Peri-perigate adds a little spice to SA's diplomatic cocktail party circuit
ONE of the prerequisites for running a reliable diplomatic service is the ability to convey important messages from one head of state to another via their embassies. For example, if one wishes to declare war on a small, poorly armed, mineral rich country, it is very embarrassing if the diplomatic messenger gets the address wrong and mistakenly declares war on the US.
Our little misunderstanding with Portugal was nothing like as serious as that, but one does wonder whether the Office of the State President isn't expressing too much solidarity with the Post Office when it comes to the matter of reliable delivery of mail.
Ambassador Vasco Valente packed for Portugal last week after hanging on to a misdirected letter from the SA president to Indonesian President Suharto asking him to release a rebel leader from prison. An escalation of diplomatic tension arose with the Portuguese government "vigorously deploring" the expulsion. In the world of diplomacy this is fairly strong language, and shows that they are not at all happy although they have stopped short of expelling our man in Lisbon which is the usual tit-for-tat response.
The affair, which is fast becoming known as Peri-perigate, is only surprising in that it seems odd that the Portuguese ambassador would find the contents of the letter newsworthy and worth ruining a career over. Unless, of course, there's something we haven't been told.
The Swiss-based Corporate Resources Group has just published its biannual report on global costs of living and has reported that, out of a survey of 145 cities, Johannesburg is the world's cheapest city in which to live. The survey takes into account a basket of goods and services including housing, food and drink, utilities, clothing, entertainment and transport.
I'm not sure whether we should be happy or sad about this news because this rating infers that we have now become a sort of bargain basement Third World destination. Before we know it this information will have slipped into the wrong hands and we will be overrun by hippy backpackers looking for cheap holidays.
As anybody who has ever played real Monopoly (as opposed to the limp local version) knows, the winner is generally the player with hotels in Park Lane and Mayfair rather than the Old Kent Road and Whitechapel. There is also a world of difference in being cheap and offering good value. Cheap cities tend to reflect their lowly status before too long and even begin to look cheap and nasty.
It's one of life's strange paradoxes that money is not always attracted to inexpensive things. People demand status items such as clothes with designer labels, Italian shoes and luxury limousines and they are quite prepared to pay a premium for such products. When it comes to travel most people want to spoil themselves on holiday. Places like London, New York, Paris and Zurich are wealth-creating cities and are therefore attractive places for the rich to live. The rich are a demanding lot and want good restaurants, good shops, good entertainment and clean streets. I haven't heard of too many celebrities choosing to make their home in Johannesburg recently.
Other features you will find in expensive cities are a police force that actually investigates crimes, a good public transport system and plenty of museums and art galleries. The cheapness of Johannesburg is a reflection of depressed property values and an ailing currency, and certainly not an indication of any quality of life. Maybe the Corporate Resources Group should factor in our added costs of security and medical care in this criminal paradise. That should push us a notch or two up the scale.
The London theatre went through a bad patch back in the seventies. There were very often more people on stage than in the audience. Judging by a report in the papers this week, it seems that game lodges are experiencing a similar problem.
Conservation Corporation managing director Dave Varty said that there were too many lodges and too few guests. This must be extremely boring for the animals, who are used to performing in front of at least a dozen Land Rovers crammed with foreign tourists. I suspect that the snotty decision to preserve the excluvisity of upmarket game lodges by charging in US$ probably hasn't helped to foster local support.