By: R. A. Lang
My story starts in May of 1989, when I read in a London newspaper that there was going to be a seminar held in a London hotel regarding emigration to South Africa.
I didn’t need to waste time thinking about it. I decided to attend, compiled my first curriculum vitae, and headed to the seminar. At the seminar, there were representatives from South African banks, immigration officials, and representatives from the South African Embassy. It was there I met a man who had a business partner based in Johannesburg who specialised in recruitment. I handed him my CV and he wasted no time in faxing it over to him.
Just a week later, I was flying to Johannesburg to start my very first overseas contract as a welding inspector, representing the client on the first offshore gas platform to be built in the country.
Upon arriving in Johannesburg later the same day at around five o’clock in the afternoon, I was met by a representative from the company I would be working for. I was expecting to be handed my domestic flight tickets to Cape Town, but to my surprise, I was instead handed three maps, some car keys, four hotel booking vouchers, and instructions that Cape Town was, “In that direction, straight down the N1 highway.”
The only time I managed to get lost was after I pulled over in Cape Town to ask directions to the Plein Park Travel Lodge Hotel. A friendly local police officer explained that I was just a couple of ‘robots’ away, so off I drove looking for robots.
I drove around for almost an hour looking for robots before I pulled over again and asked another police officer where the robots were. He realised I was from out of town, and he explained that ‘robots’ were traffic lights. When I thanked him, he told me to buy a donkey. In fact, everyone I met in South Africa told me to buy a donkey until I learnt that ‘bia dankie’ meant thank you in Afrikaans.
The next day, I made it to the site office in Saldanha Bay, which was only an hour from Cape Town driving north along the coast on the R27.
It was by chance that I met a local South African motorbike police officer called Guy Stokes. He soon became a great new friend and introduced me to a new South African way of life.The following weekend, Guy pulled up again and told me that he wanted me to see Saldanha
Naval Base where he was a member. The place was simply amazing. We got through the security gate using Guy’s pass, and then we went straight to the officers’ mess. I was well received by the officers and made to feel totally at home and given a guided tour of the facility, which they were obviously very proud of.
It was clear how proud they all were of their set up. I got on so well with the officers that, after a few months, they made me an honorary member of the naval base. They explained that I was the first in the history of the South African Navy to be made an honorary member without having any naval history in my family.
In February of 1990 my mother came down for a three week visit, which started in Cape Town to show her how the city got its reputation for being one of the most beautiful in the world at the time and the Sunday open air market in Seapoint. Then it was off to George to visit the ostrich and crocodile farms and later Port Elizabeth and the Addo elephant park.
She didn’t want to go back to the boring UK after the best adventure she’d ever had. Until now, I haven’t had the pleasure to return back to South Africa, but South Africa has never been far from my mind, and the wonderful hospitality I experienced there. I long for the day I can re-visit and try to trace the friends I made to see how they’ve got on.
Thank you South Africa, you have a dedicated chapter in my recently published book “Against All Odds” http://www.author-ralang.com !! My book includes over 24 countries, which describes my memoirs including being shot at, ambushed, voodoo, cholera, Venezuelan riots, oil site evacuations, attempted murder escape from a crazed Kazakh psychopath, the KGB and more!