A Traumatic Encounter In Johannesburg

My wife and I were at the Johannesburg International Airport on 1 May this year to catch a flight to Victorial Falls, Zimbabwe. Before checking in, I went to the Tourist Information Counter at the airport to book a tour to Kruger National Park, Swaziland and Soweto from 6 May to 11 May.

The man at the Counter recommended a tour company in Johannesburg. He spoke to the proprietor called Peter by phone who agreed to take us on this tour. I then spoke to Peter and provisionally agreed to a price of R9,000.00 inclusive of full board and lodging, transportation, a guide and all other incidental expenses with the proviso that he drew up a detailed itinerary. Peter also agreed to meet me at the airport on the morning of 6 May to further discuss the proposed tour.

When we arrived at Johannesburg International Airport on the morning of 6 May, Peter was not there to meet us. Instead he sent a driver/guide, called Jacob, to receive us. When asked for the detailed itinerary, Jacob could not produce one. I also learned from Jacob that no hotel reservation was made for the entire tour.

I then drew up an itinerary with Jacob, which included three nights in Kruger National Park, a night in Swaziland and the last night in Johannesburg with a half-day tour of Soweto in the morning of 11 May. We would then be transferred to the airport to catch our flight home. For this program, Jacob agreed to a reduced price of R8,000.00. I then gave Jacob US1,000.00 which he exchanged for R6,720.00 at the airport. I told him the balance would be paid after the completion of tour. When requested, Jacob showed me his identification papers and allowed me to retain his "Tourist Guide" registration card with the South African Tourism Board.

Along the journey to Kruger National Park, Jacob informed me that he had neither been inside the Park nor driven to Swaziland! On closer examination of Jacob's "Tourist Guide" registration card, I discovered that Jacob was certified as a Tourist Guide in Guateng category only. Therefore he was not qualified as a Tourist Guide to take us to Kruger National Park and Swaziland. Though having a feeling of apprehension, we proceeded with the journey as we are frequent travelers and have always been able to manage such journeys even on our own.

In Kruger National Park I volunteered to take over the wheel as I could read road maps better than Jacob could. Also I had recently toured three safaris in Tanzania and had acquired sufficient experience in sighting and identifying wildlife. In addition, I had to make decisions on places to visit in the Park and the necessary reservations for overnight accommodation for the three of us. However, Jacob told us that he had limited cash with him to pay for all the expenses during our tour. As such I had no choice but to pay for most of our meals throughout the duration of our journey.

On 9 of May we left Kruger National Park and proceeded to Swaziland. Jacob assured me that he knew the road to Mbabane, Swaziland's capital, though he had never been there before and had carried no road map with him. He took an unnecessarily long road to Swaziland and by the time we reached Manzini, a town about 50km from Mbabane, it was already evening. As we were on the road for more than 10 hours we decided to stay there for the night.

At the border town of Mananga and before going into Swaziland all travelers had to surrender their firearms to the South African Police. It was only then that I realised Jacob carried a pistol with him for the tour!

The next day we left Manzini in the morning to return to Johannesburg. We arrived at Holiday Inn Express in Eastgate, Johannesburg just before 4.00 p.m.

At the hotel, Jacob informed me that his boss, Peter, would be coming over to settle the account with me. Soon after Peter came and I sat down with him and Jacob in the hotel lobby to finalise the account. I told Peter that I regretted he was not present as promised at the airport on 6 May to discuss the details of the tour. I also told him my negotiation with Jacob at the airport and all the shortcomings we experienced during the tour. I also handed over all receipts for meals I paid for, which amounted to about R828.00 and also told him to pay for expenses that we would incur at Holiday Inn.

Nonchalantly, Peter contended that the tour had already ended when we returned to Johannesburg and so we would be responsible for our expenses incurred in Holiday Inn. He also contended that Jacob was not authorised by him to negotiate with me and agree to reduce the price of the tour. Completely ignoring what I had to say, he proceeded to calculate with Jacob, using a pocket calculator, the total expenses incurred during the tour.

You pay or I teach lesson!

All of a sudden he showed me a figure of over 2,500 on his calculator, which Peter said was the balance I owed him for the tour. From my mental calculation, the amount outstanding, if assuming the tour cost was R9,000, could not exceed R1,500 taking into consideration that I had already paid Jacob R6,720 at the airport and had personally incurred R828 for meals. I asked him to show me his calculations. Instead he demanded that I paid the amount or, in his own words, "I will do something to you to teach you a lesson!"

He then walked to the hotel front desk and demanded to see the Manager. When told that the Manager was not in, Peter told the lady at the front desk that I refused to pay the money I owed him. He further said that he wanted to talk to the manager so that the latter would be aware of his intention of doing something to me to teach me a lesson.

I agreed that I might have owed him some money but not the amount that he demanded and again pleaded to him to show me the calculations. He completely ignored my plea and said that he had to run a business and had no time to waste. He repeated that since I did not want to pay him he would do something to me to teach me a lesson.

This was the first time in my life that a stranger had threatened me in public when I had done no wrong to him. As a black African, Peter was huge and looked ferocious. To me, it would indeed be a futile effort to talk and reason with someone who seemed to know only the law of the bush. Realising that my life was in grave danger especially in the presence of Jacob who possessed a pistol I had no choice but to pay the amount Peter demanded.

As a frequent traveler I have been to many parts of the world but I have never had such a frightening and traumatic encounter before. I was intimidated and extorted in broad daylight by a most unscrupulous and unprofessional tour operator. I could not imagine that such an episode could actually happen in a civilised society!

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008