South Africans refused to see a desert in Phikwe :: Mmegi Online
One of motorsport’s biggest events, the Toyota 1000km Desert Race was held in Upington, Northern Cape. The initial explanation was that due to COVID-19 the event could not take place. It was one of the most heartbreaking partings as racing remains one of the most popular events across the spectrum.
A crowd estimated at over 100,000 watch the grueling competitions of spinning engines. In 2020, the postponement of the event was understandable as COVID-19 was taking its toll.
The pandemic has proven to be a blessing in disguise for South Africa. At first it seemed like a temporary arrangement. But last year, local fans once again watched Upington sitting at the top table and hosting the feast of racing. Still not much, they thought, because back then the deadly Delta variant was spreading like veld fire, so it was no big deal to have another misfire. But days into 2022, local motorsport fanatics were stunned to learn that the race will be held at Upington for the third consecutive year.
It looks like what seemed like a temporary breakup is turning into a nightmarish divorce. Upington has the upper hand. But were the South Africans cunning in the fight against one of the most expensive breeds in Botswana, or were the local authorities their worst enemies? Some say it always happened because ‘Big Brother’ South Africa couldn’t stand to see the Desert Race’s reputation eroded in Botswana.
Botswana had staged the race with resounding success, sparking the jealousy of its southern neighbours, some say. COVID-19 therefore came at the right time for the South Africans and they used the excuse to the full to establish a firm grip on the race.
But there is one glaring goal that local authorities, including the Botswana Tourism Board, could have scored. The Desert Race is primarily a sporting event, but has huge tourism benefits. Few spectators care about the winners, they mostly attend the event as “fun-lovers”, with massive economic benefits. With Selebi-Phikwe struggling following the closure of the BCL mine, organizers saw a huge opportunity to reinvigorate the economic fortunes of the former mining town.
They identified the Desert Race to tackle the economic desert and there was nothing wrong with that. But the grave error and oversight was the pitch; Selebi-Phikwe has no desert. Yes, the mine is deserted and the town suffers from an economic wasteland but it doesn’t turn into the physical wasteland needed to host a desert race.
Only stunted vegetation here and there in an otherwise lush green expanse. Like the Emperor’s New Cloth crooks, South African runners pretended to see the desert at Selebi-Phikwe during the 2019 ‘Desert’ Race. In 2020 the race returned to the Kalahari Desert. Unfortunately, it was not part of the vast Kalahari Desert on the Botswana side. It was on the South African side. As overwhelming as it is, it is a victory in a sporting sense because it is normal for a desert race to be held in a desert, not in a deserted place.