Category Archives: Travels

“What is your country’s purpose on the planet?”

Simon Anholt and Akela

I attended the Brand Africa Forum in Johannesburg where the keynote speaker was Simon Anholt, someone I’ve wanted to meet for a long time.

He’s been a policy advisor to over 40 governments, author and researcher. He specialises in national identity and reputation, public diplomacy and the public perceptions of nations, cities and regions. Simon developed the concepts of the ‘nation brand’ and ‘place brand’ in the late 1990s.

The first question he asks heads of state when they consult him, is “what is your country’s purpose?”   All lay claim to the “warmth of their people” as one of their greatest attributes.

The interview with him will be published in CapeInfo’s interviews section soon and I hope I will do that remarkable interview justice.

When he heard about Akela, he just had to meet her.  His comment was fascinating — “the dog she looks most like is the Alsation, which isn’t a dog I’m particularly fond of, but she’s much more beautiful.”

Ancient civilisations, myths & legends

AS FAR AS WE CAN GO: Akela looks over Zimbabwe. The white specks on the horizon below the mountains are the Zimbabwean town of Beit Bridge.

The N1 starts in Cape Town and ends at Musina near the SA border crossing to Zimbabwe at Beit Bridge — 1,919km later. Is that the longest road in South Africa? If it is, Akela, Kenya and I have driven it together!

Whatever the distance, this feels like another country — harsh, rarely friendly and so last century. I’m starting to understand what Schultz (Mr Tzaneen Country Lodge) — who was very friendly — was trying to explain when he told me about the difference between Limpopo’s tribes. Contrary to what one finds in southern Limpopo, the Venda in the north are outgoing, confident and arguably the most friendly in South Africa.

It takes a trip like this to discover that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s Rainbow Nation doesn’t describe the whole of South Africa.  It does describe the Western Cape where the unique mix of people ensures that domination by one racial or political group is never a given. In northern Limpopo, “rainbow” refers more to the origins of tribes like the Venda, who migrated to the area from Zimbabwe.

Beit Bridge - the border crossing to Zimbabwe.  The border fence that runs the entire length of SA's northern and eastern borders is in the foreground.  It was built when there was a perceived threat from SA's neighbours - a wide swathe of no-man's land marked by razor wire fences on either side and an electrified fence down the middle.  The dirt road alongside the fence was tarred because mercenaries planted land mines in the dirt road.  The electric fence was switched off post-1994 at the insistence of human rights groups.  The razor wire fence is dotted with holes cut into it but Zimbabweans who swarm across on a daily basis.

Baobab tree

This particular trip covers just the northern part of Limpopo province — rich in history and home to the Venda. It’s where you find SA’s ancient Kingdoms of Gold: Mapungubwe (SA’s newest World Heritage Site) and Thula Mela (a 13th century global trading centre); Thohoyandou — Venda’s capital, the Limpopo River and the Soutpansberg mountain range.  And the famous Baobab trees.

Driving north along the N1 from Polokwane, the next major town is Louis Trichardt 140km away.  Getting out of Polokwane is the biggest challenge with poor road signs or road signs that lead you nowhere.

Long, crisp vistas and views towards the horizon are rare in Limpopo because of ever-present haze, but through that haze the appearance of the massive Soutpansberg mountain range breaks the monotony of the plains and rocky outcrops.  Turning east at Louis Trichardt towards Thohoyandou only 70km away starts one of the biggest surprises of this trip.  Climbing into the foothills of the Soutpansberg, the vegetation and scenery changes dramatically.

The road to Thohoyandou runs through intensively-cultivated, wealthy farmland.  During the apartheid-era Venda homeland, these farms lay outside the homeland borders and have always been white owned.  This seems to be a recurring situation — black farmers rarely practice and maintain intensive agriculture and land redistribution so often leads to the failure of agiculture, as one has seen in Zimbabwe.  Can land redistribution continue without equal, or even greater, attention to ensure that agicultural production continues and grows even further?

Simply stunning - hedges of alternating pink and purple flowers line the road.

Roadside sellers - dead sheep!

Notwithstanding the organised agriculture after leaving Louis Trichardt, I’ve never experienced the vibrancy and feeling of authentic Africa as much as while driving the road to Thohoyadou.

I came across a group of women with three piles of “green leaves” in front of them. I stopped to ask what it was. The one pile was “Dead Sheep — good for gout and high blood pressure.”  The second pile was leaves from a Cabbage Tree and they didn’t know the translation for the third.  I bought and brewed some “Dead Sheep”… it tasted vile and I don’t think it did me any good… or harm.

Fresh produce stalls in one of the villages en route to Thohoyandou

After driving hundreds of kilometres without a single roadside farmstall, the road to Thohoyandou was a pleasure dotted with fruit sellers providing perfect photo opportunities.

Tea plantations abut the town of Thohoyandou, with the Soutpansberg in the background.

[mappress]

ALFRED MUNYAI: When I got out the car at my destination, a passerby greeted me and asked where I was heading. I told him I had a meeting at the municipality and he offered to help me find the person I was to see. We chatted a while and he said he'd gladly show me around Thohoyandou after my meeting. And so I gained a very good insight into Thohoyandou later in the day. Thank you, Alfred! He seems quite an entrepreneur and is looking for developers who want to invest there.

Thohoyandou is a typical large town that demonstrates the usual bad land-use planning and African chaos — judged by Western standards. But it works better than most and has good formal shopping.

I also felt very safe there — taking long walks till way after sunset and again long before sunrise.  I enjoyed the vitality of street activities and the whimsy of some street traders.

Don't Care Spaza Shop

Suburban Thohoyandou - there is a huge difference between traditional Western and African cities and towns. As living expectations in African towns rise, one must wonder how sustainable the traditional low densities can be.

When ?? learnt I was interested in visiting Thohoyandou, he called me and it was his enthusiasm that ensured my visit did take place.

Nandoni Dam on the outskirts of Thohoyandou - A popular resort and base for the community fishing industry.

It must have benefited from its status as the capital of the Venda homeland during the apartheid era — which defied its Pretoria paymasters on occasion — through investment intended to make the homeland system work, but more importantly the skills and confidence as a regional centre.  As a homeland capital, it did get a university and a casino.

If the fame of the Zulu nation stems from its prowess as warriors, the Venda are less well known but have a far longer heritage which started with the Mapungubwe kingdom in the 9th century.  King Shiriyadenga was the first king of Venda and Mapungubwe.  The sacred city of Thula Mela (Place of Birth), not far from Thohoyandou near the confluence of the Limpopo and Levubu Rivers in Kruger National Park, dates back to the 13th century.

It was on one of major trade routes of that time — Islamic traders on the east coast of Africa were the conduit between the interior of Africa and Asia and the Middle East.

Thula Mela was never discovered and ransacked by colonists, and is the only known site in the region that was untouched until archeologists started work.

One can’t help wondering why South Africa, under Thabo Mbeki, invested so heavily in antiquities at Timbuktu when there are so many stories within South Africa awaiting to be uncovered and told.

The pride and confidence of the Venda people does stand out, making them much easier to engage in conversation.

Just to the west of Thohoyandou lies the Thathe Vondo Holy Forest, a beautiful indigenous forest that incorporates the sacred burial ground of the chiefs of the Thathe clan, while the scenic Guvhukuvhu Pool is believed to be the home of water spirits that foster good relations with the ancestral spirits.

No ordinary VhaVhenda people may walk in this sacred forest and, as a visitor, one may not leave the dirt track going through the forest. Two mythical creatures keep guard — the white lion (the spirit of Nethathe, an important chief) and the thunder & lighting bird called Ndadzi, which according to myth flies on the wings of thunder.

North of the Holy Forest lies Lake Fundudzi, one of the best-known sacred places. In the Mutale River, as legend has it, a giant python god of fertility dwells that demands the sacrifice of a maiden each year. Lake Fundudzi is surrounded by mountains and special permission has to be obtained to visit this sacred Lake. No-one washes or swims in this lake.

This annual sacrifice became an integral part of Venda life, together with the remarkable ceremony known as the Domba Dance which has become part of the initiation rites of young women. The dance, also known as Python dance, is performed by rows of girls imitating movements of a python. Both the lake and the Domba Dance may only be viewed by obtaining permission from local authorities.

I didn’t get to visit these areas because I was advised that the roads were in a very poor state.

I did get to visit the Phiphidi Falls, another sacred site closer to Thohoyandou.  A complex collection of laws and rituals, some of which are closely guarded by clan elders, govern clan practice and behavior at Phiphidi; the site has traditionally been off-limits to all but the Ramunangi. Traditional belief holds that the waterfall and pool are inhabited by ancestral water spirits who require offerings of grain and beer, which are made on LanwaDzongolo. These powerful spirits receive prayers from the people for rain, health, agricultural abundance and community peace. Traditionally, these offerings were made throughout the year, with one primary and complicated annual rite that lasted many days.

The sacred Phiphidi Falls

The vhaVenda clans are among the SA’s most traditional, observing rituals and practices passed down from their ancestors. Among these clans, the Ramunangi are acknowledged as the traditional custodians of Phiphidi Waterfall, a small cascade that is central to the clan’s relationship with ancestral spirits. This custodial responsibility, however, is not legally recognized, which has limited the Ramunangi’s ability to protect their sacred site from tourism development. A rock above the waterfall — one of the site’s most holy areas — was recently destroyed as part of a road-building project, and for years, the Ramunangi have been denied full access to the site to perform their rituals and custodial duties.

ALBERT DZEBU: Local economic development & tourism @ Musina Municipality.

The next stop was Musina, and for that one has to go over the Soutpansberg at Wyllie’s Poort. The highest peak in the mountain range is Lajuma — 1,747m.

Driving down the northern descent of the Soutpansberg.

The first white person to reach and name the mountain was Coenraad de Buys, a colonist who fled from Graaff Reinet after a failed rebellion in 1795. He settled near the mountain in 1820 and was the patriarch of a half-caste clan, the “Buysvolk” or Buys People, who are still to be found at Buysdorp.

Driving over the Soutpansberg one just has to wonder how it must have been crossed by ox wagon. The vegetation on the southern side is almost imprenetrable it’s so thick. The road curves (with no laybyes for photo opportunities) below steep cliffs. It is a stunningly beautiful drive!

It’s only 92km from Louis Trichardt to Musina, but when you cross the Soutpansberg you enter a different world: one dotted with those weird and outlandish Baobab trees.

Trucks and more trucks for kilometres and kilometres waiting to cross the border post at Beit Bridge.

Musina is a mining town — copper, iron ore, coal, magnetite, graphite, asbestos, diamonds and semi-precious stones — but its recent claim to fame is as one the busiest road in Africa and one of the busiest in the world — due to black market importers from Zimbabwe, a situation that will hopefully diminish.

The drive along the border fence was illuminating. Apart from the holes in the border fences, we drove past a military camp. Groups of Zimbabwean refugees were being detained for repatriation, but what really caught my eye were the army tents — with air conditioning units sticking out of the sides of the tents. The SA Army is not what it used to be!

The crisis in Zimbabwe did bring some prosperity to Musina but that, like the mines, won’t last forever. Increased regional tourism could help to fill the gap and Albert Dzebu is hoping that Musina can get a deal out of Anglo American similar to the one Phalaborwa received from Rio Rinto. (See Mining can add value.)  I hope so because I am getting the feeling that most mining companies don’t contribute as much to communities as they claim.

It’s almost incomprehensible that two towns — Thohoyandou and Musina — only about 100km apart as the crow flies, can be so different.  Yes, micro-climates and vegetation play a role, but I’m starting to get the feeling that mining towns have the guts sucked out of them by the companies that “own” them.  Mining stifles community entrepreneurship and creativity — the mines are all that count.  But that’s for another blog post.

I didn’t get to Mapungubwe, only 80km to the west and SA’s newest World Heritage Site.  SANParks never answered my email asking for permission to visit with a wolf.

Why is Mapungubwe special?  It abuts the Limpopo River where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet.  It is the site of an ancient civilisation that predates the great Zimbabwe Ruins.

Mapungubwe Hill, seat of the Mapungubwe Kingdom (1075-1220). Mapungubwe means "place where jackals eat", derived from phunguwe  (Venda for jackal), as the hill was littered with human bones which attracted these scavengers.[8]  It is a sandstone hill, with vertical cliffs about 30 metres high and a plateaued top approximately 300m in length. There was a natural amphitheatre  at the bottom of Mapungubwe Hill where the royal court was likely held. However, the king actually lived inside a stone enclosure on a hill above the court.

This is an area I’m sure I will visit again.

Qunu: Discovering Nelson Mandela’s roots

Qunu - Nelson Mandela's birthplace

Qunu – Nelson Mandela’s birthplace

It’s impossible to drive along the N2, see the road sign for Qunu, and not be inquisitive about the place where Nelson Mandela was born and grew up.

It is like most of the Eastern Cape — serenely beautiful.

Qunu still has the remains of the primary school where he started Grade One and at which the teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name ‘Nelson’ on his first day of school; the remains of the old stone church where he was baptised;  the granite ‘sliding’ rock he used to slide down with friends;  the pastures where he roamed as a young shepherd;  his original home where his mother presided over three huts.

It was also an apt place to stop and think about how the Eastern Cape has gone so horribly wrong — a province where the future has gone horribly awry — where so many people have lost all sense of purpose and the ethic of work.

I had driven through kilometre after kilometre of fertile but fallow land, clearly showing how once-productive agriculture has been forsaken.  I’d learned how the system of social grants encourages people to stay at home — with a couple of old age grants, supplemented by taking in some AIDS orphans or child support grants, a family income exceeds what they can earn in the workplace.

It reminded me of Thabo Mbeki’s badly-misjudged presentation to the IOC in Lausanne in 1997 for Cape Town’s Olympic Bid, where he told the IOC that they “owed it to us; it’s Africa’s turn.”  When will Africa learn that patronage comes with a price and the only way to achieve anything is through collective hard work?

In Qunu, I visited the Nelson Mandela Youth & Heritage Centre – a component of the Department of Arts & Culture’s Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha – which hosts exhibitions, tours and offers accommodation and conference facilities.

Apart from the guide, Akela, Kenya & I were the only other souls there.  Photographs are not permitted in the exhibition on Mandela’s life, so no mementos!  The guide was a local and recalled a hard life growing up in a rural village.  But he confirmed that the social grant system has destroyed the soul of the people.

Qunu: Serenely beautiful, yes, but a place of fond memories and sadness.

Cape Town — a child’s wonderland

The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry's Pass above Gordon's Bay and Somerset West.

The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry’s Pass above Gordon’s Bay and Somerset West.

bezweni2

Bezweni: At night, one could be on a flying saucer overlooking over the Cape Peninsula.

Gordon's Bay harbour

That hand is trying to hide the smell from the bag of fish.

After living outside the Western Cape for nearly four years, the biggest highlight was returning there — and especially to Cape Town — after just over a year away.  What made it such a highlight was that it was all planned around giving a little girl the best holiday of her young life.  Jennezee was four years old in April 2010 when this holiday took place.

We couldn’t have arrived in more perfect weather, driving along Clarence Drive from Pringle Bay — surely, one of the great drives of the world — to Gordon’s Bay.  Gordon’s Bay harbour has always been one of my special places and it was Jennezee’s first visit to a harbour — smells and all!

It doesn't get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

It doesn’t get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

The base for the first two days was Bezweni Guest Lodge — you won’t find a more stunning setting and the same luxury very easily.  The views take in the whole of False Bay and the Helderberg valley.  It’s a perfect base to explore Cape Town or for a romantic weekend away for locals.  There’s a penthouse suite under the thatch, with its own kitchen and a huge deck with panoramic views, as well as poolside rooms.  Akela & Kenya loved it!

Little train in Somerset Mall

Train ride in Somerset Mall

Somerset West has one of Cape Town’s best shopping malls — probably one of the best in South Africa — Somerset Mall.  And the big excitement that day was the little train that wound its way through the mall.  A ride was called for!

The next morning it was off to  the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.

Of course, one highlight was Nero, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

Of course, one highlight was Nemo, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

No matter how jaded one is, seeing the expressions on the faces of children and adults at the Two Oceans Aquarium must lighten anyone’s day.  Wonder, amazement and fascination rule in this watery world.

Everything is bigger, brighter and maybe even more scary!

 

The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium - awe-inspiring

The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium – awe-inspiring

The tunnel through the predator tank.

The tunnel through the predator tank.

Government Avenue and the Company's Gardens alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city... and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city… and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden is a very special part of Cape Town, surrounded by Parliament, Iziko Museums and Gallery, the Planetarium and St George’s Cathedral at the top of Adderley Street.

But for most, it’s a place just to stroll or chill out away from the bustle of the city… and the feed or just sit and watch the squirrels.

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon's Town

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town

First train ride
The train  from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town runs right alongside the shoreline.  It’s a great trip and, if one has time, breaking the journey to explore Kalk Bay is highly recommended.  Of course, Simon’s Town is where you’ll find Boulders Beach and its penguin colony.

Boulders Beach penguins

Boulders Beach penguins

Table Mountain Cableway

Well this is an unusual view... Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

Well this is an unusual view… Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

This must be one of the best-operated visitor destinations in the world.  It’s a huge tribute to CEO Sabine Lehmann and her entire team (who, after this visit, went on to get Table Mountain recognised as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature).  In SA, how many places can you go without seeing a single security guard?  All Cableway staff take ownership of their turf, and handle visitors with aplomb!

For Jennezee, it was a little scary at times but memorable fun nonetheless.  Akela and Kenya took it all in their stride.

 

 

A historic pic?  A wolf on Table Mountain.

A historic pic? A wolf on Table Mountain.

It's not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that's the Capes Bay buzz

It’s not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that’s the Camps Bay buzz.

 

There's usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs - inflated bubbles on water.  It was easier just to sit down!

There’s usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs – inflated bubbles on water. It was easier just to sit down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that was three days in Cape Town!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view from Bezweni towards the Helderberg Mountains

Another view from Bezweni Guest Lodge towards the Helderberg Mountains

Best buddies

If it’s Akela who’s best remembered during our travels, it’s Kenya the Staffie who makes the most friends.  He is getting old, white-faced and stiff, and turns 12 in February 2010.  Here Kenya’s even being necked by Bees the cat.

Kenya being necked by Bees

Kenya being necked by Bees

So is it tourism; where is Destination Marketing?

I’ve learnt something interesting in Limpopo.  Most accommodation establishments in this province aren’t really part of tourism at all — in fact, about 70% of all bednights spent in the province have very little to do with tourism.

I define tourists as discretionary spenders — they have a choice and decide where they want to go.  They are attracted by environments, leisure options, shopping, a stimulating place for meetings, etc.  They have a choice.

Now that 70% certainly doesn’t service a tourist market as defined by discretionary spenders — they have a captive market that mainly services the mines and other industries in their towns.  They cater for the commercial travellers that have to visit a certain town.

So why is this important?  These establishments don’t need to participate in destination marketing, they just need to make their products known and a good relationship with the mines or whatever is usually sufficient.  They don’t demand quality, stimulating and competitive environments because all they sell is shelter — a bed for the night rather than a compelling place to visit.

Now this has a big impact on destination marketing and is one of the reasons that Limpopo is so badly marketed — 70% of the product owners have different needs.  This also shows in the priority which municipalities give to tourism and destination marketing.  It shows in the attention given in major towns to quality environments conducive to tourism.

Two exceptions I’ve come across on Mopani’s Route 71 are neighbouring Tzaneen and Phalaborwa, where there seems to be a battle going on for South Africa’s national Cleanest Town of the Year Award.  They are trying, but are they taking it far enough?

Probably not but then tourism product owners who are part of the destination marketing effort haven’t banded together sufficiently, investing in destination marketing and demanding that their local municipalities do the same.  Businesses that participate in their local destination marketing should be recognised, and Limpopo Tourism should accredit effective local tourist offices’s and encourage them with funding.

Limpopo Tourism should not be running the local Tzaneen Info office!  It is the local municipality’s legislated function and this only encourages them to abrogate their responsibility.

What’s the most important difference between commercial travellers and real tourists?  Real tourists spend more money and, if the enjoy their stay, they come back to invest in the area. They invest in property and businesses, but frequently they are also moved to help improve local communities.

Limpopo Provincial Government and Limpopo Tourism & Parks have provided little discernable leadership to date.  There is no tourism legislation as exists in the Western Cape.  There is no tourism business plan except for what’s in someone’s head (more on this in another post).  It’s mind boggling that taxpayers funds can be allocated in the absence of an approved business plan!

If I sound harsh on Limpopo Tourism, there appears to be some light.  I met Morris Mabada (their new regional manager for Mopani) briefly yesterday.  He impressed me!

People set it apart!

Bruce Barritt, MD of First Car Rental says it's people that make the difference

IN A WORLD where global brands rule, there is a South African car rental company that is taking a wholly South African brand onto the world market.  And its commitment to people – which is all that really differentiates one car rental company from another – is so great, that there was an in-house joke when they started that they had more staff than cars!

I met up with Bruce Barritt, MD of First Car Rental, at Indaba in Durban.  First Car Rental is a subsidiary of Combined Motor Holdings (CMH Ltd) which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

While First Car Rental is a relative newcomer in comparison to their competition (having opened its doors in 1999 as the National & Alamo brands), Bruce Barritt has a 30-year track record in the car rental industry.  Bruce Barritt ran the National Alamo franchise in SA for nine years – winning numerous awards as the best global franchise – until the National Alamo EMEA brands were sold to Europcar… South Africa was really a by-product of an International transaction – without much consideration & after First Car Rental (then National Alamo South Africa) paid R180 million in royalties.

But they had their own systems and a very loyal client base so the change to First Car Rental was smooth and their growth since then has been rapid.

His first passion in the company are the people because that’s what sets the company apart.  “We have very committed people at First  Car Rental – they are the lifeblood of the business.  This is a people business,” he says.  He expects everybody within his compliment of staff to make the customer’s experience hassle-free and memorable.

He is also committed to having the most user-friendly systems in the industry and their online systems are very, very good.  They have been innovative, introducing a number of firsts in the local industry.  The vision of wanting to move to a process where bar-coded vehicles and contracts replace the paper trail is more than 50% there, giving staff more time to interact with and get to know their customers.  His biggest nightmare is losing the personal touch and not having direct and immediate contact with all FCR’s customers.  “If something goes wrong, I want to pick up the phone and fix it,” he says.

The in-house joke about more staff than cars started when they rolled out their very impressive national footprint.  You can rent a First Car Rental vehicle almost anywhere in SA.

The move to roll out the First Car Rental brand started in Mauritius and was followed by a former National Alamo franchisee in Malta who needed to be part of a international brand to keep his airport slot.  A few other international franchisees are under consideration at the moment.

Increasing the revenue stream is less important than the marketing footprint of a global brand and it’s with some pride that Bruce says that this is the first time a South African car rental brand has gone international.

First Car Rental also has a servicing agreement with Sixt Rent a Car which is very strong in Germany and also has a presence throughout Europe, South America and the Asia-Pacific region.

They have just launched Direct Transfer, a chauffered service that picks you up and takes you from A to B.  Click the link to check it out.

When CapeInfo started looking for a marketing partner and sponsor for Travels with Akela, FCR stood out  as the most responsive, friendly and innovative.  They are a delight to work with.

Click here to rent your next vehicle.

Indaba 2009

I haven’t been a regular visitor to Indaba for several years so this year I saw it with new eyes.  Yes, it’s grown and yes, most of the products are spell-binding.  It’s a marketers’ dream because I doubt that any other destination in the world can offer as much variety… coupled to unsurpassed professionalism in so many cases.

SA Tourism have also matured and their side of the organisation has become very slick. (The only exception was, on responding to an invitation to interview CEO Didi Moyle, Monde Mateza never responded to my request.)

At the start of this blog I said that I’m a typical Capetonian who believes that the Western Cape is more blessed than almost anywhere else on earth. Well, I still believe that to a certain extent, but my travels have shown me people, products and places that really do excite me. More than ever, I realise that Southern Africa as a whole has the potential to beat all other regional destinations… if we just change some mindsets.

So, after three months away from home, it was with no lack of eagerness that I set off to find the Cape Town and Western Cape area at Indaba first. It took some effort because the organisers had signposted the direction incorrectly. And then, at the tail-end of the whole Indaba complex, I found an anonymous tent.

Cape Town & Western Cape's No-Name Brand - the entrance to the Western Cape's pavilion

For South Africa’s leading city brand to be presented in this way was just not good enough; I was astounded. I was embarrassed as a Capetonian.

Was I being over-critical? I spoke to Cape Town Tourism’s Mariette du Toit-Helmbold and learned that the usual tent had been commandeered for Jacob Zuma’s coronation and their banner couldn’t be accommodated in the new tent. I greeted CTRU’s Dave Fransen (responsible for the Western Cape pavilion) several times but he seemed to make a point of avoiding me.

I spoke to Peter Bacon, CTRU’s chair, and he agreed that it was unacceptable and needed a serious rethink.

I spoke to Nils Heckscher, MD of Winchester Mansions Hotel and CTT board member, who always shoots from the cuff. He agreed it wasn’t as good as it should be and said that maybe the Province was resting on its laurels. He added that things will be different next year with the new alignment of provincial and city politics.

I spoke to Rema from Fedhasa Cape, based in the main ICC at Fedhasa Natal’s stand. She felt that the Western Cape area lacked its usual vibe and buzz: “and it reinforces the typical view of Cape Town… that we want to be apart from the rest.”

I bumped into an old friend, Di Campbell (now Dagh), as we looked at the CTT stand. “Is that Cape Town Tourism?” she asked incredulously, “I thought it was Cape Point Routes!” Great for Cape Point Routes, bad Cape Town branding.

Free State's position was centrestage and their external branding was excellent.

Mpmalanga's stand in the Durban Exhibition Centre displayed pure branding professionalism.

Cape Town Tourism's area... come on guys, you can do much better.

The vast empty spaces in the Western Cape tent just emphasized a feeling that it was not as well attended as other destinations.

CTRU will say they had a large banner at the one end of the tent (see right hand side).  Yes, and it was a stunning photograph of an unusual view of Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles.  But to anyone not familiar with the mountain, it's almost meaningless.  To use it for branding is just muddled.

The promise of the Free State pavilion outside wasn’t carried through inside, where strong brands (like Clarens) fought with geo-political districts.  And what on earth was the Limpopo Treasury doing with a stand at Indaba?  Now that’s an example of misguided efforts (and budgets)!

While I am seeking out the best of the best in people and products during these Travels, what interests me most are destinations and destination brands, and it’s here that the SA tourism product doesn’t fare well at all.

World Travel Awards
A highlight at Indaba was the presentation for the World Travel Awards. We publish the list for Africa and South Africa in full.

Africa’s Leading…
Airline South African Airways
Airport Tambo International Airport, South Africa
Boutique Hotel Saxon Boutique Hotel & Spa, South Africa
Boutique Hotel Brand Mantis Collection
Budget/Low Cost Carrier 1time
Business Car Rental Co. Avis
Business Hotel Sandton Sun
Business Travel Agency Travel with Flair
Car Hire Europcar
Casino Resort The Palace of the Lost City, South Africa
City Tourist Board Johannesburg Tourism Company
Conference Centre International Convention Centre Durban, South Africa
Conference Hotel Kempinski Hotel Djibouti
Conservation Company Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa
Cruise Line Silversea Cruises
Destination Cape Town
Family Resort Sun City Resort, South Africa
Game Reserve Brand Mantis Collection
Golf Resort Fancourt Hotel & Country Club, South Africa
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Hotel Mount Nelson Hotel, South Africa
Hotel Brand Starwood Hotels
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Marketing Campaign South Africa Tourism, It’s Possible
Port Cape Town (Port)
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Responsible Tourism Co. Nkwichi Lodge
Safari Lodge Shamwari Game Reserve
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Sports Resort Zimbali Lodge & Country Club – South Africa
Suite Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite, Saxon Boutique Hotel & Spa
Tourism Dev. Project Legend Golf & Safari Resort
Tourist Board South Africa Tourism
Town House Hotel Shamwari Town House
Travel Agency Club Travel, South Africa
Travel Exhibition INDABA
Travel Management Co. Travel with Flair South Africa
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South Africa’s Leading…
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Boutique Hotel Saxon Boutique Hotel & Spa
Business Hotel Sandton Sun
Game Reserve Brand Mantis Collection
Golf Resort Fancourt Hotel & Country Club
Hotel Mount Nelson Hotel
Resort Sun City Resort
Spa Resort Fordoun Spa, Hotel & Restaurant
Travel Management Co. Travel with Flair
Villa Ellerman Villa

For some, Indaba is a chance to get out of the office and party; for some it’s a rare opportunity for networking or checking out the opposition; and for some — like Horst Frehse and Rick Taylor who I repeatedly tried to say hello to — it’s a time to really work hard!

An old-fashioned (free) National Road

MOST PEOPLE from the Western Cape probably find toll roads an anathema.  We only have two throughout the whole province — the Huguenot Tunnel and Chapman’s Peak Drive, and one can understand why both are toll roads (although one wonders how long Chapman’s Peak will remain one, given that it’s been such a disaster).  For the rest, travellers (and tourists) don’t pay tolls to get from A to B.

So I decided to take an old-fashioned (and free) National Road from Mokopane to Pietermaritzburg — the N11.  (The thought of all the traffic around Pretoria for Jacob Zuma’s coronation also discouraged passing through Pretoria.)

The trip started early, in the dark, and it was long after crossing the N1 near Marble Hall (in Mpumalanga Province) that I was already cursing the SA National Roads Agency.  At the first of many stop-go sections, traffic was allowed from both directions onto the single lane — rather frightening, not to mention dangerous, on a road under construction in the dark!

One must wonder why such long sections of road have to be single lane (with little construction work in sight) because it just increases the waiting time at either end.  This alone, with the slow single lane sections, probably added two hours to our total trip time.

Driving past Groblersdal reminded me that the late Hendrik Schoeman, a minister of transport in the 1980’s, had been one of SA’s most successful farmers and farmed around there.  Harold Gorvy, a prominent businessman, and I first met him (and tourism minister, John Wiley) in 1985 after the Pierhead Festival which had demonstrated the public attraction of Cape Town’s derelict docklands.  Both agreed to form an inter-departmental commitee to report on redevelopment of the area.  That committee was headed by Arie Burggraaf and led to the V&A Waterfront!

It’s a fascinating area and, like Tzaneen which I visited a few weeks ago, is one of the few areas in Limpopo I’ve visited that is extensively cultivated.  Most of the towns impressed for their cleanliness and more sense of order than I’d seen in Limpopo — Grobersdal and Middelburg stand out in this respect.

What has really become evident in these travels is the importance of municipalities in making or breaking tourism.  Unfortunately, few have a clue… if they are not one of the 95-or-so local authorities that are technically bankrupt!

Here at the entrance to Mpumalanga, the contrast between cultivated areas and typical bushveld is more apparent. The next surprise was coming across the Loskop Dam.

Loskop Dam is located in a really stunning area, and there are a number of resorts that capitalise on this.

If I think of tourism/leisure developments along the Western Cape’s Garden Route and West Coast, I’m sure it won’t be long before the Loskop Dam area sees a mini-boom.  One hopes that effective environmental and aesthetic controls will be in place before it begins.

Middelburg

Driving south-east from Middelburg, the topography is characterised by more rolling hills and valleys; one has entered the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal grasslands.

This is part of the South African Grassland Biome, now unique among the grasslands that once used to cover nearly 50% of Africa’s surface. A change in climate around three million years ago allowed trees to encroach into these grasslands and create the savannas we know today.

I couldn’t help wondering what economic benefit the area held — it’s sparsely populated apart from occasional sheep.  Well, montane grasslands and fynbos are effective “collectors” of rain water. The southern montane grasslands of Mpumalanga provide year-round water supply essential for the cooling of power stations.

One out-of-date statistic I came across says that the eight Eskom power stations in Mpumalanga supply 70% of SA’s energy needs.  Over 2,000 km² of the Mpumalanga Highveld is taken up by South Africa’s major gold and coal deposits, much of which are mined in opencast pits.

I must find out about environmental legislation governing the mining companies (and maybe someone can answer it in the comments).  The waste heaps are a blot on the landscape.  The heavy-vehicle traffic on the road also made me think back to the 1980’s, when it was very difficult to get road-haulage licences to favour SA Railways.  Maligned as it was then, it reduced the number of trucks on the roads and the damage they do to road surfaces.  Companies should be forced to use rail transport more often!

Grasslands... and very few people!

Outside Volksrust, the last town in Mpumalanga before entering KwaZulu-Natal, a signpost points to Majuba, immortalised on 27 February 1881 as the main battle of the First Boer War where the Boers crushed the British. Over 280 Britons were killed, captured or wounded against Boer casualties of one dead and five wounded.

The battle is historically significant because it led to the signing of a peace treaty and the Pretoria Convention, between the British and the newly created South African Republic, ending the First Boer War.

The Boers’ fire and move tactic employed by the Boers in the final assault on Majuba Hill was years ahead of its time.

Following defeats at Laing’s Nek and Schuinshoogte, Majuba ratified the strength of the Boers in the minds of the British. “Remember Majuba” became a rallying cry in the second Anglo-Boer War.

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The N11 ends just past Ladysmith where it joins the N3 which links Gauteng to Durban.  Here we joined a toll road for the first time and, yes, it was a pleasant experience!  Wide roads, a dual carriageway with a wide median and spectacular scenery through the Natal Midlands.  But when the upgrading of the N11 is finished, there is little doubt that it will become the route of choice from the north.  It will be a splendid drive through memorable scenery.

Akela goes to Indaba!

Akela meets Nicholas Kitching, the ICC's security manager

The fantastic people at Durban’s ICC who made arrangements for Akela to visit were all keen to meet her.

These photos are the highlights of the people she met — the story on Indaba and our travels there will follow.

Most ask if they can touch Akela but only women get lucky — she’s female and only makes friends with women and children, running away from men. (She’s bonded to her pack so hard luck to all other men!)

ICC's Nicolette Elia gets to touch a wolf while ?? only gets to look on.  Most people how soft Akela feels.

Hannelie Slabber is one of SA Tourism's real stars and has been enormously helpful to Travels with Akela.  She meets Kenya (an immediate fan) and Akela for the first time.

Some people dance with wolves... Hannelie and Akela talk to each other.

Melissa Storey of First Car Rental, which have made Travels with Akela possible, also meets Akela in Durban for the first time.