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JFK to JNB: carryon restrictions

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I'm travelling Monday, and I'm trying to carry on my luggage for my safari, since I'll have only a 2-hour layover in JNB before my flight to Maun; not checking means not having to wait for it. I could check it through to Maun, but the advice the travel agent gives is to collect it and send it on yourself, since otherwise it might be lost. I have to travel light, anyway, for the small planes on the safari. The question is, the SA website says 1 carry-on bag, with a weight limit of 18 lbs. Does that mean, one carry-on bag, weight limit 18 lbs, plus a "personal item," like a purse or briefcase, or really, just one bag, no kidding? If I am allowed to take both a carryon bag and a purse, does the weight limit apply to both as a sum, or is each individual bag allowed to weigh 18 lbs?

I'm sure I can pull it off if I can take both a small duffel (24x10x10) and a purse (a large one, but not ridiculous). I could always check the duffel if I have to, but if I knew I was going to check it, I could relax and pack it within the weight limit of checked luggage (50 pounds). On safari planes, the combined weight must be below 40.

Any recent experience with this? Thanks.