Wednesday 5th March was a very different day for the team as we were all invited to attend the State of the Province Address to be given by the Honourable Mr Senzo Mchunu, Premier of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal.
The event was held at the Royal Show grounds in Pietermaritzburg which is conveniently close to our hotel so a short minibus ride and we are there - well, to be more exact, nearly there as the roads were closed off so the drive had to drop us off up the hill and we walked down to the Accreditation area to get our VIP passes issued.
A shuttle minibus took us from there into the show grounds and dropped us at the end of the red carpet for our walk into the venue. Lots of photographers snapping away and indeed 5 of the team subsequently appeared in the Isolezwe ngoMgqibelo local newspaper - only catch is that we don't know what it says about them as it is written in Zulu ! We were directed to some seats and settled down to wait for the event to start..... a short while later we were informed that we had actually been directed to the wrong seats and had to move back a few rows to where we should have been.
The Premier spoke for a little over an hour. 2014 is the 20th anniversary since the move from Apartheid to democratic elections in South Africa so, unsurprisingly, the talk focused quite a bit on how things had changed over those 20 years. With projects in education and health care being undertaken by our team it was good to hear these being featured strongly as topics in his talk. The importance of data ( the topic of our team's 3rd project) to measure how things have changed was also very clear.
The overall theme of the speech was "Moving Forward with speed ensuring a better quality of life for all."
The statistic that the ports of Durban and Richard's bay currently handle 60% of South Africa's cargo tonnage was one of the many that emphasised the importance of this province to the overall economic health of the country ... and for that matter explains the large number of lorries we see on the main road to/from Durban.
I was surprised by the tourism figures. The speech included the comment that "Twenty years ago, in 1994, we welcomed some 704,000 tourists to our country. Today, that number is two and a half million visitors each year." Impressive growth but having recently read that Winchester had 4.9 million visitors in 2012 ( a figure that includes domestic as well as foreign visitors) it certainly feels like there is scope for the figures for South Africa to continue to grow.
With the talk over and the session formally closed the Premier, king, and members of the executive council all left the venue followed by those in the audience and all made our way to a series of rooms for lunch.
Lunch over we called our transport and made our way back up the hill to the pickup point and returned to base at the hotel. Back in time for some work and a conference call with one of the NGOs that we are hoping to work with on the promotion of science education in South Africa.
As ever dear reader, should you be desirious of a more photo rich blogging experience I commend my colleague Andrew's blog to you. Oh and for anyone from Litteton (that's Littleton Hants not Littleton Mass) who may be reading this ... yes I have mentioned to Yumi that we need a new organist for our church.