Memories of catering in DRC

Andrew and Andries of LSS
Andrew and Andries of LSS

LEPHALALE — Andrew St Clair-Laing and Andries Mabuza of Lephalale Site Services (LSS) were recently reminded of the time that they spent together running catering operations for clients in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
They started by saying that they are truly blessed in South Africa regarding the strict frame work and structures surrounding business governance in South Africa. Doing business in the DRC is a bit of a lottery in that the goal posts are shifted every day depending upon who is in charge for the day and what happens with the very unpredictable weather.
They continued: “We were supplying catering services to a mine just outside Lubumbashi which is in the Katanga province of the DRC. One morning we were paid a visit by the local revenue authorities stating that we hadn’t paid our “Baboon tax” of some $20 000. Upon enquiring further, we were told that we as caterers have much food that is loved by the baboons and that this causes them to come in from the jungle to raid our supply trucks and facilities at the kitchen. The authorities claimed to employ local youngsters to chase the baboons away and that the Baboon tax is to pay these people. We continued to object and were eventually asked the question “Have you seen any baboons on your site”, to which we replied that no, we hadn’t seen any baboons but neither had we seen any people running around and chasing them away either. We agreed to the fact that no baboons in camp was probably a good thing and we decided to settle on $5 000, a case of chickens and a handshake.
A few months later we were awarded a second contract outside Lubumbashi which was next to a river… I guess you know the rest…we got a visit from the local authorities looking for $20 000 for Crocodile tax.
Some of the local delicacies can be quite scary. Definitely not covered by any of the shows on the Food Channel. The local version of KFC is Katanga Fried Chicken which varies in quality, colour, flavour and size every time you buy it. It is also available from street vendors as are some other most unusual jungle delicacies such as “Buttered Fish” (battered fried catfish), “Bush meat” (literally anything that comes out of the jungle from snakes to porcupines and even monkey meat usually served with cassava, plantain and bitter leaf). The people remain friendly and approachable and willing to work and they try by all means to tempt you to taste some of their most unusual dishes prepared according to traditional recipes.
So next time you see Gordon Ramsey cooking up a storm or Sibiyas table laden with culinary delights, just imagine how much fun it would be to have a new series on TV called “”Master Chef – The Jungle Series”.
There is no doubt that when working as an ex-patriate in some African countries one has to be prepared for any eventuality. Quite clearly you need to be thinking on your feet at all times but the unique challenges bring lasting memories, many happy encounters and “war stories’ to talk about at the braai fire”.
Bon Appetite!

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