Tuesday, February 15, 2011

1000% Pure New Zealand

Text and photographs by aspiring travel writer, Barry Greville-Eyres

Devil's Punchbowl Trail, Arthur's Pass

Primeval forest and stunning views of
southern Alps
  Bealey Spur Ridge Walk,
Arthur's Pass

Spring Splendour! 
 I’m of the view that it’s the opportune time, in the lead up to the IRB World Rugby Cup which is barely 7 months away, for New Zealand’s national tourism authority to tack on an extra zero “0” onto its current 100% Pure New Zealand branding catchphrase. The electronic and print media marketing campaign, promoting the country as a premier tourism and adventure destination, is absolutely spot on. Having come off the back of a stunning 17 day road trip with my family to the south island, it’s perhaps understandable that I should feel that the country is selling itself somewhat short. Why not flaunt it, in a cheeky and provocative manner, if you have it all and are secure in the knowledge that you’ve captured a niche market?

Pure New Zealand!

 My amorous liaison with NZ started in 1996 when my wife and I visited for the first time and ever since, it’s been a destination of many, many happy returns. Even on recent annual business trips to Wellington, I’ve found the country’s product offerings, as a package deal, unique, breathtakingly attractive and incredibly refreshing. Kiwis, as a nation, are not too bad either and one cannot but warm to their no frills, low-key, little or no BS approach to life. It’s debatable as to whether a healthy infusion of South African and Australian culture and influence has contributed to this demeanor, something the tri-nations will, perhaps, vehemently deny. Although still fiercely competitive, there is a healthy respect between the trio which leads to greater tolerance, and understanding.

Cape Foulwind Headland Trail

Pancake Rocks Blow Holes

Our south island experience was akin to living on the precipice of nature’s extremes, leaving one with no doubt of how fallible and infinitesimal we are in our nanosecond-like existence on this planet. Whether witnessing structural damage or experiencing the queasy aftershocks of the recent Christchurch earthquake; exposed to the potential of climatic extremes, in the blink of an eye, whilst hiking in the southern Alps; dwarfed by dramatic landforms and pristine nature whilst traversing flooded glacial valleys; getting close and personal with behemoth glaciers; marveling at the feats of human endeavor and engineering, especially avalanche counter-measures, required to open transportation (road and rail), power and communication links between west and east coasts; the grind, pound and cutting action of alternating water and ice on rock edifices sculpturing the landscape; dynamic and desolate floodplains connecting mountains to coast in broad swathes of deposited debris; a coastline shaped by wind and water energized by the Roaring Forties; wind pruned and torrential rain nourished forests - all contribute to the sense that you are living on the edge of eager anticipation.

Road link between north and south coasts through southern Alps

Franz Josef Glacier

Downing the sun in the best possible way - G & T in hand

Southern Alps shrouded in cloud

Other memorable aspects of our visit were the endless summer days which rolled into one another as part of a timeless continuum and the sheer variety of nature walks, each well managed and highly accessible to intrepid trekkers. Fresh, fat flavorsome cherries; crisp mountain air; bracingly crystal clear mountain streams; ice melt of all shapes and sizes jostling downstream and ever-diminishing as they journey onwards to oblivion; the absolute pleasure of spending quality with family – beloved soul-mate and children that mean the most to one in a time and places devoid of distraction; pesky sand flies. Above all else, is the giddy prospect of a return trip to the land of the long white cloud.

Old Man on the Mount - Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown 

Miscellaneous pics of Milford Sound boat trip

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doing more, potentially, with less: Piloting Partnerships for Agricultural Development in Papua New Guinea

Title of the CD Knowledge Product: Doing more, potentially, with less: Piloting Partnerships for Agricultural Development in Papua New Guinea
Submitted to UNDP Capacity Development Office Thailand as part of a contribution to CD practice
Name of Contributor:   Barry Greville-Eyres
Former Organization: UniQuest Pty Limited (International Projects)
Country: Papua New Guinea

Core Issues: implementation challenges, strategic partnerships, donor harmonization and aid effectiveness

This product charts cautious then bolder steps at narrowing development paradigms between disparate, donor assisted projects operating within a critical but often contested space. It acknowledges and reconciles countless differences in the interests of a broader, ‘for the greater good’ outcome.  It provides insights into divided loyalties and the leadership/management conundrum experienced by a recipient agency when overwhelmed with offers of support, particularly in the form of counterpart funding.  Embryonic capacity at multiple levels and its implications for sustainable strategic donor partnerships and ultimately, aid effectiveness is also considered.  Active measures aimed at nurturing capacity; and generating broader and common understanding across respective donor supported initiatives, at strategic and operational levels, through fundamental communication are discussed.

The Story

Papua New Guinea’s Medium Term Development Strategy (MTDS 2005 – 2010) recognizes the importance of the primary productive sector, comprising agriculture, forestry and fisheries, as the key catalyst for broad-based economic growth. The Government’s intentions for the agricultural sector are enshrined in a suite of legislation including the National Agricultural Development Strategy, Horizon 2002 – 2012, and the National Agricultural Development Plan (NADP 2007 – 2016). Agriculture’s importance, in improving incoming generating opportunities for PNG’s rural population, is universally acknowledged. The sector sustains the livelihoods of 85% of the country’s 6.6 million people, contributing to approximately 27% of GDP. The issue of food and nutrition security has also been catapulted to the fore as climate change impacts become more marked.

Considered by harsh critics to be far from enabling, the NADP caters for a system of National Agricultural Research (NARS) institutions or commodity boards covering the entire agricultural spectrum (horticulture and various tree crops – cocoa, coffee, oil palm). Of the 6 NARS institutions two feature prominently namely the National Agricultural Research Institution (NARI) and the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA). Underpinning the entire policy environment and institutional framework is a fragile and often quoted, publicly, ineffectual National Department of Agriculture and Livestock.   

FPDA is a semi autonomous public entity entrusted with ‘maximizing the efficiencies of PNG farmers (including players in the value chain) thus promoting expansion of a viable and sustainable horticulture industry.’ It has received ongoing development assistance from the Government of New Zealand since 1989 and more recently was granted further support through a dedicated Institutional Strengthening Project (ISP). Funded to the tune of NZ$4.8m, the ISP commenced in 2007 and is nearing completion in 2010. Its purpose is to strengthen the FPDA to develop and implement the organisation’s current and future strategic objectives. The ultimate result will be improved PNG rural livelihoods through a commercially viable fruit and vegetable industry. Three project outcomes addressed are:
1.    Management performance is improved;
2.    Governance within FPDA is strengthened; and
3.    FPDA’s service delivery capability, to the fruit and vegetable industry, is strengthened.

Considerable, yet parallel development assistance is provided to the agricultural sector through the Agricultural Research for Development Facility (ARDSF) funded by the Australian Government (AusAID). It is a five year, AU$35m facility designed to be an innovative and flexible funding mechanism aimed at strengthening the capacity of the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) to deliver improved services to their rural stakeholders.  An expressed outcome of the ARDSF is ‘improvements in the management and operational effectiveness of NARS’ which duplicates and encroaches directly on ISP listed outcomes. Features of the respective donor supported initiatives are detailed in Table 1.

Table 1: Typical implementation challenges faced in a contested development terrain

ARDSF – Facility Features 
ISP – Project Features
Facility design with substantial resource allocation intended to be flexible & dynamic in nature – responsive to TA and counterpart funding requests. Responsiveness constrained by multiple stakeholder/committee approval process. Macro level planning - process protracted & subjected to same approvals process (January – December).
Project design less flexible - resource allocation specific – no provision made for counterpart funding or other TA. Project proved more flexible than anticipated responding to changing environment. ISP initiated contact and collaboration with ARDSF.  Shared detailed annual work plans (July – June) with ARDSF.
Duration 5 years.
Duration 3 years - possibility of 2nd phase.
Macro level – sector wide support to all NARS including FPDA (area of potential conflict/duplication). Reduced proximity with ARDSF located in POM and NARS organizations located country wide.
Micro level – targeted support to FPDA based on an established FPDA-NZAID donor assistance since 1989. Greater proximity – ISP located in FPDA HQ in Goroka.
AR4D research-based development paradigm.
Institutional strengthening – capacity development approach.
Fly-in, fly-out facilitated workshop support - primarily in corporate, program and project planning.
Embedded, one-on-one workplace support – greater insights into absorptive capacity of agency.

Key Lessons Learned

Despite apparent differences and areas for potential conflict between the respective development initiatives, significant inroads have been made towards greater collaboration at both operational (ISP, FPDA  & ARDSF) and donor agency level (NZAID & AusAID). Harmonization efficacy, through strategic development partnerships, is largely dependent upon:

  • Frequent communication and meetings – ISP communicates fortnightly with ARDSF in addition of regular email contact around operational activities. Quarterly meetings, of respective ISP, FPDA  & ARDSF management teams, have proved to be beneficial especially at synchronizing and integrating operational activities;
  • Proximity or the lack thereof (as in the case of ARDSF in relation to its 6 NARS organisations) severely limits capacity development and institutional strengthening efforts;
  • Different donor agency philosophies and modalities - designs, planning and budgeting cycles restrict broad-based collaboration and resource sharing and pre-design should take this into consideration;
  • Fragile and ineffectual state institutions often impede vibrant partnerships and a sector wide approach;
  • Great potential exists that a recipient agency will leverage and play donor partners off against one another in the absence of specific governing measures;
  • Trust, openness and transparency particularly in relation to joint planning and sharing of information are vital.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Monthly Montage of Defining Moments - February 2011

I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life and career and feel that its appropriate to share, spontaneously and randomly, some of these defining and memorable moments through a series of pictorials with the hope that they will tell their own story. Mates, personalities, events and destinations that have coloured and enriched my life are also depicted.

Ich bin ein Afrikaner and proudly so!

Pacific Island nation of Kiribati destined to be amongst the first environmental refugees as consequence of climate change and rising sea levels

Dash 8 en route from Goroka's Eastern Highlands to Port Moresby - Papua New Guinea

Ann (Melanesian) and Adiel (African) former work colleagues from the Australian Research and Development Support Facility - Papua New Guinea

Goroka resident - Eastern Highlands PNG

Exploitation or entrepreneurship - street vendor Jakarta, Indonesia 

At the core of our lives ....depicted on tapas bark cloth  - Tonga

Vili, Harleigh, Anna, Raelyn former work colleagues - Ministry of Education, Nuku'alofa Tonga

Pacific sunset - Kiribati 

Moses and John supervisor meal preparation with the ladies from Betty's Place - southern Highlands Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's Beauty and Bounty

December 2009 - Goroka - Madang

Finally escaped from Goroka and took the leisurely 7 hour drive down to the coast via the Markham and Ramu valleys. The descent from the Highlands confirmed, once again, PNG’s big country, dramatic landforms, and amazing humanity – people package. The drive proved to be interesting but also extremely exhausting …… not only having to contend with motor-mouth Moses’ front seat driving and running commentary but the fact that I drove the entire distance as well……… 7 hours for not much more that 350 kms. On the trip down the pass we came across PNG’s bounty once again in the form of roadside stalls selling freshly cooked / fried tilapia and carp caught or netted from the Yonki Dam. The dam, with a hydro-electric capability, provides power to a number of provinces and their capitals and is a stunning expanse of water ideal for outdoor recreation / water sport although this appears to be a largely untapped opportunity.   

Nambawan fresh fish masta!

Roadside fare – fried tilapia and bananas

The broad flat Ramu – Markham valley, running roughly north – south, bakes in a sub-tropical heat which is heavy and oppressive unlike the moderate Highlands. Parts of the valley are under sugarcane and copra – coconut oil palm cultivation and we also came across occasional planted pasture supporting beef farming. Foreign investment in PNG, although great in certain respects, smacks of exploitation ….. the Malaysians, Indonesians, South Africans – Harmony Gold Mine,Ozzies, Chinese etc… and it sickens me somewhat because in the long run it hurts both the PNG people and the environment – EIAs and ISO systems have yet to reach PNG seemingly and its plunder away as has been the case since the 1960s. Apparently the local PNG mining industry really enjoy and get on well with the South Africans … they enjoy their no nonsense approach.

Yonki Dam (background) prior to descending into the Ramu – Markham Valley

Monday….. Madang Lodge…decided to have a leisurely lie in this morning and for the first time had a solid, albeit broken, 8 hours sleep. Most mornings I’ve been up before the birds, flying foxes and even the sun…. I’m within spitting or rather crawling distance of the sea and its very quiet and relaxing….. the aroma of bacon and eggs teasing my senses but I only have eyes for my Cadbury’s Brunch bar purchased up in Goroka on my daily per diems and rationed out for daily breakfasts for the next couple of days. The Madang heat certainly smothers much of one’s appetite and its not a bad thing when trying to scrimp & save generally.

Michael and I went up the north coast yesterday and it was pleasant and refreshing to drive for hours only encountering roadside villages without any hint of crowds or other tourists. PNG certainly offers something very different as a potential tourism destination…. As the catch phrase goes… expect the unexpected and one has to try and banish all expectations / preconceived ideas and take it as it comes. Essentially, there is very little to do but that in itself is the uniqueness of PNG …. It forces you to slow down, catch your breathe and view many things with fresh eyes and from a different perspective….. I’ve still to get into that mode completely but with time could get there. Madang is surrounded by a semi-circle chain of steep, almost impenetrable mountains adorned in mostly virgin sub-tropical forest …. Wild jungle … and after the Amazon, PNG has the special distinction of having the second largest untouched – relatively anyway – natural remaining resource. Most of the time the hills and mountains are cloaked in cloud so its not always possible to grasp the sheer magnitude of the terrain and vegetation.

My heart goes out to the poor souls who, over the years have tried to tame the jungle…. Explorers, missionaries, invading armies…. Japanese and Allied forces alike. On part of our travels we came across an old Japanese airstrip … quite close to the main road which serviced Japanese forces during the war and was eventually bombed out of existence at the bitter end. Its merely a clearing in the forest  - completely overgrown and most of the plane wrecks … transporters, bombers and fighters have been swallowed up by the re-growth and buried for ever – perhaps the way it should be. I still marvel, though, at the folly and feats of mankind and it was sobering being out there … not exactly in the deepest, darkest jungle (legs and ankles savaged by mozzies) listening to the sounds of battle and the cries of displaced, fearful and sick men. We came across many old bomb craters, filled with stagnant water…. Ideal breeding grounds for millions of mozzies. Michael also confirmed that beautiful Madang also has another interesting claim to fame – a particularly virulent strain of malaria.

Michael left with son William at WW2 site of Japanese airfield outside Madang 
It was great spending time with Michael and despite being a Highlander his local knowledge is pretty good. Formerly an entomologist with the Madang –based Coconut and Cocoa Research Institute, his wife and three sons remain on the CCRI compound complete with staff housing while he continues to work for FPDA in Goroka. A hellish existence for him and his young family because he lives in a pokey room in Goroka and his family live without a father / husband for months on end. Michael’s wife also works for CCRI so at least they have an additional income and a great working / social community within which they live.

My knowledge of the cocoa, coconut and copra – palm oil cash commodity crops in PNG is pretty complete… thanks to Michael and once again PNG is world leader in the export of highest quality raw palm oil, coffee and cocoa. Its so sad that there are no down-stream processing / manufacturing industries that turn the raw cocoa beans into powered cocoa, chocolate etc….   The raw materials are purchased locally at a pittance and paid over to the local farmers…. Exported to Europe and I should imagine that countless middlemen make a fortune on the way with next to nothing coming back to the source or country of origin.

Rural cocoa bean processing operation north of Madang

An absolute highlight of my stay thus far was witnessing, in a crowded local pub – as the only whitey-expat, the Kiwis obliterate the Kangaroos in the final of the World Rugby League Cup. Very early on I shared my ‘undying’ support for the Kiwis despite the Aussies going into a 10 point lead early on in the match…..  seems as if the locals love supporting an underdog and have a clear preference for the Kiwis over the Aussies. The rest is history …. As they say…..  I beat a hasty retreat when the match ended as there were some very pissed locals getting a bit out of hand. The Kiwis had been totally written off in the media …. As is usually the case especially by the Aussie media but they won in true fighting style with a great flourish, convincingly and with panache too. I guess most of Australia is in mourning.

Anyway, took another spin through the market place today with Michael and his son Oliver. We came across an interesting cooked food section with an amazing variety of fried and smoked fish with huge mixed slabs consisting of sago, banana and coconut cooked in banana fronds. This all looked only mildly appetising and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

Chow down…. assorted smoked fish at Madang market

Gogos or grandmothers selling their fish at Madang market

 I found myself drawn back to the market repeatedly because its such a central part of PNG life - its a vibrant, rich and colourful spectacle that is so mesmerizing. Its the heartbeat and soul of PNG society and has been so for centuries. No two markets are the same whether a coastal or highland one; fresh produce or betel nut; rural or urban.  Immersing oneself in this ambiance, charm, character and harsh reality is an absolute must for any first world city-slicker. Women, unfortunately, bear the brunt of the hard physical labor (manual horticulture involving preparation of the land, planting, tending and eventual harvesting) that it takes to bring high quality produce to the market. Despite this, they bear this burden with dignity and good humor.

Varieties of kaukau or sweet potatoes from the highland areas - prized produce in the coastal areas of Madang

Today was a bit of pay back time to Michael for having devoted quality time to taking me around so I happily paid for the light, inexpensive snacks here and there as well as a somewhat disappointing lunch. Despite their low earning capacity, the coastal folk appear to have a great standard of life and appear to be healthy and happy. Michael is heading off at the end of this week to attend a week long conference in Melbourne followed by a 2 week field trip to northern Queensland – his first trip ever to Oz…… can you imagine the culture shock. I did mention, in passing, that Australia is extremely expensive and I just hope that they will be well looked after by their hosts without having to dip into their own pockets… they certainly won’t get very far. Michael…. As a special projects officer earns a cool 30 000 kina a year….. roughly AUD 18 000 pa. The managers at FPDA earn almost four times as much as he does and in my opinion, do far less – what a crazy world!!

Anyway, Michael and Moses return to Goroka with the vehicle tomorrow which leaves me with a day to do some foot slogging on my own…..we’ve pretty much covered all there is to see and do in Madang. I’m still battling with the energy-sapping heat and when that’s combined with disrupted sleep patterns … it leaves one pretty washed out – its been great though!! I’ve done the snorkelling thing at Jais Haben …. A resort approx 15 kms north of Madang but after 2 hours in the tepid seawater and being baked from above and poached from below I was happy to tick that box off. What is amazing though is the huge amount of offshore islands, many pristine and uninhabited.

Madang port side - water taxis or infamous banana boats providing transportation between countless offshore islands (note the water level lapping at the sides of the boat)

Fresh coconut milk before hitting the road.....

Mmmmmmmmmmm…. the big white bwana…… or rather coconut….brownish on outside and white…………... Strangely enough … I’ve recently been introduced, fondly, by my PNG work colleagues as the white African….. white on the outside yet black on the inside…….  causes great laughter and have taken this as a compliment – have developed some really close friendships in recent weeks and have spent a great deal of time working on my inter-personal relationships with lower levels of staff as well as management. Folk here have warmed to a caring and genuine interest in their welfare and development.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Saluting Iraq’s Gentle and Caring Infidels

The old sentimentalist and romantic, within me, relentlessly wages war with the lesser known pragmatist and eventually, reluctantly concedes defeat.  Even though our separation has barely been a month, my sense of loss is very real heightened especially on my return, to the very location where it all transpired.  As I recall, re-enact and relate some of our well worn paths and rituals, as it was then, their stories, presence, the personalities and our time spent together come crowding back as vivid digital images and sound bites.  
Even though the physical infrastructure, which once housed the countless personal security detail (PSD) teams, has been systematically cannibalized (hastily added then removed fixtures designed to improve living conditions such as A/Cs) their life force lingers on in every nook and cranny of the Karada compound.  Their presence and energy will dissipate over time, no doubt, to be replaced but by then I’ll have consigned this experience to a more permanent and timeless existence in my life and perhaps those of others as well.
I’ve been in awe of our second skin or PSDs since arriving in Iraq many months ago and have decided to try and capture some of the mystique surrounding the profession and the men behind it.  Consisting primarily of former UK armed forces personnel who visited Iraq on one or more deployments, as part of the Coalition of the Willing during the 2003 invasion, they’ve become an integral part of our closely-knit work and social life whilst in-country.  Hyperbole aside, we are largely dependent upon them for our personal and collective safety and security.
Fortuitously, we just happened to share our compound with a similar group of men and it was this group that became, for me, a source of intense interest and inspiration. They represent a new generation of young South African military men, forged on an anvil of unprecedented social, political and economic change in their homeland, which has carved out a unique niche in a now globally lucrative and competitive security industry. With time, I’ve been able to get behind the facade and their closely guarded seclusion to see and know them for the true, outstanding men that they are. Although this chronicle focuses on them, Iraq has and continues to be a veritable league of nations when it comes to nationalities represented across the various private security companies (PSCs) with all, in my experience, deserving praise for the exceptional work they do under trying circumstances.
The SA boertjies are far from the Rambo-esque, stereotypical characters that taint the profession. Although most are in peak physical condition; model  brush-buzz haircuts; range from clean shaven to full blown beards  and somewhere in between; clad in combat boots and occasional  wrap-around shades they certainly do not sport tattoos, bandanas or an arrogance that exudes, from some of their international counterparts, like a bad odor. Societal misfits, boonies, bosbevok grensvegters, mercs, psychopaths  (call them what you may), who seemed to epitomize the soldier of fortune industry of yesteryear, have been replaced by a brotherhood of proud, professional and thoroughly dedicated minders.  Even though they tend to blend into the dusty and dour background, their unassuming and charming dispositions are not altogether unnoticed and clients (primarily American and other international development practitioners) and Iraqi nationals are drawn to the aura of irresistibility around them. They don’t do war stories and are generally well read, informed and travelled. The rapport they have with the Iraqi’s is uncanny; most have mastered conversational Arabic and in turn have passed on Afrikaans in its most flamboyant form.
Baghdad rooftop views

Once spurned and more importantly, outlawed by the South African government via a plethora of anti-mercenary legislation (Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998, subsequently reviewed and augmented by  the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Act 2006) they have continued to dodge these bureaucratic bullets, all the while, making a name for themselves and a significant contribution to stability, reconstruction and development assistance efforts within Iraq and Afghanistan.
A mercenary (according to the Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention - August 1949) is an individual who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or party to the conflict, and is ‘motivated to take part in the aggression essentially by the desire for private gain in the form of considerable material or monetary compensation well in excess of that pledged or paid to combatants of similar ranks and function in the armed forces of that Party.’ Under the Protocol (Article 47. Mercenaries) all criteria (a – f) must be met for a combatant to be described as a mercenary and if the case, will not have any rights as combatant or be eligible for protected prisoner of war status. Tried mercenaries can be treated as common criminals where they may face lengthy imprisonment and may even be summarily executed.  
 In its strictest interpretation, the legendary French Foreign Legion and the Gurkhas are not mercenaries under the laws of war, since although they meet many of the requirements of   Article 47, they are exempt under most its prescriptive clauses. Most countries, including the US do not accept or endorse the most widely accepted definition of a mercenary and the issue remains highly contested  internationally especially within military circles. To my mind, former South African Police Service and National Defense operatives working in Iraq, as employees of regulated private security companies (PSCs), can hardly be regarded as mercenaries as they were not recruited specifically for the purpose of fighting in 2nd Gulf War (with or against either of the belligerents) and without exception, hardly ever took part, directly or indirectly, in hostilities. In reality, their role verges on a humanitarian one as non-combatants with the obligation/right to protect their own lives, in self- defense, and those of their clients.
As recent as 2007, the South African government tabled the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Act (Act  26 of 2006) as part of a collaborative effort with the UN Working Group on Mercenaries to strengthen the regulatory framework for private military and security companies exporting their services abroad. Ostensibly, this was also a response to the United States and Britain’s outsourcing of what was originally a national security function creating a global demand and market for PSCs particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  
Seen from a different perspective, its yet another attempt but a norming incumbent government to flex its muscles; legislate and over-regulate its way around inconsequential issues without the hope of ever being able to deliver upon them; and score further brownie points, with international agencies, for being the first country on the continent to promulgate such groundbreaking  transnational legislation.  In terms of the Act (Section 7), any person or organization wanting to provide military assistance is required to apply to the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), yet another bureaucratic hurdle, for authorization to do so. Similarly, South African humanitarian agencies are also required to register with the NCACC . This makes is exceedingly difficult for nationals to export their services overseas, including development assistance and humanitarian services to the UN and other international donors.  
Although many, including the South African government, may regard private security companies as re-branded soldiers for hire and a legitimization of the mercenary trade, they are seemingly here to stay. This may be short-lived but with a diversification of services into areas ironically labeled life support, the growth of PSCs has been phenomenal as they increasingly receive tacit support (and funding) from many governments worldwide.  
Pertinent and even more revealing questions are: how and why did (according to conservative estimates) between 5000 – 7000 South Africans manage to work in Iraq as members of international PSCs during the period 2003 – 2010? One can only guess how many are currently serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere globally.  I’ve previously come across a number of South Africans, working under similar circumstances, in Papua New Guinea providing security and other services to the tele-communications, oil and gas industries respectively. This is far cry from the dark days when South African dogs of war were involved in clandestine military operations or attempted coups d’état in Seychelles (‘Mad Mike’ Hoare – 1981), Papua New Guinea – Bougainville (Sandline International – 1997); Angola and Sierra Leone (Executive Outcomes – 1992 and 1995 respectively); and Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe (Logo Logistics – 2004).
With most South Africans currently serving in Iraq born in the early to mid-1970s, they found formal employment in police and military services undergoing prolonged transition and de-militarization as the country celebrated its first democratic election.  Many served with distinction for a decade or more, in highly trained and specialized roles, but became increasingly disillusioned as the government’s equal opportunity policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment began to stifle and frustrate their call to serve. Ironically, many are apolitical, served with elite units and in some cases were even deployed by the South African government, in peace-keeping roles, to African hotspots including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  And so it began, as a trickle at first, South Africa’s very own lemming or chicken run; a politically inspired and fuelled brain drain; an exodus of necessity reminiscent of so many years before.
This has been a diaspora with a difference though with most having found a transient home in Iraqi towns and cities; in fortified compounds and US military forward operating bases (FOBs) and central operating bases (COBs); for so many years whilst their families and loved ones remain, in waiting, back in South Africa.  Having plied their trade in this multi-national environment, they’ve become exceptional good at it – world class in fact!! At their very core is a strong spiritual doctrine which not only grounds but sustains them. Their old school discipline is impeccable and as they travel this bizarrely familiar journey with the Iraqi’s, they have become something of an international affairs revelation.  With patience, empathy, and dashing sense of humor they have become purveyors of peace, hope and tolerance. They‘ve spread immense goodwill and embraced the people and country as their own. As clichéd as it may sound, the South Africans are a huge hit and have won over many an Iraqi heart, no mean feat given the unique situation in this country.  

Another busy day at the office for Team 7

The driving force, for many, has been the desire to serve and contribute to something meaningful yet at the same time serve as chief provider to their families. Herein lies the greatest loss for a country like South Africa – so many creative, youthful, energetic and innovative people flung to the furthest reaches of the planet. Rumor abounds as to the astronomical salaries PSDs are reputed to earn – in my view they are worth every dollar and more. The bulk of earnings finds their way back to South Africa and into the mainstream economy yet there is and never will be any recognition of this.
Let’s talk about remuneration commensurate with services rendered and working conditions – consider the following: that these are highly qualified, experienced and mature men in their own right; regularly working in temperatures ranging from minus 16 Celsius to 55 Celsius; working almost every day of the week in excess of 12 hours per day decked out in body armor, side arm and ammunition weighing 15 – 18 kgs; maneuvering or riding shot gun in armored vehicle conveys protecting precious, sometimes cantankerous and obnoxious, human cargoes as they are transported throughout rural and urban Iraq; putting themselves directly in the firing line daily from any number of life threatening situations;  endlessly negotiating with Iraqi armed forces – Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Military at countless checkpoints to gain quick and secure access; putting on their best face, day after day, when dealing with clients; leading a divided life characterized by tenuous relationships ……     
Let’s get to the why  - why are the South African’s so sought after and respected in the work they do? Simply put …. it’s the no nonsense – no dramas  can do, will do, have done repeatedly with distinction approach, ’n boer maak ’n plan attitude that they bring to the work they do.  In addition to an extraordinary work ethic, they bring a toughness, reliability and resilience to the job that not only inspires their peers but also instills a very important sense of safety and comfort in clients under their protection. Attentive and softly-spoken Archer, PSD Team Leader, summed this up by saying ‘gee ons ’n braai, dop, en tjop en ons is gelukkig’  (give us a barbeque, beer and chop  and we’re happy!).
Almost inseparable for the past decade and Iraqi veterans for half that period, Clement and Louis may be the proverbial opposite sides of the same coin yet are articulate, sensitive and brutally honest about each other, their time in-country, the now and aspirations for life after Iraq. Whilst providing me with some unique and privileged insights into their world, the bond and friendship shared between them gives new meaning to the worn-out phrase band of brothers. This phrase though best describes the South Africans here at large and it’s a dynamic that is scary in its intensity and complexity. It works though and they’ve formed a formidable team and social support structure that appears to cater for both the needs of individuals as well as the collective whole. They appear to be largely in-tune with one another - each other’s moods, fears, frustrations and ambitions.  Mutual respect for one another appears to be a key ingredient. Clement desires the best for his young family in a troubled country – both cannot see themselves living elsewhere and see self-employment, as entrepreneurs, in South Africa as the only way out.  There is a real sense that its time for many of them to move on……  most have served their time and are keen to re-connect with family and loved ones in South Africa as part of a more permanent arrangement.
Others will continue to work in Iraq or perhaps further afield as long as there is a demand for their services. Modern communication especially Skype has made life and maintaining long distance relationships infinitely easier yet many a marriage has perished in the process. Most of the guys are philosophical on this score and there are the exceptions where relationships have stood the test of prolonged separation. 
The staging point for daily missions (PSD escorted conveys), in and around Baghdad, still resonates in the pre-dawn with the idling of high performance engines; the dull chunky thud of heavily, armor-reinforced doors; the squelch and static of radios; background banter and sparring between team members, Iraqi nationals and expats alike, as they prepare to go about their daily business. Occasionally, this gentle and reassuring reverie is punctuated by the spontaneous and infectious guffawing of Marius - excitable, enigmatic and larger than life. Many a morning, I awoke to these comforting sounds which were far easier to the ear and psyche than the cocking and clearing of countless AK47 automatic rifle breeches; the hubbub of guards changing shift; near and distant detonations emanating from car bombs or shelling of the International Zone. 
As much as I recognize that change is inevitable, I mourn the absence of my countrymen and am somewhat lost without them – the Karada compound has most definitely lost some of its charm, character and soul in the process. My rusty and imperfectly spoken Afrikaans will now fall on deaf ears and our vibrant camaraderie will also fade away. The spaces frequented by them are empty and only echo - the gymnasium … a privileged surrogate - partner, wife or lover, parent that has, so unfairly, received so much of their physical attention and exertion; passion; fear and frustration ……… sharp, deep exhalations of effort; bodies and muscles burdened under unresponsive, hard, cold unyielding metal weights  as they toil away at countless reps …  weekly, monthly and annually. Vitality and youthfulness – their caresses, longing  glances, sighs, energy, passion and perspiration are all so greedily consumed  and that are lost, forever, to their loved and deserving ones so very, very far, south.
Rooftop rituals, private and part of the inner sanctum, socials concentrated around smoky, charcoal barbecues or wholesome oxtail stews leisurely and lovingly cooked in 3-legged African cast-iron pots.  Measured consumption of alcohol always mindful of missions that have to be undertaken – duty and responsibility to clients and one another. The communal TV  lounge where avid sports fanatics and armchair critics congregated to while away many lonely hours - witness sporting  events and codes from around the world…. feasting with fervor on rugby …Super 14, Tri-Nations and other international games…..
In the great scheme of things, this was but the briefest of interludes but one that I’ve pondered on long and hard. I still cannot offer up an emphatic answer to the question – What it is to be South African?  There is though, the deepest comfort in the knowledge that I share a common history and identity with these men.  
Finally, let’s keep the memories alive of all those who made the supreme sacrifice in pursuit of Iraq’s own moving mirage (hopefully some semblance of democracy). In particular, we salute those South African’s unaccounted for as yet another year of separation from loved ones, home and all things African slips away. 
On the morning of December 10th, 2006, Andre Durant, Callie Scheepers, Hardus Greeff and Johann Enslin were stopped at a roadblock north of Baghdad and taken hostage by militants masquerading as Iraqi military. The four men were acting as security escorts for a truck laden with food and water when the incident occurred. They remain unaccounted for – we will not forget the Baghdad 4.