In March I reported on the death of sometime Formula 1 driver Jackie Pretorius, who was killed when intruders broke into his house in Glen Austin, a top-end suburb of Johannesburg. It was, I wrote, the second such attack on the Pretorius house, Jackie’s wife Shirley having been killed in a previous assault a few years earlier… Such things are all too frequent in the modern South Africa.
Pretorius was not just your run-of-the-mill F1 driver. In South Africa he was aristocracy. A decendant of one of the earliest Dutch settlers, he was related to Andries Pretorius, who created the Transvaal Republic and his son Martinus, who was the first president of the South African Republic, wrote the constitution and founded the city of Pretoria in honour of his father. The message that came from this article is that South Africa is a dangerous place. It has a shocking record for crime and most emigrants report that the principal reason for their departure is the crime. For a long time it was carjacking that scared the tourists away, more recently bands of thieves have taken to entering restaurants and robbing the people eating in them. Wealthy people, such as Pretorius, live in gated communities with guards at the entrance.
The idea that South Africa was going to have a Grand Prix never made much sense to me. I was there when we last visited back in 1993 and even then one felt threatened. The local government may think that taking a sporting event to the country will help to soften the country’s poor image, but that is only going to happen if there are signs that the place is safe. Dropping 2000 F1 people into Johannesburg does not bear thinking about.
It is thus something of a relief to hear that plans to try to host a race in Guateng Province (the area around Johannesburg) have been abandoned following a review by the recently-appointed Member of Executive Council for Economic Development Firoz Cachalia. A seasoned minister at provincial level, Cachalia said that the plans failed to meet government guidelines to fund only events which meet the needs of the majority. He also said that existing race contracts violated clauses in the Public Finance Management Act.
So it is bye-bye to South Africa. If there is to be a Grand Prix on the African continent, the focus will need to switch back to the Mediterranean states.