Douglas Gibson’s road trip to Limpopo; sharing some sunshine and national treasures

In 1993, the SABC sent me to the United States to cover one of the most important economic missions of our time. Then President FW de Klerk and his successor-in-waiting Nelson Mandela were on a charm offensive. Their mission, officially, was to ask for the US to end sanctions. But with democracy around the corner that was always a done deal. More important for them was enlisting the US’s financial and investment support for the New South Africa. It was an amazing month. Everywhere they went the future Nobel Peace Prize winners were treated like rock stars. This was hugely uplifting after being exposed to terrible violence back home, including the awful massacre in Boipatong and the threat posed by an increasingly vocal AWB.  Ever since that trip, it’s been a bit easier for me to look for the positive in South Africa. Once one opens your mind to it, you soon realise there is far more good happening than bad. Former opposition politician Douglas Gibson shares some sunshine from experiences during his recent road trip to Limpopo . – AH

By Douglas Gibson* 

The Kruger National Park is a national treasure.  I was reminded of that during a very happy five days there last week.  I was

Douglas Gibson:  Being exposed to national treasures, great roads, on a road trip through Limpopo
Douglas Gibson: Being exposed to national treasures, great roads, on a road trip through Limpopo

also reminded of why I would not want to live anywhere else in the world and why I sometimes longed for home when we spent four years in South East Asia.

We travelled to the far north, stopping off at the superlative Ranch Resort outside Polokwane for the night, before continuing up to Punda Maria Gate and Sirheni Bushveld Camp.  I was struck repeatedly by one of our greatest assets as a country: the charming, friendly, polite and helpful people who served us a every point.  Receptionists and waiters at the Ranch, SA Parks Board Officials, people in shops and petrol stations were uniformly welcoming and all seemed genuinely glad to be of service.  South Africa has a huge asset in these people and if they are properly used we can look forward to a significantly more developed and more successful  tourist industry in the future.

I used the opportunity to test the political temperature here and there and in the heart of Julius Malema country I mentioned his name.  He was well known but no-one liked or supported him.

He was referred to by one as a ‘clown;’ he was also called a ‘joke’; another person recounted how Ju-Ju came in a motor car to a garage and raced up and down on the forecourt, music blaring, trying to show how important he was. I suspect he might be a little too well known in his home turf to attract as much support as one might expect.

A surprising  aspect of Limpopo  Province was the excellent condition of the roads everywhere we went.  Whatever certain people may have done in helping themselves to public funds and enriching themselves at the expense of the people, it is a fact that hundreds of kilometres of first class roads have been constructed and properly maintained.  The roads in the Park were  also absolutely excellent.  A good deal of work has been done in the flood-ravished north to repair all road and building damage suffered in January this year. Here and there this was a work in progress – especially Shingwedzi camp which suffered badly,  but the people working in the Park have done a splendid job.

A striking feature was the large number of overseas tourists visiting and the small, but growing, number of black South Africans in evidence. Increased tourist activity is the very best chance we have of creating hundreds of thousands of additional jobs and the push for more tourists by Minister van Schalkwyk  and his department is bearing fruit.  Much more can and should be done.  We have millions of unemployed young people.  Given their down-to-earth South African charm, their smiles, their ability to speak several languages, many could be converted into world-beating hospitality industry workers.

With strict selection, training, encouragement and expert supervision we have the potential to reach and maintain standards acceptable to several million extra visitors from Asia, Europe and America. That would make a great contribution to South Africa’s future stability and economic success.

* Douglas Gibson is the former Opposition Chief Whip in Parliament. After a successful term as SA’s ambassador to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar and as Permanent Observer to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, he recently returned to Johannesburg. An attorney, he is a public speaker, newspaper columnist and aspiring writer of international political thrillers. This piece first appeared in The Citizen newspaper. 

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