Category Archives: #gamechanger

When conventional medicine and vets fail us

One Saturday morning about three months ago, Beezus was diagnosed with heart failure and acute congestion of the lungs as a result.  I had taken him in for a precautionary checkup because of a a very slight dry cough that occurred once a day at the most.  I was shocked!  The local Stanford vet — who had been seeing Beezus to prepare him for his Pet Passport — was very worried and got Bergview Vet Hospital in Hermanus to see him immediately for x-rays and a second opinion.



They confirmed the diagnosis, prescribed meds to strengthen the heart, another to reduce blood pressure and a diuretic to empty the lungs, and said they hoped I had a vet on 24 hour standby because they didn’t know if he would make it through the night!  I didn’t have one, unless I drove back to Hermanus…

The local vet had said that she had a Sunday morning appointment and I should bring him in.  The sedation for the x-rays had really knocked Beezus out and he slept through Saturday afternoon and night, but we were waiting at the vet at 9am on Sunday morning.  His lungs were much better and it became a matter of keeping him quiet and waiting for all the meds to kick in.  The prognosis was that he could live a long life but would be on meds for the rest of his life.  (That’s about R500 a month.)

And Beezus slowly became a little of his old self, but tired more easily and needed to be carried after a while on long walks.

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Solar makes cents, and Boschendal becomes a significant producer

About two years ago, the V&A Waterfront commissioned 4,207 solar panels (7,000m²) installed on the roofs of the main Waterfront buildings, with a total electrical output of 1,093.8 kWp at a cost of R20 million.  It conserves about 1,721,956 kWh annually, significantly reducing the Waterfront’s environmental footprint.  At the same time, Boschendal commissioned its first, small rooftop solar installation at the Rachelsfontein complex.

Then in October 2017, Robben Island launched its R25 million, 666kWp solar farm supported by 828 kWh battery storage, to reduce reliance of diesel which was shipped in for the island’s generators.  Just based on the cost of fuel savings, the Robben Island installation will pay for itself within five years.  The micro-grid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage micro-grid system in South Africa.

Boschendal solar farm

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Bucking the trend in the drought

The Western Cape has faced its worst drought in a century, and this is the third consecutive year of that drought.  Cape Town’s mayor has been at pains to point out that — with climate change — “This is the new normal.”

With dwindling water supply to farmers, crop productions have been slashed and, across the Province, between 35,000 and 50,000 jobs are at risk, excluding an even larger number of seasonal workers.  I asked for the provincial department of agriculture’s stats for produce under threat but received no response!  I am underwhelmed!

Minister Alan Winde’s speeches, however, paint a dire picture which are just a tip of the iceberg.  A month ago, Alan visited the West Coast.  “There’s thousands and thousands of hectares of agricultural land below the Clanwilliam Dam which produces a lot of produce and revenue for our country that’s now under severe water restrictions. They’re going to produce 50% less,” he said.  “Farmers are being throttled and are forced to use 60% less water, with the Clanwilliam Dam level at around 36%.  There’s an 80% decrease in potato crops and a drop in wine and export quality citrus.”  With commercial farmers struggling, one focus for Province is supporting backyard food gardens for workers’ food security.

“In places like Ceres, 80% less potatoes and 50% less onions will be planted — resulting in about R40 million less paid out in salaries and wages.  In Lutzville the tomato paste plant will not even open this year.  Some 30 000 animals have been sold as farmers battled to feed their core herds.”

Against this backdrop, Boschendal started out at the beginning of the drought with a massive planting of 600,000 new fruit trees over a period of three years — which has just been completed. Permanent jobs in farming operations alone has grown from 70 to 287.  Their dams are full and Jacques du Toit, Boschendal’s general manager, said the dams started overflowing on 20 August and he counted 15 streams on the farm running into the Dwars River, on to the Berg River, and out to sea… Continue reading

What a great little village Pniël could be!

When CapeInfo was deciding on the most beautiful drive in South Africa, Helshoogte came up tops for every reason — the ever changing views in every season, the dramatic mountain vistas and the things to do on the route.  On the Stellenbosch side of the Pass, there are views back to Table Mountain.  From the top and on the eastern side, there are views across four mountain ranges (and all the way to the other side of Worcester.)  The attractions are anchored by Delaire Graff, Tokara and Thelema on the one side and and Boschendal and Solms-Delta on the other.

And in between there’s Pniël — a delightful little village with a rich history… but little to offer the traveller.  Yes, there is the historic church as well as the fascinating Pniël Museum with its peaceful tea garden, but you need to check that they are open if you’re planning to visit — their opening times are erratic.

Pniël Congregational Church

Pniël Congregational Church — the heart and soul of the village.

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It’s time to really start promoting small entrepreneurs

I live close to the villages of Pniel, Lanquedoc and Kylemore outside Stellenbosch.  Now that’s not an area where you find a booklet advertising local services — which is what I really needed when I arrived there.  If there was, the small businesses there are probably so small they probably wouldn’t be able to afford the advertising costs.  So, I ended up using services in Paarl and Stellenbosch.

Then, when my bakkie needed new front disk pads and I really didn’t feel like trekking into Stellenbosch, leaving the bakkie while the repairs are done and collecting it later.  So I asked the security company on Boschendal which seems to know the local community if they knew of anybody. Continue reading

The biggest party in Africa… and a tribute to a legendary party-maker

Have Cape Town’s First Thursdays become the biggest monthly party on the African continent?  On the First Thursday of every month, shops in Cape Town’s CBD stay open till 9pm and the city is taken over by partygoers.  Peak-hour traffic starts at 5pm into the city; pavements are jam-packed, traffic regulations are bent and there is a festive spirit second to none.

Cape Town First Thursdays

Sidewalks are thronged with people enjoying Cape Town’s CBD

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Towns & villages need help!

When I met Dupré Lombaard, a professional planner, soon after he took up his position as Stellenbosch municipality’s executive director of economic development & tourism, he started our meeting by saying how fortunate he had been at his first professional job to work with David Jack and Peter de Tolly at the City of Cape Town and sit in on meetings.  “Developers came in to discuss proposals and invariably Dave and Peter made suggestions to improve the project, so both the developer and the City scored,” he said.  (The City benefited from projects which related to their environments better, creating better public spaces.)

David and Peter were the City Planner and Assistant City Planner respectively.  Both were architects and urban designers with considerable international experience.  (David Jack moved on to become the MD of the V&A Waterfront company — arguably SA’s biggest success story.)

Very few towns in South Africa have professional planners in the employ of their municipalities.  Planners, per se, are trained to ensure that the town planning laws are upheld — they are not trained to create spaces that work well and provide delight.  Many engineers think they can do that… and urban blight is testimony to that!

And fewer municipalities will even know what urban designers and landscape architects are and do.  And these are the professions towns need most.

But the reality is that — even if municipalities could afford additional professional staff and were able to act as competent clients — there are just too few really good urban designers and landscape architects to fill a fraction of the positions.

So then I thought about how a few of the better shopping malls get it so very right… through centralised management… but that’s also not a complete solution.

And then I visited Port Elizabeth where an old friend, Pierre Voges, is CEO of the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) which was established in 2003 by the municipality with support from the Industrial Development Corporation.  It’s a special-purpose development company which has become the driving force behind urban regeneration in Nelson Mandela Bay.

I tried several times to contact Pierre to find out more but was unsuccessful.  I did learn a bit about their projects and was superficially impressed.  In 2013 (the last annual report available) they operated with an annual budget of almost R70 million.  In 2014, their successes saw their terms of reference expanded to become a regional agency for the whole metro area.

MBDA did get me thinking about the need for a similar special-purpose development company that could address the shortcomings and shortfalls of local municipalities — an agency that could bring world-class expertise to bear on Tourism Towns — those towns that commit to growing tourism and its benefits to the entire community and country.

In the Western Cape, this would be so easy to set up and there are so many towns crying out for the interventions it could initiate.  The Western Cape’s Department of Environmental Affairs & Planning would be best placed to establish and provide oversight for a provincial agency — Piet van Zyl, the department head, has the experience and track record to understand all the nuances that are essential for such an agency to succeed.

It could become an example that will create tourism game-changers throughout South Africa.

Categorising towns will be the real tourism game-changer!

Not all towns are tourism towns and some towns will never become tourism towns.  I first mentioned the need for towns to be categorised in “Tourism will never be Helen Zille’s game-changer until there are lots of changes.”  In response to another article where I said Montagu is not a tourist town (because most businesses are closed when tourists are there) some locals said that they don’t want it to be a tourism town like Franschhoek but want it to stay the way it is.  Towns must decide what they want to be and what they want to achieve, and they must be given the appropriate label.

The more I’ve driven around South Africa, the more I’ve realised how badly tourism is structured in most areas — as a public-private partnership, with local government playing its role and the industry playing theirs.  Obvious Tourism Towns like Sutherland in the Northern Cape and Dullstroom in Mpumalanga don’t even have tourism organisations or info offices of any sort.  Sutherland’s municipality does a pretty good job of maintaining the village but, in Dullstroom, a private initiative had to step in because the municipality was not and is not doing its job.

Outstanding examples of Tourism Towns are Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Being categorised as a Tourism Town (or village) should be the most highly sought-after accolade — with demonstrable rewards — there can be.  It must recognise that tourism is second only to education in the importance of national government’s departments, and has the ability to create more jobs, more upward economic mobility, and improve environmental quality better than anything else.

A town can never be a Tourism Town simply because a politician or bureaucrat says so — tourism only happens where everything comes together.

What are the categories that towns can fall under?  Well here are some, but please add your suggestions for others to the comments box below:

  1. Tourism towns — they are the tourism game-changing towns
  2. Getaway towns
  3. Heritage towns
  4. Commercial towns

And in cases where the towns don’t cut the grade but the surrounding region does, one should be able to declare a tourist region.  (An example of this could be the Waterberg in Limpopo, where Vaalwater — the main town — is a rather depressing little place.)

Where a town is declared a Tourism Town, the national & provincial departments of tourism and co-operative governance must work together to help them succeed.

  1. Access to more funding and professional assistance to grow tourism, job creation, etc.
  2. Interventions at the municipality to establish CIDs (city/town improvement districts) when necessary.
  3. Interventions with SANRAL for better signage or treatment of their roads where they pass through Tourism Towns.  (SANRAL must throw away their rule book when it comes to Tourism Towns.)

Becoming a Tourism Town should not be easy:

  1. There must be a tourism organisation, supported financially by the municipality but managed and run by the hospitality industry — yes, it’s not just about accommodation and the organisation must include attractions & activities, F&B, retail, etc.  The town’s businesses must demonstrate their commitment to be a Tourism Town, so 70% (or pick a number) of all town’s hospitality businesses must be paying members of their tourism organisation.
  2. The town must be open when tourists visit.  So if tourists visit primarily over weekends, most businesses must be open over weekends, not just Saturday mornings.  That includes provincial & municipal museums.

And most importantly, the municipality is not the attraction — the town is.

It’s going to be more difficult for cities to follow these suggestions – but these are just suggestions to promote debate, not a roadmap.

Come on Western Cape, why don’t you get the ball rolling.  It’s all about focusing energies and resources, and creating centres of excellence that others will be inspired to follow.

The Most Beautiful Street in South Africa

Tulbagh’s Church Street must be the most beautiful street in South Africa.  Devastated by an earthquake in 1969, it was painstakingly restored and the 32 buildings comprise the largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street in South Africa, all of which are in daily use for you to enjoy.  You can stay, dine or shop in them and experience life in a bygone era.

Rows of Cape Dutch buildings in Tulbagh's Church Street

Rows of Cape Dutch buildings in Tulbagh’s Church Street

Self-catering accommodation, restaurants and shops occupy the upper side of the street while the lower side has the leiwater channel with further heritage buildings and garden erven.

Self-catering accommodation, restaurants and shops occupy the upper side of the street while the lower side has the leiwater channel with further heritage buildings and garden erven.

Walking down this spell-binding road, I wondered why Tulbagh hadn’t become nearly as popular as Franschhoek, for example.  It’s not that much further from Cape Town — 120km (124km if you go via Riebeek Kasteel) vs Franschhoek’s 80km.  (It is the exactly same distance from Cape Town as Hermanus.)  Both towns are, to most intents and purposes, at the end of a road.  Tulbagh has the edge when it comes to heritage architecture and was already home to premier wine brands when Franschhoek was still a sleepy fruit-growing village 30 years ago.

Well Tulbagh didn’t have an Arthur McWilliam Smith and a municipality which grew the attraction and the town’s brand like Franschhoek did.  Yes, the number of really great accommodation establishments in the Tulbagh area has grown (click here for more) and it is a very popular wedding location, but many visitors will spend their entire stay at their farm accommodation because the attraction of the town has not kept pace with what tourists want.

The main road, Van der Stel Street, doesn’t cut it.  It’s far wider than it need be and the lower side — which has some fine old buildings and several eating establishments — has no sidewalk whatsoever!  To walk along this side of the road, you need to zig-zag between parked and parking cars.  It is a lousy pedestrian environment and not at all conducive to retail and hospitality activities.  Witzenberg Municipality gets a #Fail for commonsense and pedestrian safety.

Imagine widening the pavement so that eateries could spill out, creating more buzz, while still allowing pedestrians to walk up and down deciding where to stop next.  How long will it be before the number of eateries along that side of the road will double?  How long before the town of Tulbagh becomes known as a nice place to be, in addition to the attraction of heritage architecture?  This is not rocket science!

For a long time, Tulbagh has focused on the legacy of the earthquake and the restored buildings… but that’s not what people want.  They want food and wine destinations; they want scenic beauty and quality pedestrian environments.

More recently, the area has been branded as the Witzenberg Valley — encouraged by Witzenberg Municipality which comprises the towns of Tulbagh, Wolseley and Ceres — which is not a valley at all since it has the stunning beautiful Michells Pass between Wolseley and Ceres!  The actual Witzenberg Valley stretches north from Ceres.

Wolseley and Ceres are not tourist towns and are not likely to become ones for a long time, although their surrounding areas do have a number of tourist attractions.  Ceres is best known as the Western Cape town to visit to see the snow after heavy snowfalls.

Tulbagh is best placed to become the main tourist town for this region and has the strongest brand by far: it just needs to be developed.  Take a leaf from other areas — Constantia once only included a few estates but Constantia Valley now includes Tokai and rural Bergvliet.  The Franschhoek tourism area now includes estates and tourism businesses which are actually in Groot Drakenstein, Simondium, Paarl and Stellenbosch.

CapeInfo believes it makes more sense to market Tulbagh and Wolseley together — it is a contiguous wine-growing area and offer synergistic and complimentary tourism products.  Yes, they are close to other attractions at Riebeek Kasteel (38km away and en route to Cape Town) and Ceres is a 12km drive over Michells Pass from the Wolseley side of the valley.

What do you think?  What destination branding will benefit this area the most?  (Municipal areas are not destinations — click here for more on that.)  What does the town and region need to do to become an aspirational tourism brand?

Let’s start the debate!


What are gamechangers?

They are the catalysts that can lead to significant changes — and for the purposes of this blog, we’re exploring how tourism can become a far bigger industry, providing many more meaningful, upwardly-mobile jobs, very quickly.

There are people and businesses, some of which we’ve met in the past few months, that have an impact that is extraordinary.  And there are others, notably local government, who just don’t get what tourism is all about.  Tourism has grown in spite of them.

But the gamechanger with the biggest negative impact on tourism is undoubtedly the Department of Home Affairs new visa regulations.  If the DA is correct, SA could see over 536,000 fewer foreign visitors, leading to a loss of 1.5 million tourism industry jobs.  The estimated cost to the economy is R8.6 billion.

We’ve added a new category to Travels with Beezus — Gamechangers.  You can read all the posts in that category — click here.