Proud legacy of topless dancers and theme parks
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 liveleaks.com 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.