It’s perceptions, not facts, that count
‘WHAT news do you get of South Africa in the British media?’ is the question I am most often asked whenever I return to my roots.
This time, having just spent the past eight days in KZN and the Eastern Cape, it was no different. The answer is ‘not much’.
There is some stuff on Zuma’s corruption charges, and every now and again there’s a feature on farm murders.
However, this time I visited the country had been very much in the news.
Although the biggest story was not really South African — it was Sandpapergate with the sanctimonious ‘we play hard but don’t cheat’ Aussies being caught doing exactly that.
Sandpapergate was massive in the UK, not least being the look on England captain Joe Root’s face after his side had been bowled out for a paltry 58 runs against New Zealand.
Root was visibly flinching, ready to be roasted alive by the media for England’s pathetic performance when newsmen mobbed him demanding to know what he thought of the cheating Aussies in South Africa.
Root’s smile was wider than a toothpaste advert — he had just dodged the biggest bullet of his life.
Also huge news, and with far bigger consequences, was land appropriation.
Except you won’t hear much about Cyril Ramaphosa’s pledge that this will not be a land grab.
Instead you’ll see pictures of EFF supporters tying electrical tape onto trees as they mark out claims on private property outside Pretoria.
That did more potential damage to tourism than reports of farm murders, hijackings and robberies combined - something no amount of golden beaches, sunny skies and lions in game reserves will trump at the moment.
For in many people’s minds, it was a stark snapshot of a collapse of rule of law, which we know is not true.
But in today’s fast moving world, it’s perceptions, not facts, that count.
I told this story to whoever asked while in South Africa, and always got an impassioned defence that South Africa was not going the way of Zimbabwe.
I agree - wholeheartedly.
But if Julius Malema truly believes that kicking landowners off their properties is a viable policy, he’s going to have a helluva lot more problems than unpaid mortgages.
South Africa is second only to Morocco as Africa’s most popular destination with 9.5 million tourists annually, but the EFF are testing that to its limit.
Speaking of Malema, I went to Port Elizabeth to spend three days at the superlative Amakhala Game Reserve a couple of weeks after he made his ‘cutting the throat of whiteness’ remark in a bid to remove the Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip.
As I landed at the airport, the EFF motion to oust Trollip had just been defeated, and as so often is the case in South Africa, the Eastern Cape was moving on.
I stayed at the Leeuwenbosch Country House and once again was reminded how words and actions are often two vastly different concepts.
Leeuwenbosch, while part of Amakhala, is owned by the Fowlds family who have been in the area since the mid-1800s.
After a game drive, where you will see rhino, elephant, at least five different species of buck and most likely lion, you’ll find the patriarch Bill Fowlds at the Cellar Bar which was built in 1832.
Over several whiskies, Bill will regale you with stories and history of the Eastern Cape that will keep you spellbound.
Bill’s vivid oratory is peppered with politically incorrect words and observations, but don’t let that fool you.
His head ranger is a Xhosa called Ouboet, his lodge manager is Nomonde Mayinje and her son Siseko, once a trainee ranger, is now a highly-skilled helicopter pilot.
Bill and his sons Grant and Will have done more for black South Africans than any of the snowflake generation that spend most of their waking moments screaming racism (or insert ‘ism’ of choice here) ever will.
That’s why South Africa is, and always will be, fascinating.
You get politicians grandstanding about throat slitting, while in the real world, people get on and do things to make real changes.
Like flying helicopters, managing lodges and showing tourists how beautiful this country actually is.