Sunday, 18 July 2010

My unashamed victory dance

This was originally published in The Daily Maverick

Wallow in a job superbly done. Swallow the rest of the celebratory champagne. South Africa defied the naysayers and can hardly wait a decade – a whole 10 years – for the Olympics so we can do it all again.

Just less than a year ago, I moved back to South Africa from the UK. During my time there I was told constantly by a miserable acquaintance who frequented my local that it was nutty to ever consider going back to the land which was on its own terror pathway to Zimbabwe. He told me it would get so bad we’d end up eating the dog when the tinned food ran out, and drinking out of the swimming pool. I argued with him every day and neither of us ever changed our points of view, right up to my return.

It’s a breed of people, which, as you know, is fairly prevalent – within our borders and without. Most of these miseries and their ubiquitous bitching can be seen and heard on numerous news and information websites, suburban Perth and in almost every pub in south-west London. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can get them to deviate from their devoted cause: Utter negativity for everyone.

In contrast, the applause after the 2010 World Cup is yet to die down and, continuing the great feeling of mass national pride – last felt when the Boks won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 – was an announcement that South Africa will make a bid for the 2020 Olympics. In one stunningly swift swoop we discovered the most effective way of keeping Philip here – for another 10 years, nogal.

Within 10 minutes of the announcement that South Africa was going to apply did the irrepressible South African naysayers immediately highlight themselves. I am talking about those South Africans who find it impossible to be happy about anything, who have to piss on every good event with stories of crime and how much they hate it here. Who cannot see anything good happen because it happens to share a path to success with the ruling party.

Well, you cynical bastards, we did it, and we did it well. Singing and dancing and vuvuzelas rang out among the throngs of people flooding to and from stadiums. From Cape Town to Polokwane we defied government-sanctioned songs and comment sections of the media as we were all friends for a month and ran a slick operation twixt our park-and-rides and iconic stadiums. Even with the Orange Thugs and a ball so light it defied gravity (unless Diego Forlan was kicking it), we still put on a highly entertaining spectacle. The foreign press poured praise over us (bar the odd publication – one of which involved a man who asked for help at an ATM and then got his credit card skimmed), the local press gushed and we had a month-long wankathon about our country, our guests and ourselves. And it was great. I will be hungover for days yet.

Yet, unfathomably, there are those who chose not to join in the fun – their determination to walk around with a face like a cat’s arse being outdone only by their utter resentment of good happenings in South Africa, made even worse by having these successes ratified and expanded upon by our visitors. Instead of acting like many pessimistic locals who came around and ate their previous words baked into a lovely crust of humble pie, this troupe behaves like we were all fooled into thinking the last month was fun. And that we shouldn’t have had fun in any case because South Africa has problems. The implication of having fun being that we don’t care or we think our country’s problems are solved.

While they sit there sipping their half-empty glasses of ditchwater, many of us are clinking our half-full glasses of champagne together – glasses which will overflow if either Durban or Cape Town is awarded the 2020 Olympics.

I don’t doubt the nitty-gritty is not all resolved. There has been a glut of opinions from the pens and keyboards of economists – some saying we broke even on the World Cup, some saying we didn’t, some saying they don’t know. We don’t know what colour the elephants living in the stadiums are yet. We’re still trying to work out how the new-but-very-similar-looking Hospital Bend cost R273 million.

But even the most hardcore realist couldn’t resist a smile at least once during the tournament (come on, even when England were sent packing?), notice different groups jolling together, admire the capabilities of South Africa when we all pull in the same direction, and say that it was good.

And if there is occasion to resurrect that by means of an Olympic bid, then I say we bloody do it. While some of you cry into your tea, I’m going to see if I can book flights to Durban 10 years in advance.

And my mate I mentioned at the beginning? He emailed me asking if he could stay with me when he flew out for the final. Sorry mate. We’re too busy mourning the dog we ate for dinner.

A Royale review (Cape Royale Hotel)

When I review hotels I always look for something that differentiates from the norm. Most 4* and 5* hotels are clean, organised, have decent service, above average food, easy-on-the-eye interior decoration, and a bunch of people to carry your bags, open doors, and do all the other stuff you don't want to.

Often, it takes me a while to work out just what makes a hotel special. But sometimes it's blatantly served up on a silver platter - and the Cape Royale is one of those hotels where its uniqueness shone from the first time I entered the hotel: I have never seen such attention to detail before, nor pure willingness to be better.

As I said before, most hotels are clean, but there is not a mark in the Cape Royale that shouldn't be there. The finishes to the decoration inside the building are superb - understated yet classy (think Bishops Court versus something like Century City) - and are maintained to a degree I can hardly fathom. There is nae mark on window, smudge on elevator door, nor stray hair on carpet.

I slid in on a Friday afternoon and moved seamlessly through the checking in process, was escorted by a butler to a 120sqm 2-bedroom suite and shown around the room. The Cape Royale focuses on creating a home environment, as opposed to a hotel room, so aside from what you'd usually expect, add a fully-equipped kitchen, washing machine, dishwasher and so on. The detail goes all the way down to having a hotel room key instead of swipe-cards. Week long stays in normal hotels feel exactly like that. A long stay at the Cape Royale offers a true home-like base.

Staying here during the World Cup works. Although Somerset Road (on which it is situated) will be closed on match days, it has access to High Level Road behind the hotel which will get you to anywhere you need to be, including Cape Town's central road, Buitengracht. It is also well within walking distance of the stadium - if you fell down outside the door your nose would almost be touching it. The only requirement to a World Cup stay here is a minimum of 3-nights - rates are set at usual peak levels, so no rip-off.

Another excellent attraction of the Cape Royale that needs to be waxed on about: free cab rides within 5km of the hotel. This distance includes the Waterfront, Long Street, Parliament, Green Point, Sea Point and gets you close to Signal Hill and the Table Mountain Cableway.

The spa here is something notable. While most hotels boast spas, this one at the Cape Royale offers guests a free 20-minute massage - a high-quality preview, if you will. I don't know much about spas, but after having my back muscles squashed around by skilled hands, I'd certainly say the preview was enticing...

I spent a relaxing evening in the room. I wanted to experience it properly - Green Point was buzzing below but the soundproof windows kept all the noise out. I switched on the flatscreen TV and browsed DSTV without much luck, so I whacked a DVD into the player provided and drank a glass of wine on the comfortable couch in the giant central space of this room.

I perused my notes I'd made so far - it didn't surprise me in the least that the Cape Royale had won a World Luxury Hotel award in 2009 and a Travellers Choice Award this year. In fact, I was surprised that it hadn't cleaned up all award ceremonies in which it had been entered.

The hotel has the bog-standard facilities, but all contain that little bit extra, continuing with the amazing impression created as one enters the door. There's a pool, but it's situated on top of the building with eye-orgasmic views, a stocked and beautiful bar, comfortable sun-loungers and TV screens. Conference and business facilities are provided, but they can seat more people than most hotels, provide soundproof rooms, look out onto the Atlantic Seaboard and have comparable rates - including catering etc - with just about any spot in Cape Town.

It is this obsession with being that much better than everywhere else that makes the Cape Royale stand out - arguably as Cape Town's top hotel.

The great South African rip-off

Note: this article was written 6 months before the World Cup - before criticism had reached the ears of the South African tourism industry who changed their rip-offy ways.

I cannot fathom how anyone could have expected the FIFA-sanctioned Great South African rip-off to have resulted in such capitalist excess, which neatly coincides with a football tournament. Tourism companies are licking their greedy lips, ready to fleece foreigners of every pound, dollar and peso they can get their gluttonous fingers on.

It starts with getting around: naturally, because of the size of our country, air travel will be key in ferrying football fans. However, a search I did recently for return fares from Johannesburg to Cape Town on all SA domestic airlines (23-30 June) revealed that the cheapest possible price was R4038 with The cheapest SAA flight was R7260, usually an amount of money that can carry you a lot further - it is virtually what you are charged to fly direct between Johannesburg and London.

As if it couldn't get worse, there are accusations of collusion now flying between the Competition Commission and our domestic airlines. In simple language: price-fixing. At the time of writing, 1Time, Mango and Comair (which includes British Airways and Kulula) have already denied any collusion, but SAA have upturned the apple-cart with an application for leniency from the Commission as a reward for passing over emails it maintains could act as evidence. It doesn't look great.

And, as a cherry on top, Airports Company South Africa has asked for a 100% increase in airport charges over two years, which, luckily, was rejected yesterday. It would have, in some instances, resulted in driving the tax up to over 50% of your ticket.

Accommodation will be no better. I know of a lodge which usually charges R130 per night for a bed in a dormitory. For June and July, this will be knocked up to as much as R300 per night. Never has the hotel industry been this prepared to score so much, including the legal distributor of WC2010 accommodation, a FIFA-appointed company called Match which will be charging providers an alleged 30% commission on all bed-nights sold - driving prices up even further. And as these hoteliers sing and dance around their well-maintained lobbies celebrating their exorbitant fortunes-to-be, they are doing our country a massive disservice.

Our failure here is that this money-grabbing overload has absolutely no long-term benefit for South Africa. People who are ripped off will not come back. It is that simple. They will tell their friends not to come here. They will write reviews of how they were charged R2100 to spend a week in one of 14 beds in a dorm, after parting with something mortgage-like to fund their plane ticket.

Two reasons that SA is regarded as a top tourist destination: our transport infrastructure is good (in terms of air travel) and we're cheap. Well, due to our upcoming obsession with thrashing every tourist's credit card to within an inch of its life, no one will be able to afford the flights (do you really want our visitors driven around by Roadlink?), the places to stay, and I don't even want to think about how much the private taxi industry is going try and gorge itself out of the deal.

SA Tourism needs to get involved if we are to stave off a new reputation of being nothing other than money-grabbing sharks. We are known for our hospitality, and this will do us no favours in entrenching the South Africa brand. No-one is denying the tourism industry the right to profit, but to let such excess run wild will present us with nothing sustainable from the biggest advertising campaign we will ever undergo.

This is our opportunity to show what we're all about. If we want to present an image of thieves and profiteers, then we should continue as we are unabated, and screw every cent out of whoever we can get our greedy claws into.

Interview: S'bu Vilane

Sibusiso Vilane is a South African icon: the first black African to make it to the top of Everest and the Seven Summits (one of six South Africans, and one of less than 200 people in history to do so). He chatted to us about all things mountain, travel and sharing a tent:

However did you get into climbing at the beginning?
I must tell you now, beforehand, I had no business climbing mountains from when I was young. Hiking was not my idea, but aged 26-years I met somebody called John Doble* who then asked me to go walking in a nature reserve with him. While walking I helped him scramble on rocks as we crossed stream after stream. Then John said to me "Sibusiso you seem to have a talent. I think you could make a good climber." Those were the words that changed my life and beliefs and that is how I got in to it.

What was the first mountain you climbed, was that the big spurt that got you climbing big mountains?
I grew up chasing cattle on mountains in the highveld of Swaziland (1200m) and those were big enough to referred to as mountains, but maybe I should say the Drakensberg because it is a bit higher. But those hikes never ignited the spark to want to climb big ones. What really made me want to climb Everest was when my friend John told me that Everest had never been climbed by Africans. That was the spark then! "To try and climb it for Africa".

South Africans number 6 of the 198 people to scale the seven summits. How do you plan on topping this achievement?
I do not really have anything to prove by climbing mountains, it is just taking an opportunity and making it count for me, so I do not have any record-breaking ambitions on mountain climbing. I am very happy and proud with what I have achieved up to now.

In 2006 you climbed Elbrus, Aconcagua and Carstensz Pyramid. Three massive expeditions in one year must mean rigorous training, tell us about it.
I did well actually that year to climb that many, yet without any sponsorship. You forgot to mention Mount Vinson [in Antarctica] in the same year. I have never followed a specific training program for climbing - I cannot afford to go to places to train anyway because to train for the kind of climbing that I do (and so enjoy) I would have to travel to overseas countries. So I don't waste my time planning for that, but I do my regular exercise regime which is to jog, run a few marathons and that's it. It sounds very strange but that is how I keep fit and I do not worry a lot about technical training!

How expensive is it to climb one of the seven summits?
Very expensive indeed. Look at Kilimanjaro, it would cost you between R12 000 to R15 000. Of course the most expensive will be Everest and Vinson. Everest costs between $60 000 to $70 000 (around R450 000 to R530 000), it has proven to be a very expensive sport for me. With corporate companies in RSA not keen to sponsor, it is not easy for one to decide on the next climb. I can never really afford to pay for a climbing expedition. Thanks to a great friend John Doble who has always come in and helped me. Without his generous support I wouldn't have done so much.

After Kilimanjaro, Everest was your second summit of the Seven Summits. Surely that's the wrong order?
Yes it was from Kilimanjaro to Everest for me! That is the way we non-climbers do it because we don't even know that there are other mountains to try and climb before the Big E. In fact I did not have time to climb anything else before the opportunity in 2003. I could not hide behind the inexperience, I believed I could do it and so I went and I came back victorious. It is quite remarkable indeed, but let me warn you, "Never try and do it my way!" ha ha ha.

Have you summated K2 (the second highest mountain in the world and one of the most dangerous)? And if not, will you try it someday?
K2 is not child's play, hey! That is a mountain you do not want to try and climb if you still want to live! No I have not climbed nor attempted that killer yet. But I have love for K2 and it would be an absolute satisfaction for me to have an attempt to climb it one day. I have been looking for sponsorship for two years but no such luck. All I want now (because I cannot afford to climb) it, is to go and see it with my naked eyes.

Is it as awesome as I think it is when the president phones to congratulate you? Did you think someone was joking?
Well I think it is awesome to get such a call from the head of state as it is a rare occasion. Yes I thought it was an April fool's joke or something but I noticed that it was the month of June so I became hysterical.

Which has been the best mountain to climb in terms of the entire experience?
Everest will forever stand as the best for me, I have enjoyed climbing the other ones, but Everest I loved so much in spite of the hardships that I faced.

Where is the best place you have travelled? And the worst?
That is a difficult one because all the trips have been different, yes, but not to say the one was best or the other was worse. Actually I am still yet to travel to a place and come back and say it was my worst travel. But I think it comes from what you make of your trip, you can either make it miserable or very exciting.

Have you got any tips on sharing a tent with someone?
I have shared tents with both sexes and I can tell you that it is a challenge with either. But the tips which I can give are to adapt to the tent mate, pick your own space and own it. Never pass one of those really bad farts! Because if you do then you have compromised the relationship.

Have you ever lost any vital equipment en route?Any travel crises?
I have been very lucky that I have never lost a kit bag that has all my gear, but during one of my domestic travels I lost my camera and in that camera was a film with photographs of myself and Mr Mandela. I still cannot believe it even today!

Do you have souvenirs from each of the peaks you have summited?
My souvenirs are photographs from the summits as I do not collect rocks, but I do buy some nice things like post cards which I keep after the expeditions.

*John Doble was the British High Commissioner to Swaziland, who first noticed Sibusiso's climbing skills during a guided tour in 1996.

Some like it hot

What is a traditional Christmas? Ask a European or a North American and their damp description will seem totally alien to our stinking hot annual beach fest. While we light fires to cook meat, they huddle around them to defrost their fingers. As we try and stave off sweat by splashing around the pool, they are scraping ice from the window frame while sipping hot toddies. When you are getting dunked by a wave, they are throwing snowballs at the geek who lives on the corner.

The debate has occurred often - which is a superior way to spend Christmas? Is it better to enjoy the wintery "traditional" end-of-year, or to hit the African coastline and bake for a few weeks?

Although we may enjoy the warmth that comes around our side during the festive time of year, and laugh at the wet and/or snowy conditions infesting the top half of the globe, we do have to deal with sunburn. I have very often spent Christmas day with my skin matching the deep red shades of Santa's jacket due to excessive beach hours and a flippant attitude to sun cream. There are no such dangers in Europe, the US or Canada as they don't see proper sun for at least another three months. At times I think it is great having the hot weather, but when I am sweating profusely in my bed at night (sleeping on my front so my burning back (covered in Aftersun) can get some peace) I do crave some respite from the heat. While we perspire into our sheets, our peers in the shady half of Earth are building snowmen.

There are many things that the Northern-hemisphereans pride themselves in, one of which is gluhwein (or mulled wine in the UK). For quite obvious reasons, drinking warm, sweet, fruity mush is not too smart in Durban in December as it would exacerbate the temperature within you and probably kick off an internal explosion. Consumption of it at minus-5 degrees in Germany is far less hazardous. However, can you beat an ice-cold beer or coke on a stunningly hot coastal day? As you twist the lid off your frosty, there is that gentle hiss that promises coolness. I can't think of any winter drink can that quite provides that same satisfaction. It is actually worth sitting in the sun and getting revoltingly hot to earn your drink properly.

A practicality that totally dumbfounds me is Father Christmas' attire in this disgustingly warm southern hemisphere weather. What kind of tonsil wears a big thick red suit in a South African summer? Poor Santa must swelter during his rounds down by our part of the world, particularly on the east coast. I've already written my Christmas letter this year, and included a recommendation that he rethinks his inappropriate (and, let's be honest, so-very-yesteryear) attire for the 2010 festive season.

There are a few who manage to cook a turkey on a braai, but my family are too stingy to buy a braai that's large enough. We rely on traditional South African vleis to accompany our Christmas potato-bake. Rolls of boerewors, good SA steaks, lamb, chicken - if it fits on the braai then it's fair game. As mentioned, turkeys don't fit in bog-standard grills so they need to go into the oven. Oven-cooked meat is a phenomenon that doesn't compute in my braai - holiday food is cooked on a fire or not at all.

So, taking into account the weather and culinary differences between our Christmas and theirs, I would far rather be here. Eating braai meat in the sun is the perfect way to spend any kind of holiday.

Air safety - just do it

You've been sitting in a volcano-obstructed airport for five days, your nerves are frazzled, you reached the end of your tether so damn long ago you can't even remember what colour it was, and now you're finally boarded.

You know the drill: The emergency exits are two in the front, four over-wing and two at the rear. Should there be a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the roof. Put your tray table up for take-off and landing... *snore*

The repetitive presentation we have to sit through at the beginning of every flight can be quite annoying. In fact, anyone who has taken more than ten flights in their life could probably repeat it to you verbatim because it's been the same for as long as I can remember (with the exception of the annoyingly-remixed Kulula version).

But these recommendations are enforced by the International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for a reason, and I promise you they know more about airline safety than you or I do.

For some reason, people have to sometimes show that they flagrantly disagree with the rules. Amazingly, these idiots fail to realise that every rule is there for a reason.

Do you know why your tray table has got to be stowed away during take-off and landing? It is because that is absolutely the most dangerous time for a flight. If anything is going to go wrong it is probably going to be either at the beginning or the end. So seat backs and tray tables go up in case the aircraft needs to be evacuated for some reason.

See? It's really rather logical.

Think of the tight squeeze the average person deals with to fit into that space. Without packing all obstructions away our attempts to leave an aircraft become even more eye-of-needle-esque, and if the aircraft is on fire I would prefer the disembarking process to be at its swiftest.

I have personally witnessed a man fight with an air stewardess (we aren't allowed to call them trolley-dollies anymore. You only have to be slapped once to discover this) because she told him to turn his iPod off and remove the earphones from his ears.

All of a sudden he was an airline safety expert.

In fact, an editor from a large travel website in the UK recently went on a rampage against airline safety requirements, including iPods as he said he didn't see how they could be dangerous. What these morons miss is that when your iPod is blaring Jy dink jys cooler as ekke into your ears, you can't hear instructions from the flight deck or cabin crew who might be shouting something important like "brace brace".

Generally, when a plane is plummeting toward the ground, there isn't enough time to say everything twice, so those who only heard half of the announcement while they pulled earphones out could be fairly clueless as to who's coming tops in the aircrafts battle with gravity.

People also tend to fight the seatbelt battle, wondering why the pilot recommends keeping it fastened while in the air? Well, my chinas, if you are in the air without wearing your seatbelt and the plane drops 200ft in an air-pocket, your head will klap the roof of the plane faster than SAA can lose a bag. While you spend time trying to remember your name, those of us with the wisdom to keep our seatbelts fastened will regale our friends and families with tales of what happened to the poor oke with the bleeding head sitting in front of us.

So next time you feel the need to torture the cabin crew with your own version of what IATA-ratified airline safety should entail, you should preferably sit down, shut up and watch the safety demonstration as you are whisked off to your destination.

If I was an air steward and you gave me this kind of trouble, you'd be rewarded with the funkiest tasting chicken sandwich, come food-trolley time.

Obesity in economy class

More than once I have been wedged into the side of my already-minute aeroplane seat, as the giant figure of an obese person sits next to me and forces me into near suffocation and severe irritation.

For some it sounds cruel that I think I have the right to be annoyed when someone who clearly can’t fit into their seat inadvertently overlaps mine with their excess flesh. From the time they sit down, I know for a fact that I will feel every movement they make and will not be remotely comfortable for the entire duration of my trip. This is not a problem if I am flying from Johannesburg to Durban, but I’ll be damned if I have to smile through it for 11 hours when London-bound.

Some airlines have declared that they will prevent very obese passengers from boarding for safety reasons. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the USA, it must be possible to evacuate an aeroplane in 90 seconds and anything that impedes this must be rectified before take-off. Although I am sceptical that any plane carrying more than 10 people can be emptied in a minute and a half, I can sympathise with concerns that an extremely large person could slow the process down. This impediment would frustrate me somewhat if the plane was on fire or I was drowning.

All I say here, though, has been travel from my point of view. But what about obese travellers, themselves?

According to our friends at Health24, clinical obesity is a disability. You wouldn’t open a can of whoop-ass on someone in a wheelchair if it made your flight less comfortable, would you? In fact, the Canadian government has passed “one passenger, one ticket” legislation applicable to all domestic flights, meaning that no one is obliged to buy two seats, even if you take up more than one. In a move designed to protect disabled people, the government included clinical obesity in the ruling. I interpret this as: large people can get a second seat for free.

While this may suit obese passengers, it frustrates those of us average sized peeps as the airlines are forced to charge us more to make up for the free seat given away. Is that fair? Possibly not, but I am happy paying a few ronts extra to make sure that my space is not invaded by someone else’s body – particularly as contorting my 6 foot 1 frame into a space designed for a 5-year-old is an initial challenge I have to face every flight anyway. But the question remains: Should passengers have to do it?

A large part of the medical fraternity sees obesity as a serious and complicated problem and throws disdain on the philosophy that it is all about excess eating and laziness. Dr Ingrid van Heerden, Health24’s diet doc says: “there are definitely obese people who simply don't respond to standard methods of weight loss; it's not just that they've ‘been naughty over Christmas’ and lack willpower.” This means that as much as it is not our fault when inconvenienced on a plane, it may not be the obese passenger’s either.

So what is the solution? Air France KLM, Europe’s largest airline, which flies to Johannesburg and Cape Town, has recently adjusted their policy. Although it is not a prerequisite for boarding, the airline offers obese passengers the option of purchasing a second seat for only 75% of the price. If the plane is then not full on take off, this second seat will be fully refunded to the obese person who chose to buy it. This means that for a discounted fee, all passengers can sit in comfort (if such a thing can be located in economy class), and the expense is only enforced if required – and you hardly ever get a plane where every seat is booked.

I think that’s a pretty happy medium. This means I don’t have anyone’s flesh touching mine while flying, and they don’t have to pay too much for the privileged of not squashing me.

In defence of King Shaka

Much has been said about the new centre of air traffic in KwaZulu-Natal, King Shaka International Airport (KSIA). Most of it negative. Yes, it cost R7-billion. Yes, it needs to be paid for. Yes, it's further away from Durban and on the other coast nogal. Yes, the old airport wasn't running at full passenger capacity. And yes, you've got to get through a bloody R4 toll.

Well, swallow your anger, folks. Government, often accused of an inherent lack of forward thinking - like that shining light of achievement in utterly damp failure, Eskom - has responded to predicted KZN growth in tourism and cargo. ACSA projections claim that Durban International Airport (DIA) would have maximised its potential in the next few years, and it was much cheaper to build KSIA now than wait until that point.

Airports cost money. Building this one was unavoidable. You, yes you, the taxpayer, were going to have to pay for it anyway. ACSA tariffs are going to go up, but not to the degree that some would have you believe - I crunched some numbers and estimate the increase to be about 6%-7% on a R900-R1000 ticket.

While DIA may not have run at top passenger capacity, it is easy to forget that Durban is Africa's biggest and busiest port, and that two-thirds of all ship containers enter South Africa through it, much of which is then transported by plane.

Not only does King Shaka International increase Durban's capacity to move cargo, it also incorporates state-of-the-art equipment and will be able to move more types of goods across more industries. A lot of cargo has to go through Johannesburg - taking a day longer as it's done by truck - because of limited facilities at DIA. This new airport is set up to get around that and will hopefully spare all of us who use the N3 between Joburg and Durban that truck-related grief we've grown so accustomed to.

Along with cargo trade, tourism is also on the increase in this, the double-summered city. It currently makes up 10% of the GDP of the province itself. Also, in October 2009, Emirates began direct flights from Dubai to Durban - the only major international airline to operate international (not regional) flights to the city without going through Johannesburg or Cape Town. DIA's runway was too short for a fully-laden Boeing 747 to take off, which also means landing the new Airbus A380 (which forms part of the Emirates fleet) was impossible. KSIA's new runway takes care of that problem. An international airline direct to Durban, creating easy travel, is a great asset for tourism and the new airport should encourage more of this.

Take a look at this statistical comparitive of the two airports

Runway length: 2.4km 3.7km
Aircraft parking bays: 23 34
Air bridges: Zero 16
Annual passenger capacity: 4.4 million 7.5 million
Check-in counters: 52 72
Passenger terminal floor area: 30 000 sqm 102000 sqm
Retail space: 2 900sqm 6 500sqm
Retail outlets: 23 52
Public parking bays: 2490 6500

The airport location was decided under the previous government back in the 70s and it is not as though one can just build an airport anywhere. After all a 3.7 kilometre runway and 102 000 square meter terminal need quite a lot of room. Forty kilometres from the city centre to the airport is not an unfairly long way if travelling by car and folks living on the north coast have been driving that far to the airport since its inception. Guess what? They are all still ok.

Keep in mind that the airport's position is not only important for locals departing, but also visitors arriving. Umhlanga, Durban's money-making tourist centre is closer to the new airport than the old one. The drive is the same as from the northern suburbs of Johannesburg to OR Tambo International and 10km closer than people from Pretoria have to drive.

And if you are really put off by the R4 toll you have to pay, there is an alternative route up the R102. If you still feel bad about an extra toll, just compare your situation to the massively-increased idea about to be deployed in Joburg. It'll cheer you right up.

So next time you fly to Durban and land at King Shaka International Airport, appreciate the good that will come of it.

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