Don't forget tourism in infrastructure spending binge
Once upon a time I decided that I wanted to work for myself. But I did not want to start an insurance-broking business or run a hamburger franchise because these things, though you can perhaps make piles of wonga out of them, are boring.
I decided I wanted to work for myself trying to be a historian; a travel historian, if there was such a thing. And lo, this thing came to pass.
So, last week I drove to the Skilpadshek border post with Botswana. There I saw that they are building a swanky new border post. This is called infrastructure and it is good because transport bottlenecks are anathema to regional trade and all the good things that flow from it, things such as jobs and prosperity.
Having arrived at the border post and noted the work going on there I promptly turned around. Returning to Zeerust, in the middle of nowhere, I followed a sign to the little settlement of Gopane. There we (my photographer and I) followed a hunch of mine and sketchy information gleaned from the interweb.
In Gopane, we accosted a gogo walking along the main drag and asked her if she could tell us where we might find something, anything, to do with David Livingstone. Yes, she knew what we were talking about and gave us directions: down a dirt road on the edge of town and we couldn't miss "it".
Of course we managed to completely miss "it". Then we came across a man called Lesang Molokwane who said he would take us to David Livingstone but his price would be a packet of Boxer Blend tobacco. Fair enough. Molokwane climbed into the car and we drove back along the way we had come.
After five minutes he commanded us to stop. We got out and walked through a nondescript bit of veld until, next to the stump of a dead tree, we came to a cairn, erected perhaps in the 1940s or 1950s, that declared this to be the site of David Livingstone's first mission station.
I was thrilled and must admit to mumbling to myself: "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" I also thought to myself that stumbling through the backwaters of one of the world's most beautiful countries looking for sites of major or even minor historical, geological and other import posing as a travel historian was possibly the world's greatest job. And I had invented this job.
David Livingstone is an African legend revered by all races, all countries, all generations. No one has a single bad thing to say about this tireless man of God, explorer and bitter opponent of the slave trade. Yet almost no one knows that he started his missionary work not in Tanzania, the Congo or Malawi but in South Africa. Yet this local link with the great man, now interred in Westminster Abbey, is unmarked, almost unknown.
If the Spanish king had driven past on his way to shoot elephants in Botswana he, like all other foreign tourists streaming along the N4, would have been unaware of this stupendous link with the past.
In his state of the nation speech this year, President Zuma announced that a monument was going to be erected in Zeerust. (I think he talked about a museum.) Nobody noticed. But in the 1950s there were mighty events unfolding in Zeerust, remarkable stories of how hundreds rebelled against the pass system. There were reprisals, of course, and people were killed.
There is much talk these days about infrastructure and the R840-billion kitty that the government will, sooner or later, get around to spending. This is great news. We need roads and trains that work, and dams and power stations.
But we also need to invest in tourism and our cultural heritage. One day the mines that fuel our economy and that ultimately pay for our infrastructure will be worked out but we will still have amazing scenery and wonderful stories; the kinds of things that bring lots of tourists.
Let's keep investing in museums and tourist-friendly infrastructure, and keep telling the stories of the 1957 Zeerust pass revolt and David Livingstone. This is how we can invest in a sustainable future.
- Next week, we talk about funny business names, and announce the winners of last week's competition.