Chocks away for SAA

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 October, 1993, 12:00am

THERE are an estimated 97,000 amahs in Hong Kong, mainly Filipinas, Thais and Sri Lankans, but there can only be one Zulu, Elizabeth Dikgale.

Her employer, Marie-Helene Maguire, had been dreaming of an overseas posting for years in the Johannesburg office of South African Airways, where she worked in marketing.

When the opportunity came, just over a year ago, Ms Maguire, had mixed feelings.

She was offered the post of SAA manager for Hong Kong, but did not want to leave Elizabeth, her housekeeper, behind.

So SAA agreed that if Hong Kong's Immigration Department had no objections to adding one Zulu to its growing list of amahs, then nor did they.

Ms Maguire also flew in another piece of home, her collection of African artefacts, masks, beadwork and basketry which take up a whole room in her Harbour City apartment. ''My Africa room,'' she says fondly.

But even without the Africa ''accessories'', Ms Maguire would have been unlikely to suffer from home-sickness. She had already spent several years in America, and apart from being fascinated by the totally different culture here, she is just too busy.

South African Airways, scorned and impeded for years by nations throughout the world because of the country's apartheid system, is at last spreading its wings.

And next month, Ms Maguire revealed, a second weekly flight will be launched from Jo'burg to Hong Kong as the nation's policies of political partnership between black and white continue to take root.

It will help, she believes, to open the floodgates for Asian tourism, and next week a delegation from South Africa will arrive here for a workshop-seminar at the Regent Hotel to set the wheels in motion.

A big contingency of local travel trade representatives have been invited for a giant-screen audio-visual show, Iza Uzobona (''Come and see'' in Zulu). South African musicians are also being flown in for a public performance.

''We have been flying non-stop to Jo'burg for 18 months and the market has grown a lot,'' said Ms Maguire.

''The first flight now carries a full payload of passengers and cargo, and there is big demand for this second flight.

''This will give me the opportunity to look at package tours tailor-made for Hong Kong. Ten-day holidays would be ideal for Hong Kongers.'' Ms Maguire said one tour popular with Chinese included gambling at the Lost City casino in the independent homeland of Bophuthatswana, about two hours drive from Jo'burg, where Chinese cuisine was also a speciality, served by Chinese-speaking staff.

''We have a large indigenous population of Chinese,'' she said.

Cape Town, ''tourist-friendly'' said Ms Maguire, was also a big attraction for Chinese, as were game parks.

Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines and Air Mauritius were also boosting tourism in South Africa as they fly there from Hong Kong.

''Mainland Chinese are also looking at the trading potential in South Africa,'' said Ms Maguire. ''We have had two large groups there from China this year, with more than 200 in each group. China is also becoming a new holiday destination for South Africans.'' The release of Nelson Mandela, who has jointly been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with President F.W. de Klerk, played a big role in changing the fortunes of SAA.

For years, SAA had been banned from flying over the African continent because of the country's apartheid laws, making journeys so long that the airline was unattractive to many travellers. That ban was lifted after Mandela's release.

But in spite of South Africa's movement towards black majority rule, there is still widespread violence. Is it is a safe country for tourists? ''There are, of course areas in which it would not be recommended for tourists to enter,'' conceded Ms Maguire.

''Everything possible has been done to make tourists safe and comfortable. The violence is remote from the tourist track. The places we take tourists are very safe. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.'' And it looks like many more Chinese are prepared to taste what South Africa has to offer.