Last weekend I took my bike a few hours north, to the area known as Namaqualand. It is not the desert that Namibia is, but it is dry.

There is a cold current that runs up the west coast, that precipitates any rain coming in from the west before it hits the land.

On this sandy soil a fragile ecosystem has developed - because it is really only sand underneath. However, in the spring (as it now is) this variety of plants explodes as a carpet of flowers. It seems extraordinary that they should devote so much energy to producing these quite large flowers.

Flowering plants arrived very late on this planet - well after the animal kingdom - so maybe their heyday is yet to come.

Also in this area is a large nuclear power station, which I also visited. Frustratingly, their visitor centre is closed on weekends - a throwback to South Africas British heritage. Shops close at 6 or so, supermarkets at 9PM. And they are only open for a half-day on Saturday - they need their weekends too ..

The visitor centre did have some large horned animal grazing its lawn though.

The towns I went into spoke Africaanse almost exclusively, (white, colored, black) though they spoke English to me.

The Non-Aligned Movement met in Durban this week - a collection of African nations trying to sort out the mess that was Zaire.

We have to get past the undistinguished past of Zaire, with an almost unbroken history of exploitation, and look at its huge mineral wealth, the obvious prize everyone is grabbing for. They are not grabbing the copper - they are grabbing the tax base it represents. Large multinationals are the only ones who will make the investment to get the returns, so the government has to appear stable enough to be able to ask for taxes.

Large multinationals are wary today of their image - where before they might turn a blind eye, now (I hope) they would prefer to close the mines for a while rather than pay a government that steals the tax revenue and suppresses the population.

Surrounding countries gawped in amazement last year when Kabila simply walked from the east to the west of Zaire straight into the presidential seat. So he is being tested now .. Angola is still full of disorganised fighting units left over from the war with South Africa. Zimbabwe, the only country with two cents to rub together, is pitching in on the side of Kabila, an old friend of Mugabes. Rwanda and Uganda, the well organised Tutsi kingmakers that helped Kabila into power, are his foes again, though they deny involvement.

South Africa, with an economy ten times the size of the rest put together, holds the moral high ground courtesy of Madiba - our president Nelson Mandela. Nobody has any solutions, however. Asking people to lay down their arms and negotiate is like playing a violin in an earthquake.

No, I don’t have any solutions either. Just don’t pay taxes :-)

Cheers, Andy!

PS. Valentin, our Hungarian friend, had to get a South African Drivers licence yesterday. The Place of Issue of his passport was listed as “White”.