“I want diamonds so I can settle my family and retire,” Yellow told me. To do this he needed to return to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, where teams of illegal diggers sell uncut stones on the black-market. I wanted to find out more about the trade, which supports hundreds of families in an area beset by chronic unemployment, and had offered him a lift in a borrowed Land Cruiser. Four days later, at dawn on a Saturday, we left.
It was a flawless Cape Town Saturday, the kind of day people gravitate to beaches and picnic spots, and Ras Benjamin stepped on to the mountain. He wore tracksuit pants, a short-sleeved collared shirt and a tall black turban wound tightly around his dreadlocks. Unlike many other Rastafarian herbalists, who choose to remain barefoot, he wore shoes — sneakers, with neon green laces. He also carried a frayed brown rucksack. Together we climbed the path. Boyes Drive and the wide arc of False Bay fell away beneath us, and Benjamin scanned the slope for medicinal plants.
A little over a year ago, I drove my scooter into Hangberg in the Western Cape and met a perlemoen poaching kingpin. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the sun was out. Six shirtless men were sitting on camping stools and upturned crates on the pavement. My contact, David*, who lived in the adjacent apartment, was nowhere to be seen and I could feel the men’s eyes following me as I parked. The clip on my helmet jammed; I fumbled and tugged myself free. I crossed the road and greeted them to little response, then walked into the empty yard.
Keypads, batteries, touch screens, circuit boards, SIM cards, camera lenses, plastic clips. Lance the cellphone repairman is scratching through an overstuffed backpack for a part. A disembowelled Nokia lies on the coffee table beside him, next to an ashtray, a cigarette box and a day-old copy of Die Son. It has just stopped raining. The room is dark. Lance is sweating. “Speak to that guy,” the owner of the apartment says, pointing at his guest. “He’s one of the tik-koppe. He’s one of the aliens. He smokes every day. He’s fucked up. Look at him.”
Trees are on the move. The composition of the world’s savanna landscapes is changing. And carbon dioxide, more famously responsible for tweaking the Earth’s climate, is playing a leading role. This is the message from a group of distinguished ecologists who argue that carbon emissions, by providing extra fuel for photosynthesis, give trees an advantage over grasses in savanna ecosystems. Bush encroachment is what results; among other effects it could place large portions of Africa’s unique biodiversity at risk.