Topless dancing in SA public policy (from 2013)

Proud legacy of top­less dancers and theme parks

An­thony But­ler

Business Day, 30 August, 2013


THE of­fi­cial Zim­bab­wean news agency, New Ziana, re­ported this week that Zimbabwe is plan­ning to con­struct a “Dis­ney­land in Africa” close to Vic­to­ria Falls. The $300m de­vel­op­ment will boast ho­tels and con­ven­tion cen­tres, casi­nos, shop­ping malls and banks.

Some lo­cal scep­tics doubt the plan can be fi­nanced. Oth­ers point to Tourism Min­is­ter Wal­ter Mzembi’s de­scrip­tion of “a free zone” where “peo­ple who do not nec­es­sar­ily live in Zimbabwe can open bank ac­counts”. Such a con­cept, they ob­serve, will at­tract money laun­der­ers rather than for­eign tourists.

But South Africans would be wrong to pour scorn on the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment. Its in­spi­ra­tion, af­ter all, comes from Zimbabwe’s south­ern neigh­bour.

In the be­gin­ning, there was Sun City. We tend to for­get that the park, opened by ho­tel mag­nate Sol Kerzner in 1979, got off to a rocky start. El­ton John, Julio Igle­sias, and Cliff Richard, for ex­am­ple, were in­ad­ver­tently al­lowed to per­form in the Sun City Su­per­bowl to live hu­man au­di­ences. Nev­er­the­less, the re­sort even­tu­ally be­came cel­e­brated for its croc­o­dile-in­fested golf course (de­signed by Gary Player) and for its top­less danc­ing, an ac­tiv­ity that was il­le­gal in SA un­til the African National Congress un­clipped, and threw aside, the con­strain­ing bra of moral­is­tic apartheid-era leg­is­la­tion. South African en­trepreneurs also in­vented the “African cul­tural vil­lage”. In­spired by colo­nial an­thro­pol­o­gists, th­ese theme parks have be­come fa­mous for leopard-skin out­fits and mul­ti­coloured beads. They in­cor­po­rate the “top­less woman” con­cept to which the coun­try’s tourism lead­ers are so de­voted.

Os­ten­si­ble cul­tural her­itage also lies at the cen­tre of the Ora­nia theme park in the North­ern Cape. In re­cent years, this com­mu­nity has de­vel­oped a healthy tourist in­dus­try and now boasts a lux­ury river spa, a bou­tique ho­tel com­plex, and dozens of guest houses. Vis­i­tors are ap­par­ently at­tracted by its re­al­i­sa­tion of the con­cept of eth­nic “self-re­liance”— by the un­usual spec­ta­cle of white peo­ple ac­tu­ally do­ing work.

In the posh sub­urb of Sax­on­wold in Jo­han­nes­burg, an In­dia-themed fan­tasy park called Gupta World has re­cently been con­structed. The park boasts its own 24-hour news chan­nel, African News Net­work 7. Cit­i­zens will be aware that hi­lar­i­ous high­lights from this chan­nel, re­moved from YouTube, can re­gret­tably still be ac­cessed on the ne­far­i­ous live­ site.

Dain­fern theme park near Sand­ton has pi­o­neered the idea of a “per­ma­nent hol­i­day” from so­ci­ety. Rather than pass­ing two crowded weeks in a re­sort, va­ca­tion­ers stay for the rest of their lives. Shop­ping, ed­u­ca­tional, and leisure fa­cil­i­ties are all on hand, in­clud­ing the oblig­a­tory golf course by Gary Player.

Now the Ekurhu­leni Metropoli­tan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has an­nounced its in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing a theme park for the 21st cen­tury. Rather than hav­ing to travel from an air­port to a re­sort, tourists will be en­cour­aged to stay in an “aerotropo­lis” im­me­di­ately around OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

The aerotropo­lis will bring to­gether such lux­ury Kemp­ton Park brands as South African Air­ways (SAA) and Air­ports Com­pany SA. Ac­cord­ing to top con­sul­tants pro­mot­ing the con­cept, air­ports at­tract “time-sen­si­tive” busi­nesses, lo­gis­tics and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions en­ter­prises, ho­tels, retailers, whole­salers, and en­ter­tain­ment com­plexes. The megade­vel­op­ment will al­low tourists and busi­ness trav­ellers to work, shop, sleep, and be en­ter­tained, with­out ever los­ing sight of the ma­jes­tic ter­mi­nal build­ings.

Short-sighted crit­ics com­plain that the aerotropo­lis no­tion is be­com­ing re­dun­dant in an era of en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges and high fuel prices. Few goods and ser­vices, they claim, are gen­uinely time­sen­si­tive, and most South African man­u­fac­tures are too heavy or bulky to travel by air.

Con­sul­tants, how­ever, are be­lieved to have in­cor­po­rated a Gary Player de­signed Pitch-and-Putt course (nine holes only) into the aerotropo­lis plans. In ad­di­tion, they in­tend to draw upon the hu­man cap­i­tal re­sources al­ready in Kemp­ton Park: sex work­ers, drug smug­glers, lug­gage pil­fer­ers, hu­man traf­fick­ers and SAA cus­tomer-ser­vice man­agers. There will also, most prob­a­bly, be top­less dancers.

But­ler teaches pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

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