THE ANNUAL CONVENTION of the Road Freight Association was held last month at a venue that seemed idyllic for a business getaway of this nature. Topping the attraction stakes was that it had a golf course , an essential for tough business gatherings of this nature. The second was that it bordered the Kruger National Park which meant you would get a good night’s sleep given that your wife’s snoring would be drowned by the throaty roar of lions as they chewed on dead zebras and other tasty tidbits. Amazing how a woman’s snoring rattles the brain yet a lion’s roaring calms the thing. The third was that it had a Spa which meant you wouldn’t have to pretend enjoying giving your wife a back massage when she returned buckled up from a bumpy game-viewing drive into the park. She could get it done by people who are qualified to do that sort of thing. The fourth was that it boasted a 4-Star rating. All this combined is why a couple of hundred people from the trucking industry converged from various directions on the Hans Merensky Hotel & Spa in Phalaborwa for this gathering of truckers.
I arrived in the dark at about 8.00pm and walked into a truly magnificent reception area. As I was filling in one of those horrible forms all hotels make you fill in, Jaco ‘˜chicken or beef’ Du Plessis from GRW walked up to the desk. “Hey there Jaco, how you doing? Have you also just arrived?’ I asked. “No, I’ve already checked in but I don’t have any lights in my room. I can’t see a thing in there.’ The guy behind the desk politely explained to Jaco that the maintenance staff were off duty but that he would see what he could do. I walked into the bar and it was great seeing so many friendly faces , all standing on upright legs I might add , enjoying the camaraderie that exists among colleagues and competitors in this wonderful industry.
I decided to ‘˜retire from action’ at around 11.00pm and when I eventually found my room, I unpacked and headed for the shower. As I enjoyed the hot water trickling from the shower head and cascading over my weary limbs , how’s that for a lekker shower , I noticed that my feet were disappearing under a rising tide of water. I didn’t give it a second thought until I switched off the taps, opened the shower door and stepped into a raging torrent of flood water. The weather forecast for the day made no mention of tsunamis hitting Phalaborwa – so what caused it? I looked back into the shower and realised that not one drop of water had gone down the shower drain. Instead, it had all seeped under the non-waterproofed shower door to flood the bathroom. Being near the Kruger Park, I checked for any stray crocodiles that might have wandered in to gobble some wayward Barbel and then quickly swam towards the basin to brush my teeth. Once done, I reached for the wall mounted hair dryer. I plucked the pipe from its cradle and it all came apart. So there I was , standing in the flood waters while listening to the roaring wind of a tornado hair dryer directing its fury at the river of water below. Definitely bed time. I put some towels down and was amazed to see thick, fluffy towels become sad, soggy, wet lumps of glob within seconds. The water did not subside much so I splashed my way out of there.
Over the next two days, the number of stories that were swopped of incidents , such as the shower door falling off in one guy’s room and the sliding door to the verandah falling off in another just as an hyena was walking past , seriously , increased in hilarity. At first, there was a ‘˜peeved off’ flavour to the stories but then, as truckers are, they became hilarious. We just had to laugh at the irony of standing in a long queue to be ferried to a bush venue for an outdoor braai dinner. There we were among some of the top logistics brains in the country and we stood waiting for ages in a long line for three small game viewing bakkies to go back and forward ferrying herds of people to the venue. No wonder Limpopo never got those school text books delivered. The next night was better as the dinner venue was within walking distance of the rooms. Mercedes-Benz sponsored the dinner and the stunning entertainment by Rob and Ali of MezzoForte Productions. It was all going great until the food arrived , cold. And the drinks didn’t arrive until we threatened to feed to the lions the fourth waitress who took our order.
That morning, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, had addressed the convention. Thank goodness it was on the first and not the second day because it was then, while Joanne Lee Carty of Food & Trees for Africa , she of the shining teeth in the dark – was behind the podium, that a loud explosion resounded and all the lights went out. The N3TC’s Con Roux jumped from his seat onto my lap screaming: “I’m too young to die!’ It turned out that the cause of the explosive power outage was due to the kettle urns being plugged in to heat the water for the tea break. They blew everything in sight. If that had happened the day before, those urns would be lying dead in their spilled water after being filled with bullet holes as the entourage of body-guards, heavily armed cops and other personnel who accompanied Mr Motlanthe opened fire on the kettle threat to our top man. Thank goodness he had left the day before.
It was then we collectively decided to change the name of the Hans Merensky Hotel & Spa to Fawlty Towers. Can you imagine going up to Basil Fawlty and complaining of a flooded bathroom? “So? What do you expect me to do? Put exotic goldfish in the shower to swim around with you. Or would you prefer a couple of Great White sharks snapping at your ankles. I can’t believe you people. All you ever do is complain. You’re pathetic.’
And here’s the point. The staff were outstanding in trying to fill the gaps and cater to everyone’s needs. What we experienced was a management problem. There was no leadership. How often have you read that South Africa lacks leadership and therefore direction? Let’s say all those guests were potential investors looking at this resort as a possible investment destination. And in fact, in a way they were for many could well have returned to hold their own company conventions there. As it was, I doubt whether anyone will return. They will take their money elsewhere where they will be assured of a solid return on that investment. Which makes me think: Shouldn’t we change the name of South Africa to Fawlty Towers?