visa, you will need:

  • Two passport photographs 
  • Passport valid for 30 days or more after the date of intended departure from South Africa (elsewhere, 6 months are mentioned, so make that your minimum)
  • Medical report (this is a form your doctor has to sign, mainly stating that you are not insane)
  • Chest X-ray dated within one year of application proving the applicant does not have tuberculosis (for anyone 12 years of age and over)
  • Full birth certificate 
  • Police clearance certificates for applicants 18 years and older in all countries where they resided for one year or longer (I doubt they will go back and check every place you lived, so for simplicity I'd say it's sufficient to provide this for the place you currently reside, if that's also your country of birth; in our case, we were born in Germany, coming from the U.S., and one of our children was born in Singapore, so we felt we had to get police clearances from all three countries - a major pain!
  • Completed application form 

You may also need a Yellow Fever certificate if coming from an at-risk country. And other documents may be needed for other types of visas, i.e. bank statements and financial documents. Check out all visa requirements here.

Visa Renewal

Visa renewals can still be handled from within South Africa, even  under the new visa regulations. But I think you now have to wait until the renewal is granted before you can leave the country, whereas before you could simply prove that you had applied and that was enough. Not anymore. Enter the Department of Home Affairs and a long (and probably frustrating) wait. Start early with your renewals!

Work Permit

A work permit is what you need to be allowed to work in South Africa if you are NOT a permanent resident. The types of work permits include:

  • Intra-company-transfer work permit
  • General work permit
  • Critical skills work permit
If you're being moved to South Africa by a multinational company, the subcategory you most likely will fall into is an Intra-company transfer work permit. In this case your company will have taken care of the permit by getting a lawyer working on it, and it might simply be annoying because it's taking too much time, as such things are bound to do in South Africa. But as a general rule it won't likely be denied. It used to be valid for 2 years and was renewable thereafter, but if I understand the new visa regulations mentioned earlier correctly, it is now valid for 4 years but no longer renewable. I'm not sure what happens to expats after those 4 years, still short of one year to apply as permanent residents.

If you don't have a company that is moving you - meaning you're probably the spouse and moved to South Africa with someone who already has a work permit and now want to find a job of your own - you would have to qualify for a General work permit. This will be more difficult. The difficulty stems from this little sentence: "Work permits are issued only to foreigners where South African citizens with the relevant skills are not available for appointment." As opposed to an Intra-company transfer work permit, where your only requirement is that you have to have been employed by your company for 6 months prior to moving to South Africa, a General work permit requires your would-be employer to prove that they haven't found a South African to do the job. I will be talking more about this process in How Can I Find a Job as an Expat in South Africa.

Critical Skills

I'm making this its own subheading because I'm not sure it still falls under the work permit category anymore. The Home Affairs website hasn't been updated, but from what I understand the new visa regulations have combined what was formerly the exceptional skills work permit and the quota work permit, and combined it under critical skills.

If you have a skill critical to the Republic of South Africa, you can apply for a Critical skills visa, which is not dependent on an existing job offer. Here is the very extensive list of official critical skills. 

From what I understand, a Critical skills visa is open-ended. It is valid for 5 years at a time, but will automatically be renewed. So for all intents and purposes, until something changes again in the regulations, this will allow you to stay in South Africa permanently, or at least the required 5 years, at which time you can apply for permanent residency.

It says somewhere in the small print that you have to find a job in your area of critical skill within 90 days. But it also says that you can file for an extension.


I have friends who recently retired in South Africa, so I thought I would provide some first-hand information they gave me. 

Basically, they applied for the Retired persons' permit in the temporary residence category. It's valid for 4 years at a time, and renewable indefinitely. As soon as they arrived, they filed their application for permanent residence, on the basis of the retiree permit. This would save them the trouble of renewing every 4 years, and also gives them work permits. The processing time for this is estimated to be 18-24 months.

If you have obtained the Retired persons' visa already, you apply in the "residency-on-other-grounds" category for permanent residence. There is no waiting period. It's not exactly "easy" to obtain the retired visa. They were closely scrutinized, particularly on the financial criteria. Had to have everything notarized, certified, etc. by a chartered accountant. An easier option is probably the "independently wealthy" category, but this carries a ridiculous, non-refundable fee of ZAR 175,000 R, so my friends decided against it. They just had to jump through a few more hoops to show that their "net worth" equaled the requirement of the monthly payout on an "irrevocable annuity".

Check out this guest post for more information on retiring in South Africa (especially if you are British).

I got a good laugh out of the "We Care" message on the Home Affairs website. 

Lastly, you should familiarize yourself with visa types and requirements on the Department of Home Affairs website. Everybody hates Home Affairs, especially those who've stood in line only to be sent home again to collect more paperwork, but the website covering all the visa information is actually not bad (except for the fact that it hasn't been updated with the latest regulations and that some of its terminology is rather confusing). Unfortunately, some useful information has been removed from the Home Affairs website, such as visa application forms. To obtain those, visit Leroux Attorneys, who have compiled a comprehensive and easily navigable listing of all relevant forms.

I know this is a lot to read and process and probably still doesn't cover everything, but I hope it gives you some clarity and a good start to your move to South Africa. I welcome all your comments, especially if I've left anything off that needs mentioning.

Good luck!

*** As of October 2015, the visa travel regulations for children requiring unabridged birth certificates have been relaxed again. ***

November 17, 2014

10 Must-Read Articles for Expats Moving to South Africa

As Joburg Expat is nearing its 600th blog post and its 1 millionth page view, I can't help but feel that I've already shared everything there is to know about life in South Africa.

All you have to do is start at the beginning of my blog and read. And read and read. Believe it or not, there are actually people who do just that, and who then shoot me a gushing email on how grateful they are for the help. This always warms my heart and I do appreciate the feedback.

However, not everyone has the time to slog through my blog one entry at the time, or even zero in on certain topics by using the tabs across the top (which, I do have to mention, I am insanely proud of as they required quite a bit of HTML programming at the time).

Thus, the idea of giving expats a top-10 list of must-read articles from my blog (and from other websites I've written for) was born. A reading list covering every main topic from finding a school, renting a house, registering a car, finding a bank, and so on, up until the very important matter of booking a safari once the container is unpacked. It was really  hard to pick just ten items, but I think I've come up with a good list of essentials. Also, some of this is specific to Johannesburg, but I think that you'll find almost all of it useful no matter where in South Africa you choose to settle.

Without further ado, here it is:

Expat Moving to South Africa? Start HERE

    At the beginning of any expat move comes the decision. It's never easy, but it becomes a little easier when you are able to throttle fear and worry and instead allow yourself to become excited about the place you might soon call your home. Read Top 10 Reasons to Move to Johannesburg Despite the Crime Rate, even if your destination is another South African city - most of it will apply there too.
  2. SCHOOL:
    I didn't use to have this at the very top of the list, but space in both private and international schools in Johannesburg (and from what I've heard, even more so in Cape Town) has become extremely limited in the last few years, and so researching and selecting a school for your children is the number one priority. Read all about South African Schools and link from there to the list of private schools in Johannesburg.

  3. HOUSE:
    You've got the job lined up (or so I presume, it being the reason you're likely moving to South Africa), and you've found a school and hopefully reserved a spot or put your child on the waitlist, so now the third piece of the puzzle in the triumvirate of location is where to live. Reading Finding a House in Johannesburg: Part 1 is the best place to start, linking to Part 2 and other topics from there. If you're moving to Cape Town, follow the link to Expat Arrivals in the housing article.

    Hiring a maid may not be at the top of your list or even on your radar, but like every expat you will end up hiring a domestic worker and loving the lifestyle it brings with it. So you might as well read up on Hiring Domestic Help early and be prepared for when that first knock comes at your door, the very day you've moved in, with someone asking for a job. 

  5. CAR:
    Once you've arrived in South Africa, the first order of business is to find a car. Most South African cities, and Johannesburg most of all, do not distinguish themselves with their public transport system. In fact, they don't have much of one. You will need a car, and there is some bureaucracy attached to owning one. Start with How to Register a Car in South Africa, and link to the other car-related posts from the list in the sidebar.


    There is such a flurry of things you must do upon arrival that it's hard to decide which one to pick first, but Opening a Bank Account in South Africa is one of the first things you'll need to do. Some expats somehow manage without a local bank account, but this has always sounded cumbersome to me. 

    Hopefully, you don't need a doctor on the very first day of your expat stay, but you will want to go ahead and find  a general practitioner, dentist, orthodontist, and hospital of choice, as well as select a health insurance plan and make yourself familiar with all the emergency numbers. Read Going to the Doctor in South Africa for all this and more.


    Read TV, Internet, and Phone Service in South Africa to get these crucial services set up as soon as possible. Regarding internet, sign up for an uncapped plan, otherwise you (or, if not you, then your kids) will be frustrated by the low data cap, especially if you're planning on using a service like UnoTelly to stream channels from abroad. Be forewarned though that data speeds in South Africa are mostly slow.


    I'm not so much talking about pleasure shopping here, that will come later. But right after moving to South Africa, especially if coming from the United States, you will need to acquire new appliances and perhaps TVs as well, and most likely adapter plugs and extension cords. And, horrors, there won't be any to order from. Read Where Can I Find an Alarm Clock? for a list of places to start looking.

  10. 10. SAFARI/TRAVEL:

    It's finally time to play! At some point in time, you have to stop wanting the perfect house and waiting around for "just now" calls from service providers that, frankly, will never come, and embark on adventure instead. South Africa and surroundings is full of it, and your days there as an expat are numbered. But there are so many options, you say. Read Help! Which Safari Lodge? to get started, and link to What to Do in Joburg from there.
There is, of course, a lot more you'll need to know, from visa issues to pet relocation, pool maintenance, gardening, grocery stores, traffic, sports, corruption, language, recycling, bureaucracy, and utilities, and I've written about all of those and more (I probably have 35 blog posts on Eskom, the power company, alone). But I think the above will give you an excellent start with your new life.


November 11, 2014

The Glory of Boredom

The following is another blog post I had started at the end of 2012 and inexplicably never finished, until coming across it in my drafts folder recently while cleaning up. Or perhaps not so inexplicably, considering that we were, well, in the midst of a move at the time.

A few days ago, the packers were here.

The house was a whirlwind of activity. I was running around like crazy directing and rescuing items from disappearing in the container (not diligently enough, it turns out, but that is a topic for another blog post), and then, opening the door to one of the kids' rooms, I witnessed a sight almost forgotten at our house:

It was a scene so calm and so enchanting, I almost cried. When did our kids last play Monopoly together? And an entire day of it, with not one of them storming off after half an hour yelling "your rules are stupid, I'm no longer playing!"

The reason, of course, was that there was nothing else to do. All the other toys were gone - except for the few board games Noisette had had the foresight to tell me to set aside - and the TV, horrors, was in the process of being unhooked and loaded, relegating the Xbox to a lonely existence next to the suitcases, rendered more or less useless.

The only time we ever play board games, in our hectic modern lives, seems to be when a natural disaster strikes. Like Hurricane Fran in Raleigh in 1996, which brought together neighbors helping each other and passing time in unconventional ways. Same with the ice storm a few years later. I suppose we can count moving households across international borders as another one of those natural disasters. Judging from the way your house looks during one, it's definitely comparable to a tornado.

Sometimes I wish that we could all return to a world where the kids play monopoly all day without having our houses first blown to smithereens. A time and day where they sit around their rooms bored out of their minds, trying to come up with some idea to pass the time. Which might be to build entire cities out of Lego bricks. Or organize a backyard olympics. Or play hide and seek. Or even make a YouTube video, for all I care, but together in a collaborative effort, not each one of them locked up in their own room with their very own screen.

Boredom was a big part of my childhood. I vividly remember sitting in my room staring out the window being bored. And, it being winter, watching all the birds in the backyard, and retrieving a bird guide from my parents' bookshelf and learning all about birds, just to beat the boredom. Or, when it was summer, I'd climb to the top of our cherry tree and look into the distance while stuffing my mouth with so many cherries I was sick for days afterwards. And worrying if what my older brother kept telling me, that if you swallow a cherry pit you'd have a tree growing out of your mouth, was actually true.

Of course there is no way for me to prove that boredom was indeed good for me. Maybe I would have moved on to win a Nobel Prize if my parents had scheduled my day around the clock, who is to say?

Although, speaking of Nobel Prizes, I did read that Einstein came up with most of his Relativity Theory while stuck in a totally non-demanding job as a clerk in a patent office. His mind wandered while he was stamping forms, and the rest is history, as they say.

There is so little time nowadays for boredom. We are so afraid of our kids being bored, we constantly keep them busy with homework and after-school activities and scheduled play dates, carefully choreographed and supervised so that no one's feelings get hurt, social integration without the pain of the olden days where you had to stand your ground in a street dodgeball match with a group of bullies.

I'm grateful our kids got to live in Africa for a while, where time seems to move a bit slower than here, and parents are less preoccupied with schedules and the need for some stupid charity program in preparation for their kids' college application.

Boredom may be the biggest gift we can pass on to our children.

I just wish we didn't have to pack up our entire household and move abroad every time we want to achieve it.

More boredom beaters: Throwing blueberries in each other's mouths...
...and a makeshift ping-pong game on Moving Day.

November 6, 2014

I Procrastinate. And I'm GOOD at it!

I'll come right out and admit it. I'm a procrastinator.

This frequently gets me into hot water with Noisette, who is rather the opposite. He likes to get started so early on things that we often have to climb over mountains of clothes in our bedroom that he has piled in neat stacks two weeks prior to an upcoming travel date.

I'm not kidding. Two weeks!

Don't get me wrong. I don't like being behind on things. You get that terrible pit in your stomach when you're running late or an impossible deadline is looming, and  you curse yourself for waiting so long. You wow, by all that you hold dear, to never ever do it again to yourself. Yet the next deadline approaches, and you find yourself on the same exact track once again.

Why do we do it?

Because procrastination is a model of efficiency, that's why.

Also, there is another reason waiting till the last minute works: Some items just take care of themselves, because you waited too long. If there's one thing I have learned in my life, it is that the world will continue to turn, with or without you. Most things we fret over aren't life threatening and the Earth will not spin off its axle when we fail to accomplish them in time.

Procrastinate, people! It works!

Moving is a perfectly fine example. Back in December of 2012, when we were moving from South Africa back to the United States, I'd had the date the packers were going to arrive on my calendar for months. And for months I was busy doing things that were most decidedly not on my moving checklist.

Writing this blog.
Going to goodbye parties.
Squeezing in last-minute exotic trips.
Riding in a cycle race.
Climbing the world's highest free-standing mountain.

But finally, when there was no escaping the fact that the following week some guys would invade our house and put everything in boxes whether I wanted to or not, I sprang into high gear.

I sorted through school clothes to be sold or donated.
I sorted through 220V appliances and placed for-sale ads for them.
I wrote an advertisement for our domestic helper who'd soon be looking for a job.
I cleaned out three years worth of "stuff" from the girls' room, some of it to be donated, some of it to be thrown away, all in the dead of night lest they caught me at it and threw a fit.
I started collecting items for our suitcases (including the suitcases) in a separate room, one that I could lock so that the packers would leave it alone.
I put together all our bottles of alcohol to be given away (or get senselessly drunk on, I wasn't sure yet).
I selected and ordered rental furniture.
I researched and booked a carpet cleaning company.
I went to Amatuli to buy all the drums and spears and buffalo heads and all the other African crafts we wanted to take home with us.
I went by all the doctor's offices to collect our records.
I ordered several cases of Chardonnay from Franschhoek.

I did a lot more, but I'll end on the one with the Chardonnay. Priorities. Also, you get the point. The point is, I kicked into high gear when I really needed to, and I got a bazillion things checked off in a minimal amount of time, things I would have needed 3 years to do had I done them at regular speed.

Desperation makes you work super hard. You know, like when that lion is approaching and you can suddenly jump 4 meters high into the next tree. That's how I roll when I run out of time. I develop superhuman efficiency.

The reason we procrastinators procrastinate is because it works.

Now excuse me while I nag my daugher to clean up her room. And please don't tell her anything I just said about procrastination.

If you're not a procrastinator, learn how to become one from my kids. They're experts!

November 3, 2014

Perfect Day Trip to Pretoria with Kids

In a country where you can drive right up to a lion in the wild and watch him eat an antelope, or where you have to be careful an elephant doesn't sit down on your car, you might think going to a regular old zoo isn't all that exciting.

However, the Pretoria Zoo, also known as The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, is supposed to be well worth the visit. Since we never made it there during our three years in South Africa, I was very happy when Debbie Spazzoli, a good friend of mine, recently took her family for a visit and came back with a guest post including pictures for my blog.

The following is a great guide, not only for the Pretoria Zoo but also the Union Buildings and Sci-Enza, for when you have visitors in town or are just looking for a family day trip in the Johannesburg area.

A Visit at the Pretoria Zoo

October arrived with a bang. It is my birthday month and the year that I turn 50. It has been a very busy year and so by the middle of October I was ready for half term. Most private schools in Johannesburg get a long weekend for half term sometime in October. Friday and Monday make for a breather before roaring towards exams, school concerts, and the end of the academic year. Many families take this time to go to Sun City, Umhlanga Rocks, or even Cape Town. This year we decided to use the time to have a day trip to Pretoria to see the jacarandas and visit the Pretoria Zoo.

Pretoria Zoo

I have visited the Pretoria Zoo three times in the last year, and I have enjoyed every visit. There has recently been some negative press about the safety of visitors. Personally, I have had no problems, and as long as you are vigilant - a must in South Africa - I can't see any reason not to visit the zoo.

The journey from Lonehill took just 45 minutes, and after paying R20 for parking we joined the queue of 30-40 small school children on their class visit. The children have colourful t-shirts that help the teachers keep them together and stop them getting lost. The entrance fee of R75 per adult and R50 per child was duly paid and we headed into the Zoo, after first having some ‘Disney’-like photos
taken of us that we were told to look out for at the end of our visit.

Next we decided to hire a golf cart for two hours, as there is so much to see at the zoo, and because I also wanted to get in a quick visit to the Union Buildings, see the jacarandas and pop in to Sci-Enza at the University of Pretoria. Golf cart hire is R150 for two hours with a R100 refundable deposit. You will need to produce a drivers licence in order to hire the cart, and don’t let your kids drive the cart or you will be chased and reprimanded!

First stop was the Reptile Park and Aquarium. With hindsight we should have gone to see this before hiring the golf cart, as we spent almost an hour looking at the snakes and the wonderful aquarium.

Trying to get the two boys to hurry up, we jumped onto the golf cart and headed up past the gorgeous flamingos, elephants and monkeys. Stopping to admire the animals, we spotted our first rhino. Sadly the rhinos have been dehorned, but it is for their own safety. Such a beautiful creature and we need to dispel the myth that there is any medicinal cure to be found in ground-up horn!

Opposite the rhino enclosure is a big picnic area where boerewors was being braaied (barbequed). It would have been a lovely place to stop and have our lunch, but we decided that we should go on.

Up and over the Apies River, we managed to see one of the most dangerous animals in Africa – the hippo. When we went in September last year, we were fortunate enough to see a 2-day old baby hippo playing with its mother.

Next were the koalas and kangaroos. We did not have much time left, so we will have to go back to visit the Bird Paradise, but we did manage to see the zebras and a couple more rhinos.

Time was up and we raced back to hand in our golf cart and buy our souvenir pictures at the exit from the zoo.

Visit the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa website for more information about opening times and tours (and to see the cutest pictures of cheetah cubs!).

Next Stop: Union Buildings

Only about eight minutes away are the Union Buildings where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first president of the new South Africa in 1994. He also lay in state at the Union Buildings in December of 2013 while people the world over came to pay their respects. The union buildings are well worth the visit given their beautiful architecture and location on top of a hill overlooking Pretoria. 

We were also going to see the 9-meter high bronze statue of Nelson Mandela that was recently unveiled near the Union Buildings.

We did not stay long as by now the kids were starving, and instead we jumped back into the car and headed for Hatfield, where the University of Pretoria is situated.

Jacaranda lined streets

The streets around Hatfield are lined with the beautiful jacaranda trees in their full purple bloom at this time of year. I was itching to take more and more photos but decided that one or two would suffice. Even though Johannesburg has its own jacaranda trees, the city of Pretoria is called the Jacaranda City for a reason, and an annual pilgrimage during October and November is a must.

University of Pretoria

Luckily for us my middle son is a student at UP (more commonly known as TUKS), so we parked at his apartment and walked across the road to the university, where we had our picnic on the lawn in front of the Old Arts Building.


Sci-Enza - a combination of the word "science" and "sebenza," the Zulu word for "work" or "to do" - is the oldest interactive science centre in South Africa. Interestingly, it used to be called Exploratorium, but when its San Francisco namesake trademarked the name, the Pretoria one changed theirs. 

Sci-Enza is located close to the university and the entrance is free.There is so much for the kids to touch and discover that we could have quite easily spent the whole day playing and learning at the same time. One of our favorites was the mirror maze, and we can also highly recommend the Camera Obscura. The staff at Sci-Enza was very welcoming and gave the boys brochures about planets, stars, and the moon phases. Sadly, time was not on our side, and it was time to head back to Joburg before the Friday traffic became too hectic!

Click here for more information about Sci-Enza.

Hi, I am Debbie. We moved to South Africa in December 2004 from Zimbabwe with my husband and our 3 sons on a 2 year inter office permit. We have been in South Africa for 10 years and are proudly South African permanent residents. Our boys are almost more South African than Zimbabwean, but with many happy memories of growing up in Zimbabwe.

For ideas for another day trip to Pretoria, read In the Footsteps of Paul Kruger and the Voortrekkers.