Sun City shines during tough times

Sun City has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons.

These include allegations of racism at the resort, trouble with trade union federation Cosatu and accusations of unfair labour practices.

And all this is happening amid the Lost City’s 20th anniversary and ahead of the resort’s plans to add a fifth hotel and conference facilities to the current establishment.

Sun City’s director of operations Geoffrey Mabote was refreshingly frank about Sun City’s problems.

“There is never a dull moment here. Not one moment, so yes, we have problems. We’re not perfect, but we know what the problems are and we’re working on them.”

A particular altercation, which has gained a fair deal of exposure recently, happened during New Year celebrations and prompted Mabote to hire accounting firm KPMG to conduct an investigation into the incident. A group of revelers were accused of molesting young women in one of the pools at the resort and were allegedly electrocuted by security guards at the scene.

“No one condones what the security guards did, but people must not forget that the men involved were accused of molesting young girls. This is a family resort and we take the safety of our guests very seriously,” said Mabote.

Cosatu accused the private security firm, 24/7, employed by Sun City, of racism and threatened to protest at the resort. Sun City’s previous security firm — Falcon — had also been accused of racism and their contract was eventually terminated.

More about the investigation later.

Supersized and swish

For those who aren’t aware, Sun City is the largest resort in Africa. It comprises of four hotels — the Cabanas (three stars), the Sun City Hotel (four stars), the Cascades (five stars) and the Palace of the Lost City (five-star deluxe).

Of course, there are casinos scattered throughout the resort in Rustenburg, North West province, but, as I recently discovered during a stay at the Lost City, the Palace hotel is thankfully devoid of any gaming facilities.

Primarily because of the size of the resort and the number of hotels with a total of 1300 rooms, I’ve never been more than a reluctant day-tripper through Sun City, but after two discerning friends had recommended the resort, I steeled myself for Sol Kerzner kitsch and decided to give it a try. I was also keen on evaluating the security guards.

Over the past three years, guest numbers have dwindled at the resort as a large percentage of guests — particularly those at the Lost City — are foreigners and the global recession took its toll on the tourism industry. The good news, though, was that none of the 1500 full-time employees or the 2500 part-time employees lost their jobs during the recession.

The Palace at the Lost City is about as swish as it gets. Sure, the overall architecture is what us Africans would consider completely over-the-top, but the foreign guests love the brazen amplification of the African theme.

At breakfast, I overheard two British women talking about the resort. This is, more or less, what transpired:

“You know, I was a little reluctant. I wasn’t sure about staying in the bush like this. But, this isn’t really the bush is it?”

“Yeah, yeah. No it’s not, is it?”

“And now I’m thinking that I want this lifes. I want to come here every few months. We’re having such fun. I mean, look at this breakfast, I’m being such a pig, but I can’t help it.”

“Yeah, yeah. But, you can skip lunch and then you don’t have to feel so bad.”

They went on quite contentedly — and noisily — throughout breakfast, extolling the virtues of the resort and as they did, my instinctive cynicism lifted slightly.

Pain and pampering

I then spent the entire weekend doing everything other than gambling. My teenage nephew and I had an absolute blast quad-biking through an undulating off-road course, which ensured we were thoroughly shaken and stirred at the end of our 60-minute session. Among the outdoor leisure activities are archery, jet-skiing, game drives, elephant safaris and the well-stocked Pilansberg nature reserve is in very close proximity to Sun City for those who want to see more than the usual array of Kudu, Impala and warthogs.

There’s also the Valley of the Waves for the kids and the Gary Player golf course for the grown-ups.

The vigourous quad-biking left my lower back feeling as if it had been pummeled by a heavy-weight pugilist so I dragged myself to the Gatsby spa and booked myself in for a Theranaka full-body massage. Having been lucky enough to have been turned into a slap chip and drenched in body oils — or massaged — on four continents, I can safely say that the Gatsby spa is world-class. The therapists are knowledgeable and well-trained, and the range of treatments are impressive. I wafted out of the spa on a shea butter-scented cloud and without a hint of the back pain that had driven me there.

The restaurants at the resort cater to all needs from the fast-food Wimpy at the entertainment centre to the exceptional Greek restaurant Santorini at the Cascades hotel and the posh Crystal Court at the Palace.

The Crystal Court has a set three-course menu for dinner with main-course options like the fillet of kingklip, sauce vierge, asparagus, creamed butternut puree and capers, which was a thoroughly flavourful meal. The kingklip was mildly spiced and perfectly prepared, and the asparagus was crisp and wholesome. My nephew had the Karoo lamb tomato bredie with basmati rice, which he said tasted just like a good curry should with tender chunks of lamb nestled in a smooth masala gravy that wasn’t too pungent. The warm chocolate fondant pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream was heavenly, but the malva pudding with apricot and toasted almond ice-cream could’ve been a little less dry.

Back to Sun City’s tribulations.

To be honest, I barely noticed the security guards and I felt that the resort could benefit from an increased presence of guards. However, the resort is covered in CCTV surveillance and that obviously adds to the overall security of the establishment.

As for the labour brokers issue: economic analysts say that labour regulations need to be eased in order to encourage business owners to hire and fire more freely, but Cosatu feels that unskilled labourers are being exploited by their bosses and by brokers, and more regulation is needed to protect their rights. There is no clear-cut way forward on this issue, but Sun City’s management is scheduled to meet Cosatu sometime soon to talk about this matter. Sun City will also reveal the findings of the KPMG investigation into the New Year’s incident at this meeting.

Sun City is just 160km from Jo’burg and while I remain skeptical about big resorts, my nephew and I thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor activities and I feel a little sheepish to admit that we’re now seriously considering the vacation club at the resort.


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