Comment: The South African dream

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Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US, assesses South Africa's potential as a business destination.

" The operative word for the day is 'potential', coupled with 'possibilities'. Why else would one consider relocating, uprooting and moving away from friends and family, not to mention most business associates and colleagues? And, a move a bit more complicated than tossing valuables and household items into the back of a lorry with the wife and kids right behind in the family auto. From a United States perspective, Arizona is a beautiful location but I am not moving there. My wife and I own property there and use it to vacation, to savour the weather, get away and relax, indulge in one of my favourite past–times–golf. And, whenever we can, bring the rest of the family out to join us...whenever they can, children and/or grandchildren. There is Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and, above us, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto. But, we are not moving. We are visiting. And I am doing business with one or more companies in each of those venues. Point? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!Okay, maybe no bears and indigenous tigers but lots of lions and wild local inhabitants to see from the safety of tour directed vehicles that offer incredible photo opportunities. What does that have to do with business? Nothing at all unless you are on the verge of opening your own safari adventures operation. But it represents one of many reasons to go to South Africa, besides business. South Africa, at the southernmost region of Africa, is a fantastic place to visit and the only things that will bring business there are someone visiting, falling in love with it – from its vast beauty to the people, and desiring to relocate. That happens. Not often but it does. Not often enough, however. You have a difficult enough time deciding where to eat, which movie or play to see, where the kids should go to school, where to vacation ... relocating for business reasons moves to another plateau, planet and universe. The allure, need, potential, business advantages that have to be vast are all part of the programme and considerations but they have to be overwhelming and the reality of life, and South Africa, as it is with India, are that the comforts of home outweigh the perceived opportunities of this continent. Cutting to part of the chase, the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be good, very good, for the country. Five countries vied for this honour–Libya, Egypt (Tunisia as a co–host), Morocco and South Africa. Tunisia withdrew, Libya's bid was rejected, Egypt might have been a great destination with its vast wealth but not with its 'ho–hum' attitude towards it, Morocco was in the running with 10 votes but could the country seriously undertake this? South Africa was the winner without having to try very hard. It is not the end–all, cure–all, for bringing people and business to South Africa on a permanent basis. All those visitors for this competition will go home and recall, savour the photos they took, encounters with locales that were befriended, remember the places visited, tell tales of the high and low points, make plans to visit again at a quieter time, to see more, But, when all is said and done, as it was, sadly, with Beijing 2008, the World Cup sites may become vast wasteland where one will recall more exciting, happier times. How might that be avoided? By planning ahead. Beijing did not do that. And, most assuredly, in the back of everyone's mind, certainly those associated with the World Cup, is whether Africa can ever host an Olympics, with South Africa having the best chance, on the heels of this event? 'Ever' is a long time but, frankly, not in the foreseeable future. So much for entertaining that thought. Cape Town, the second most populous city in South Africa, is sensational, with a diverse range of attractions, sights and activities to offer but it all spells 'vacation' or, for many in Europe, a condominium. It is an excellent entry to South Africa but that is where your travel excursion starts, not relocation. From here you also go to Durban and the Kruger National Park. Make no is a tourist destination and is not, sadly, in my opinion, about to become the focal point for business ventures now located on the Continent or elsewhere. It is the economic centre of the Western Cape and will remain so with al of its manufacturing–and there is much there–done for the region with a tad of export included. The entrepreneurial spirit of South Africa, highlighted in Cape Town and Johannesburg comes from within for the most part and not from relocation. It is well to note that since open arms are not in abundance with welcome mats strewn everywhere should you come from abroad, particularly with your own staff. 'Jo'berg' is the city of gold and the largest metropolis in South Africa. It is also the prime address for, you guessed it, international tourism and, after apartheid, the crime rate rose dramatically. What is increasingly obvious is that you can do business in South Africa but you stay home. You find unquestioning locals and, if you are lucky, someone you trust with no ties or reasons to stay in London, Manchester, Paris, London, Rome or The Hague and you send him to run your offices there, someone you can charge with the care of your own family. Do that without such a person in China, for example, and you can possibly kiss your investment goodbye before it is made. Leave the main cities and you can film Slum Dog Millionaire, South Africa version. No doubt they are doing all they can to combat the poverty and, to some degree, are succeeding but too much still lingers from the past and one of the highest rates of economic inequality prevails here. It comes with the racial disparity and imbalance that they still cannot seem to shake, apartheid gone aside. South Africans like their sports, primarily cricket and soccer, but I cannot fathom any new international leagues hyperventilating to have team representation in South Africa, or any part of Africa at all although a pride of lions would make a formidable foe if trained properly. Also a great mascot or nickname for a team. Coming near full circle, we are now back to the FIFA World Cup of 2010 and the marvellous Green Point Stadium with its state of the art roof structure, also being designed and built to minimise noise and disturbance in the surrounding area, of which there will be a great deal. But, once World Cup waves farewell, what then? Concerts. Auto racing, Picnics for the masses? The R4. 5bn stadium project has created jobs for over 2, 500 workers. The area surrounding the new stadium, the 85 hectare Green Point Common will incorporate a newly–designed golf course, sporting facilities for several different sporting codes and the public recreation areas. Upgrades to the airport, public transport, roads and electricity infrastructure will also be on the 'results' page. All good and bountiful for locals as well as anyone coming in from elsewhere to contribute and earn ... then leave. What is not shouted from the rooftops, however, is the large number of evictions in South Africa, which many claim are meant to 'beautify the city' but are really intended to impress visitors and hide the shack dwellers. Over 20, 000 residents from Joe Slovo Informal Settlement removed. Welcome to the FIFA World Cup!It is show time and you do whatever you have to do, no matter the cast. More than 15 minutes of glory but every one intended to impress the world. No doubt it will but, without beating this horse totally to death, it will only craft a picture to entice visitors, hardly any that will be so taken that they will uproot upon return home and rush off to South Africa as their new corporate business headquarters. It is, on the other hand, a great destination for conferences...still only a temporary stay but that is, as is blatantly more and more obvious, the final conclusion. Come to see, not to stay but leave your dollars, pounds, Euros, francs, yen and all else with South Africa before you return home with fond memories of an otherwise magnificent place to visit. " About Mickey CharlesWhilst an attorney by training, Mickey Charles' background includes a wide range of interests among which are newspaper syndication, hosting a national sports talk show, being a feature editor on a myriad of topics running the gamut from telecommunications to travel, responding to requests as panelist, moderator and chair–person at seminars, conventions, trade shows and conferences. . . and still being president and CEO of Computer Information Network, Inc. , known within the industry and worldwide as The Sports Network. He has guested on, and worked with, such shows and networks as "The Sally Jessy Raphael Show" (radio), " The Today Show, " " News Center Four, " " PRISM, " " Morning, " " EveryDay, " " Gary Collins Show, " " Maury Povich Show, " " Newsweek, " " NewsInc, " "Live Pizza" (ESPN) and others. . . as well as co–hosting a sports talk show on ESPN and delivering commentary on the NFL for both Mutual Broadcasting and Westinghouse in recent years. In 1996 he was asked to broadcast weekly sports reports to Tokyo for FM FUJI (network) and " Inter Act QZ. " Also, he is the author of numerous articles and features that extend to the communications industry, gaming, travel, radio and television, cartoons and humor. Some of the publications to which he contributes editorially are iGaming Business Magazine, Gaming Industry News, Gaming Law Review (member of Editorial Board), New York Nightlife, New York Sportscene, Gambling Times and Gambling Online. Others for whom he has written over the years include Boardwalker Magazine, Communicator, Sporting Times, Update, Atlantic City Magazine, and Talkers. Charles is a frequent speaker for a variety of organisations (panelist and/or moderator) and is a consultant to major corporations domestically and internationally and was also asked to speak and present before the Presidential appointed National Gambling Impact Study Commission due to his expertise in this area. Charles is a pioneer in the audiotex industry since pre–divestiture, when he formed Communications Team, Inc. , a sports telecommunications group focused on telephonic delivered information that eventually evolved into The Sports Network, an international realtime sports wire service with customers throughout North America, Asia and Europe. It is a qualitative and quantitative source for sports news, data, scores, features, statistics and other sports information in the world. Subscribers include, but are not limited to, online services, newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, networks, pager/ beeper companies, hotels, race and sports book establishments, sports bars, interactive television, telephone companies, audiotex services, cable organisations, lotteries . . . and more. Turning to one of his recreational favourites, Charles has been president of the Middle Atlantic Blind Golfers Association and assisted annually for many years with golf tournaments for the benefit of United Way and St. Jude's. He is a graduate of Kalamazoo College (BA) and Brooklyn Law School (LLB). For further information, contact: The Sports Network +1 215/441–8444 Fax: +1 215/441–5767; e–mail: Maureen@sportsnetwork. com

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