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Learning from a trip to the Kruger

I always use every opportunity to learn. Reading a book, listening to an audio book, attending a conference, completing a course, listening to a guest speaker, conversing with others, travelling, even taking a road trip provide wonderful opportunities to learn. My recent road trip to the Kruger Park was no exception.

Learning from locals is always best. My knowledge of the park is scant. I have only visited the park on three occasions, and I have never entered at Numbi Gate. Friends from church urged me not to enter at Numbi Gate. I did not heed their advice. Friends had entered the park five days earlier. They checked the San Parks website and declared that the Numbi Gate entrance was fine.

The problem was they are not locals. Although Kruger Park veterans, they did not know this road is a “hot spot.” My cousin, who, I caught up with a few days later has lived in Nelspruit for the past forty years. He was horrified to learn that we had entered at Numbi Gate. He told us family friends had been murdered on this stretch of road and that robberies along this stretch of road were common. Locals never use this stretch of road.

All seemed quiet, however, seven kilometres from Numbi Gate we found ourselves in the middle of service delivery protests. The road was strewn with broken glass, burning branches, and burning tyres. The crowd on both sides of the road were restless; some were chanting.

The atmosphere was tense. There was nowhere to do a U turn, so we were forced to follow the taxi in front of us, one wheel on the pavement and another on a steep gradient. We dodged people, broken glass, oncoming traffic and rocks as we inched forward. Two men approached the car and gestured that they were going to slit our throats. We knew that whatever we did we must not show fear. We continued to nudge forward inch by inch.

Fortunately, my friend, the driver works in a very pressurised environment and is not easily intimidated. We agreed, the only thing to do was to follow the taxi in front of us as he knew the back roads through the township – our Garmin did not. We followed him for a harrowing forty-five minutes and eventually saw the national road ahead. We joined the main road, dodging rocks and broken glass all the way. Worst case scenario, we knew that the car was fitted with run flat tyres.

Being a ‘local,’ a South African was an advantage. If you were not a local, you may have abandoned your vehicle and tried to make a run for it. You would not have known that the best recourse was following the taxi ahead of you.

Snaking our way through the back streets, it was very clear that service delivery was appalling. The roads were corrugated and difficult to navigate. There was a lot of litter lying around and the local school was very run down. It was easy to understand why service delivery protests, and crime was high – unemployment levels are high, and service delivery, an oxymoron.

Lessons to apply in the workplace
Always rely on local knowledge. In my experience, managers and CEOs do not always use local knowledge, input from their employees before implementing change; this is particularly true of new appointees. Very often these individuals want to implement radical change, without fully understanding the organisational history and any legacy issues. If anyone knows and understands an organisation, it is the employees, who deal with internal and external employees. We were saved by the fact that we knew that the taxi had local knowledge, which we could tap into.

Irrespective of the situation, as a leader or manager, even when provoked, do not retaliate in the heat of the moment.

Always have a plan B, a strategy in place to manage risks. In our case, our run flat tyres provided a life-raft.

Address issues before a situation escalates. Service delivery is a real problem. Issues should never be allowed to escalate to the point where individuals resort to viole

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