Eurotrash is better than eco-slime

Thursday, 25 January 1996

Let's put an end to this plaintive bleating about crass exploitation of our natural resources...

Bheki Mashile, 32-year-old managing director of the Mpumalanga Times newspaper, had very definite ideas about how our national parks should be treated.

"Peace and tranquillity," he said wistfully. "Architecture blending with the surroundings so that one is able to experience nature first hand; a legacy for future generations." Or words to that effect.

I disagreed.

"We've got this completely wrong," I said. "This pretentious approach to nature conservation completely ignores the fact that we are facing a steadily rising rate of unemployment, with resultant increases in social unrest. This is a vast resource waiting to be tapped, but we are wasting it."

But, countered Mashile, there was the tremendous potential for eco-tourism from nature-starved First Worlders.

"Rubbish," I said. "Eco-tourists are inherently stingy. They're either low-budget student-types or wealthy people with pretensions of getting back to nature. In either case, what money they do spend goes towards Taiwanese manufacturers of nylon backpacks and disposable camping gear, and that money is spent outside this country.

"They're generally vegetarians, they won't buy skins or other animal-based souvenirs, and they're convinced that they're doing us a favour by coming here. I maintain, we've got this completely wrong.

"Eco-tourism is not the way to go. What we need are smelly Germans."

Mashile blinked. "What did you say?"

"It's not my expression," I said. "A friend of mine, herself a German, told me that there are two types of tourists from her country. There are the suave and sophisticated children of Europe's most powerful economy who vacation on the French Riviera and the Swiss Alps, and then there are those, mainly from the former East Germany, whose tastes are crass.

"These are conspicuous-consumption junkies starved after years of deprivation under communism who have traded their Ladas for imported Chryslers. They vacation packed like sardines upon the low-budget beaches of the Mediterranean. Their idea of haute cuisine is a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese.

"They're our market. We need to cater to them."

Why? How?

"They have money, and they are not afraid to spend it. Deutschmark Uber Alles!

"Build an amusement park right in the middle of the Kruger Park. With roller coaster rides that zip past caged lions with fetid breath. Tunnels of terror with glass bottomed boats drifting through illuminated crocodile-infested waters.

"Put up a huge hotel — a skyscraper — with scenic elevators offering views of the landscape and all rooms facing sunrise or sunset. A huge swimming pool with crocodile motifs on the tiles and waiters in Basotho hats and grass skirts serving expensive exotic drinks.

"The nightclub will have a jungle gear dress code (purchasable at the hotel boutique of course). An air-conditioned monorail will circle the complex allowing for back-to-nature jungle viewing from the air.

"For the really daring, Land Rovers disguised as dinosaurs will take them to the sound-and-light show at the drive-in theatre.

"And they will go home to Berlin with pictures of a wonderful vacation. 'See! This is Africa! They even have a McDonald's! Here it is! Next to the elephant!' They'll be back the following year."

Mashile shuddered. "I know the people you're talking about."

"There's lots more," I said. "There's smelly Americans, smelly Italians, and even smelly South Africans from Johannesburg. We'll create lots of employment, bring in lots of real money. Peace and prosperity will ensue."

And the wildlife?

"They'll adapt. The Kruger Park is larger than many countries. Our animals stand a much better chance than any place north of the Limpopo.

"And the rest of us can stay behind to enjoy the now deserted beaches. Peace and tranquillity, architecture blending with the surroundings so that one is able to experience nature first hand; a legacy for future generations..."