Letters from Africa – Goodbye to all that!


Letters from Africa – Goodbye to all that!

By John Cockayne.

‘Goodbye to all that’, the title of Robert Graves 1929 autobiography, might neatly encapsulate the sentiments of many in wishing to see the back of social distancing, vaccines, masks, COVID passports and the like.

Now ending its second year (it feels like an age!), and at the risk of sounding like a boring ‘I told you so’, around 18 months ago I bet several friends that we would be wearing face masks for at least another 2 years, and sadly this bet proved to be a rather bitter sweet ‘win’!

For those of you whose New Year wishes will include an end to the life-limiting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (given the mutations, shouldn’t it be COVID-21 by now!?), I echo those sentiments, but I fear we are going to need to remain socially ‘distant’ to some extent, and still wear masks in public places for some time to come.

That said, both Christmas and a New Year are just over the horizon, with all the usual optimism that this time of the year is supposed to bring!
The bright spot, in a travel sense, was seeing the Lions make it over here, even if the tests were played in the ‘bubble’ required by the pandemic.
The Boks were accused of being negative and boring, and having a ‘win at all costs attitude, which might be true. However, the All Blacks have not been the dominant side statistically in rugby, for over 30 years, by ‘throwing it around’ when the game situation warranted a more pragmatic approach!
If Jean Van De Velde, at the Open in 1999 had been a little more pragmatic – two seven irons and a wedge would probably have got him home, for a two putt one over par 5 and victory by 2 shots at the 72nd hole, Scotland’s last Major winner might still be Sandy Lyle, the champion golfer of the year in 1985.
Instead, with what some mistook for Gallic flair, Monsieur Van De Velde took a driver off the tee and eventually recorded a triple bogey 7, to tie Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard, and Scotland had, in the form of Lawrie, after he triumphed in the subsequent 3-man play-off, a new champion!
In the aftermath, some said Van De Velde looked disconnected, and as if he was in some sort of a drug-induced daze playing the final hole.
If he did, then spare a thought for the beleaguered MPs in the UK parliament. Some of them also can look a little dazed, but it might not be a hangover from BREXIT, or scrambling to deal with the pressures of the pandemic, but because of cocaine.
It was reported that traces of this substance had been found in various places in the hallowed halls of Westminster. There is no truth that the British National anthem is to be replaced by Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, however it is rumoured that MPs are being asked to refrain from using the salutation ‘hi’, to colleagues and fellow parliamentarians, just in case this simple greeting should become misconstrued as a question!

With reference to a question and a previous Letter from Africa – as far as we know Harpo is COVID free; at least no sneezing, or coughing noises have been heard coming from the waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam!

we are going to have to learn to live with this virus, like it or not

For those of us on land, we are going to have to learn to live with this virus, like it or not, and whether you are in a restaurant or a golf club, it would be imprudent to see the safety net provided by the vaccination programme as a trampoline!

Finally in terms of the virus, the tourism, travel and hospitality sector are still under the cosh, and I was talking to Samantha Croft, Tsogo Sun’s Resorts Director and Director of Operations for Kwazulu-Natal, in recently and she was concerned by sections of the media continuing to sensationalise ‘news’ around the virus, just for the sake of attention-grabbing copy, which often has no basis in fact.
The example we discussed, was about the press stating that the poor ventilation in restaurants was making transmission of the virus much easier.
Samantha commented that in this instance Wendy Alberts, the CEO of the Restaurant Association of South Africa, had been quick to point out to the journalist concerned that these remarks about the restaurant environment, were unproved, unsupported by any scientific facts, and yet were being circulated and referenced as ‘news’ by several sources.
As an editor and columnist, I would have to say that this is an example of lazy, sloppy, or even bad journalism, and the while the media largely plays fair, in its pivotal role in keeping the public informed with up-to-date and verifiable facts, slip-ups in both this area and ‘phrasing’ do occur.
The latter echoes my concerns around the dear old BEEB (BBC Radio 4 News at 6 to be exact), stating that the rioting and looting in July was ‘throughout’ South Africa, when it was in fact limited to parts of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.

Samantha’s concern was echoed by Peter Dros (Sales and Marketing Director at Fancourt) and Damian Wrigley (GM at Pearl Valley in the Cape), in terms of the need for the press to remain vigilant, report only the facts and resist the temptation to print, or circulate unsubstantiated news, just for the sake of a headline.
These concerns are especially relevant to the tourism and travel industry, which is particularly sensitive to ‘rumour’, given that travel impacts on people in a very personal and direct sense.

These have been very fretful times, and everyone seems to be an expert (or know one!), so it becomes even more important for the 4th Estate to report responsibly and accurately at all times.

On ‘coping’ on a personal level, I was asked recently if I felt ‘safe’ in a hotel environment – I shall be spending Christmas at the Sandton Sun Hotel (in Gauteng), and the answer was yes.

The reasons are that the cleaning protocols and adherence to the gazetted health requirements, are normally so rigorous in the hotels (especially 4-star and 5-star units) that I frequent. The end result is that I feel safer at these venues, than I would do in most other ‘public’ places.
This comment echoes the intel shared by Destination Golf Travel’s CEO, Dermot Synnott, in an article in Business of Golf Magazine earlier in the year, in which he reported that trends indicated that golfers were looking to extend their stays (to extract more value from their airfares) and ‘up’ their accommodation to 4-star or 5-star hotels, where the adherence to the required health protocols was perceived to be more stringent.

Read feature: https://www.flipbookpdf.net/web/site/945844950188b588ed79589ccc3b1f7ba8421634FBP21707900.pdf.html#page/22

In local terms, SA’s golf courses benefitted from the unexpected ‘boom’ in rounds’ numbers that has been experienced globally.

However, the region’s courses remained sadly ‘free’ of tourists, as the merry-go-round of opening and closing borders and changing health protocols continued. This hit some harder than most, and was felt especially in KwaZulu Natal, and in the international tourist hot spots, such as the Garden Route and the Western Cape. However, Southern Africans are a tough bunch in the main (just ask the Lions!!) and the attitude that ‘whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, seems a good fit in terms of coping both with the virus and the slow-down in business.

As for New Year resolutions (and wishes) for SA – I hope we get everyone vaccinated, which should help to ease the pressure on our beleaguered tourism and hospitality sectors, and give the rest of the World the green light to come back and see us, and our beautiful country, in 2022!

Have a great Christmas and New Year!