Durban - Years ago, standing in line to collect my race number for the Comrades Marathon in Durban, I witnessed an extraordinary scene.
A hawker was trying to flog ice cream to people waiting in the sun (which is always pretty warm in Durbs, even in autumn). Suddenly, one of those waiting grabbed the man and forcibly ejected him from the area, shouting: “Voetsek, man! Don’t try and rip these people off because they are visitors!”
As he returned to his place in the queue, to applause, he said: “I’m from Durban, man, and I hate seeing this sort of thing. This is not Cape Town. We need you guys here and we shouldn’t rip you off...”
Now before you start thinking the obvious, that this may have been some form of racism, let me point out that the hawker and the aggrieved man were Indians...
That incident reminded me why I have always had a soft spot for both Durban and KwaZulu-Natal generally.
There is an abundance of things to do and places to see in the province – a unique combination of beach, berg and bush – and prices are always much more reasonable than they are down in the Mother City which, in the days of free-speding foreign tourists getting R20 to the pound, should have been known as “Mugger City” because its prices were outrageous. Oh – and the prices tended to be accompanied by supercilious, inefficient service, too.
When our kids were small, KZN was the perfect place for a break: only six hours or so in the car, warm climate year-round; reasonably priced and, for a time at least, where granny and grandpa lived.
In addition to the beach trips – to Margate, Scottburgh, Seaport, Amanzimtoti and Umhlanga (not forgetting the jewel of Clansthal, which is near the Aliwal Shoal )– we also explored the Drakensberg, north south and central, and visited parks including Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Oribi Gorge, Ithala, Mkhuze, Spionkop and the iSimangaliso Wetland.
Good friends of ours living in Durban didn’t do a quarter of the exploring of their province that we did.
It is true that places like the Durban beachfront did go through a serious decline but, on a visit there last year, I could see the effects of a R250 million investment by the city council in rehabilitating the place... not to mention the hundreds of millions of rand ploughed into the refurbishment of the Elangeni and Maharani hotels by the Tsogo Sun Group.
The place now pumps – and is much safer than it used to be, thanks to improved police presence.
Durban and the province have a lot going for them... but the biggest handicap is their tourism operators and authorities, who seemed to be stuck in their own little bubble, isolated from the world and reality.
We had the unedifying sight this week, after the Tourism Indaba in Durban, of the city’s tourism head, Phillip Sithole, whingeing that Cape Town had “hijacked” the indaba and used it as an opportunity to market the Mother City. This followed his earlier complaints that the Africa Travel Week show in Cape Town earlier this month had also deliberately slighted Durban.
For Sithole, it is all some sinister plot. I must say I am not surprised. The South African national refrain is: “It’s not my fault!”...especially when things are not going the way we want them to and we don’t particularly want to contemplate if that might in part be because of us.
You need to realise, sir, that nobody owes you an apology or a living. It’s a competitive world out there – and if Cape Town is eating your lunch, then you better start doing something, rather than mouthing off.
You could start with realising that, because Cape Town is still enamoured with foreign visitors, local tourists can sometimes get the cold shoulder from them. And it’s still not cheap down there in the Western Cape. So put the boot back into them by launching a marketing programme which focuses on that, as well as your variety and your marvellous climate.
And, when you put the marketing campaign together, remember that South Africans are your bread and butter and run it where it will do some good. Like up here in Johannesburg.
We may be pushy, we may be impatient and we may be (to some people) bad-mannered – but we have what you want. Folding money.
We don’t like being ripped off so we may listen to you.
But just remember one thing, Mr Sithole: we don’t like whingers. - Saturday Star