Opera Mthata


Well I am still getting some great opportunities to travel.

This time a visit to meet some church leaders from the Transkei in Mthata a nearby town.  One look at the tiny 20 seater plane told me this was not a regular tourist or business destination.  I got a bit worried when one of the passengers said the main purpose of the propellers was to stop the pilot over heating.

The plane had a cabin crew of just one lady who appeared to have just undergone customer care training at RADA.  As we taxied to the runway, she announced, “Now the spot light is on me, this is my moment of fame!”  She then performed the routine as if it were a contemporary dance performance at the Dance Factory in Johannesburg.

Up in the air (you feel the bounce of every air pocket in this little plane) and it came to feeding time.  All 20 passengers got the same operatic treatment.  Afrikaans voice that said “Can I offer you a sandwich.”  Managing to go through a full two octaves on the word “sandwich” alone.  I was expecting Raymond Blanc himself had created the in flight cuisine but the offering turned out to be “beef and cheese” only one octave used.  Or “chicken and cheese” In which a full 2.5 octaves were used on the word “chicken”.

Every time a passenger asked for something “it would be her greatest pleasure.”  This delivered with a rub of the passengers arm to show empathy. When it came to my turn for a drink.  I nearly asked what she had been drinking so that I could avoid it.  I did not have the heart to tell her that few film directors and theatre producers used this route.  May be she was hoping to graduate to the Mumbai or LA routes. This act is well worth seeing if you ever get the chance and it made a boring flight a cheerful entertaining experience, so I do hope she gets a break and lands a proper acting job.

The pilot was a jolly sort too who gave a full weather report and a running commentary of the mountain ranges we were passing through.  Yes at some points you could see mountains above the wingtips, suggesting we were in rather than over the mountains.  We landed on the “strip” from the south.  A single runway with a turning point at the end.  Mthata sees about three planes a week.  With just 20 passengers, security checks and baggage reclaim is a doddle.

After Johannesburg it was great to be getting out into a rural area again.  People told me that power and water are constantly going off here, so I was not surprised to see that my hotel room had a paraffin lamp as back up for the lights going off.  The hotel had an amazing collection of fish and simply dropping a leaf into the pool created a frenzy.


The church I was visiting for the Leaders meeting was on the edge of Mthata.

Sessions with them are going well even if a little cramped for time.


The church car park had a mixed range of cars. Opposite the car park was an open field with giant cattle in it.  Few churches anywhere could mix cattle and 4 x 4 in the same car park but this place did. Occasionally, they would wonder across the road and poke their heads into the car park before two men came to herd them back again.  This went on and off for much of the morning. As you can see the weather is not like Joburg!

An excellent catering team produced food far better than Raymond Blanc.

Meanwhile, at the end of the field a frail old lady was trying to till the soil with a pickaxe.  That night I met one of the church ministers for fish and chips and asked him about this.  Apparently, farming was seen as women’s work and herding still remained a male occupation.  Apartheid had also reinforced gender segregation as well as racial segregation.  It seems that the woman folk remained in the rural areas while men were forced to seek work in the gold mines where they lived in brutal and basic dormitories.  The church response to this was to set up different groups within the church for men and woman who then adopted uniforms as a means of standing out in the community. I am thankful to the people of Mthata for making me feel so welcome.


On the Sunday I had the pleasure of visiting a multi racial church in Mthata.  There were people drawn from across most of Africa there.  As it was Pentecost Sunday uniforms had been dropped for the weekend and everyone came in traditional tribal dress.  It was by far the most welcoming church that I had been too; nearly everyone came to greet me as I arrived.  It was a congregation that really knew how to enjoy itself and celebrate.

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