Life of shopping abroad

For almost 10 minutes we waited in the lobby of Sun International's head offices in Sandton. Then an unfairly gorgeous young lady, who introduced herself as an assistant to our hostesses, shepherded us to the first floor of a multi-storied building.

The place is serene. Beautiful people walk purposefully about. Meetings are held in various glass-fronted offices. The only buzz about is the over-worked coffee machine dispensing endless cups of cappuccinos.

Apart from a few posters that give away the game, there are no signs of greedy slot machines or tables gobbling away money in an unfair game of luck.

The beautiful one loosened us up with some forgettable chit chat, the only way a trained PR can make something frivolous sound profound.

Then the Real Deal made an appearance finally. She placed her gold Dolce & Gabbana mobile on the table and threw one expensively-shoed leg over the other.

She sat there in a small but beautifully-furnished interconnecting room facing three ink-soaked journalists and said it without batting an eyelid.

"I had always wanted to become a journalist, but after practising the craft for a short while, I was horrified to discover how unglamorous the profession was," she said matter-of-factly.

Truth hurts. Photographer Elvis Ntombela fiddled with his camera and gave me a distraught look. In turn I looked at ashen-faced Online editor Bruce Fraser with a heavy heart of the scorned.

Earlier, we were politely reprimanded: "I hope you guys won't be asking who I'm dating. I don't think your readers will be that terribly interested in who I'm sleeping with."

"Not quite," I grudgingly agreed. "Not quite."


Thoko Qoboza is that kind of a woman: Someone who does not call a spade what it's not.

After it has all sunk, you tend to agree with her. I mean, what's so glamorous about journalism?

Imagine those mud-caked war correspondents dodging bullets in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan... Imagine them going on for months without basic hygienic stuff such as hair shampoo, sanitary pads or toothpaste, recording war when the rest of civilised society is making love!

Imagine them holed in a bombed-out hotel, nervously chain-smoking and drinking themselves to an early grave for some citation or, at best, a bloodstained Pulitzer? Where is the glamour in all that?

Qoboza's earlier obsession with our craft was obviously a seed planted from an early age by her iconic father, the legendary Percy Qoboza, who edited equally iconic black power publications such as The World and Golden CityPost, ancestors to both Sowetan and City Press, respectively.

From an early age, she remembers their Soweto home as a riotous "people's parliament". There were always people coming and going. In those headyd days of apartheid, people would come to their house to seek her father's advice on issues of the day.

At times it would be his friends. The likes of Dr Nthato Motlana, community leader Tom Manthata and other prominent journalists, academics and overseas visitors, all caught in the spell of the master hedonist.

Some just came for a chat and a drink. And boy, these guys did abuse their livers!

The love affair her father and friends had for the bottle is not lost on Qoboza. She recounts how, whenever they were arrested for their opposition to apartheid, their women would spike anything from litres of orange juice to watermelons with generous doses of brandy or other spirits.

"Then the boys would become too excited and boisterous until either someone pimped them or their excitement eventually gave the game away," she recalled those bad days with spirited laughter.

Prison authorities cut the supply chain with threats of lengthy jail terms for courier "pigeons".

Those, she said are beautiful memories. But there are sad ones too. Plenty of them.

She feels sad for her parents, who were under constant police surveillance, whose house was petrol-bombed. She feels even sadder that her father, one of the bulwarks against apartheid, died in 1988 - two short years before Mandela was released and six years before black majority rule.

She still grieves for her mom, Anne, who died on a surgical table after being admitted to a hospital for a minor, routine operation on New Year's Day.

Today, Thoko Qoboza, as the PR and communications czar of the biggest hotel and gambling chains in the southern hemisphere, is living a dream and glamorous life, which affords her overseas personal shopping and leisure trips at least twice a year.

As someone with a taste for the finest things in life, good books and good jazz are some of her favourite pastimes. Her last sojourn overseas was to the premier international jazz festival held at Rotterdam, a trip which she also used as an excuse to satisfy her insatiable appetite for shopping.

Like Imelda Marcos, the wife of the ill-fated one-time president of the Philippines, our Thoko also has a fetish for shoes. Her footwear cupboard is an emporium of class and style, struggling under a weight of some 300 designer pairs of shoes.

Some, she admitted not having worn in the last two years. "Not because fashion has preceded them or they are worn out. The reality is, there's little time to wear them all."

Whenever she has free time left, she can be seen wandering the greens with irons in hand and hitting some balls about. "I love golf. It is a great relaxant. But I have no handicap yet because I don't practice as much as I would love to," said the ghetto-girl-turned-good.

She might be leading a charmed life, but scratch beneath the surface and you can see that Thoko is and will remain her daddy's baby.

In South Africa Thoko uses her privilege and position to advance the cause of the doomed.

For a cynical newsman, this often comes across as sloppy - some PR-speak or a yawn spun in corporate boardrooms to keep the masses from seeing the ugly face of capitalism.

But then I remember that three months earlier - in this very space - I spoke to a clergyman who assured me that it was doubtful his Aids hospice would have survived without the financial aid it receives from Sun City, a Sun International flagship.

Tapologo - a place of rest - is more than just a place where the diseased and discarded go down to die. Some have literally returned from the dead and are now able to return to work and feed their families, thanks to the unique care offered by the institution.

Bishop Kevin Dowling sings the praises of the gambling resort, a gobble of spit away from his village hospice for the miracles happening at Tapologo. Sun City funds the hospice for more than R15 000 each month.

As the public face of Sun International, Thoko's job involves travelling around the country and interacting with NGOs around their areas of operation, to see how her organisation can help.

In areas surrounding Sun City for instance, they have built houses and sports grounds. Similar projects are going on in the Zimbali environs, Table Bay and Port Elizabeth.

After a short stint writing for Enterprise magazine, she found the whole experience unglamorous and set off to conquer the make-believe world of public relations.

Her first stop was Adele Lucas Promotions, where she handled the then Radio Bop account.

Radio Metro saw a rug being pulled right under their feet. They "stole" Thoko from their rivals and Bop later went the way of all flesh. The next was a feisty, small Sunday paper called Sunday World where she also performed her charmed life en route to a fantasy world first brought into this country by the Sun King, Sol whatsisname?