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Who Will Be The Best Of The Best?

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Armed with the latest iPads, loaded with sophisticated analytical software, 26 of the country’s top motoring journalists will soon gather at a country hotel outside Johannesburg with a single aim in mind: deciding the South African Car of the Year (COTY) 2018.

It may seem like an insurmountable task to compare the wallet draining German marques with a Japanese or Korean compact costing a fifth of the price – or less. But the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists, which operates on a quasi-military basis when it comes to membership, has had a mountain of experience running this competition since 1986.

From an extensive list of 35 semi-finalists, just 10 models have made the cut and the finalists will be put through their paces with routes and handling tests that weren’t designed by Lewis Hamilton, but rather to emulate the average driver’s capabilities and desires.

The jury will score the mixed band of automobiles on a long list of criteria, from aesthetics to ergonomics, from fuel consumption to environmental friendliness – and most importantly on value for money.

That’s how the modest Opel Astra was able to trump the likes of the majestic Jaguar F-Pace and edge out the Audi A4 by a mere handful of points.

That was after three Porsche victories in a row and the Volvo XC90 scooping the honors with the resultant prestige and sales in COTY 2016.

“By virtually unanimously approving of the Opel Astra, the jury has again proven that experience is the key to the success of the competition,” says Car of the Year convenor Bernard Hellberg Jnr.

“The Astra is a worthy winner of South Africa’s ultimate motoring accolade.”

And it wasn’t for the first time. The Astra 160iS was top of the podium when the Springboks won the World Cup back in 1995.

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In recent years it is the model series, and not specific engine variants, that gets adjudicated and the manufacturers are discouraged from loading their entry with optional extras to impress the panel of motoring journalists.

Just like judging a forward 4.5 somersault in tuck position at the Olympics, radical low and high scores get eradicated to prevent over-enthusiasm or any hint of bias.

So, onwards and upwards to the title aspirants for 2018 and the ranges that you might be tempted to chalk down for your festive season shopping list.

BMW is the most decorated winner in the competition’s history having taken the crown six times.

And the Bavarians are back in the frame with the all-new 5-series.

The BMW 5 Series sedan (Photo by www.bmw.co.za)

The marketing blurb may wax lyrical about the exterior styling changes with the signature kidney grille being larger and more upright, the headlight elements going from round to hexagonal and the stretched lines with the rear window being steeply raked to give more of a “fastback” appearance.

But, apart from the awe-inspiring i8 and a few other exceptions, BMW have taken the conservative road and you won’t be staggered by the new look.

Which means that you may not feel such a pang of envy if you pull up next to the latest offering in your sixth generation 528i. But when you open the door of the current 5-series you may turn very green indeed. This is where the “Business Athlete” hits the mark in virtually every aspect.

Daniel Mayerle and the design team have done an astounding job with an interior, that is modern and clean-cut without being brash, and controls and infotainment that are cutting edge yet practical.

READ MORE: Honed Honda

There is a disconnect in the premium motoring world when it comes to technology. The trend is to try and lead the race with touch-screen systems that are designed for techies at Elon Musk’s rocket factory yet it is mainly the stone-age.com generation buying the cars.

And BMW have come up with an intuitive system with enough manual overrides so that you don’t have to go through a painful and distracting series of screen options to turn the aircon up!

I tested the two-liter turbofour 530i which is faster, more fuel efficient, emits fewer pollutants and weighs in at a basic price of $62,000.

It may not push your adrenalin to the limit, but will take you to the ton in a shade over six seconds and is smoother than George Clooney sipping a Nespresso.

If you have a penchant for fancy features, you’ve come to the right cabin. How about Gesture Control so that you can just swipe your hand to the left to disconnect a call from the boss or rotate your finger clockwise to raise the radio volume.

And wireless charging for your cellphone by just placing it on the neat pad in front of the gear selector.

The list of options is overwhelming – which makes ordering the right specifications for your new chariot a compelling and possibly expensive exercise.

The Porsche Macan, Cayman and Boxster have all taken the laurels before and now the incredibly roomy four-seater Panamera is in the mix with its controversial rump getting some remarkable aluminium surgery. It is now the complete looker we have come to expect from the Stuttgart stable where the cars are sculpted rather than designed.

And the attention to the rear end is a total disservice to the Porsche team which has been so energetic and visionary in producing a vehicle where virtually only the badge remains the same.

The V-shaped array of controls has been replaced by touch screens which burst into life when you ignite the turbo and it is a bewildering experience getting to know your way around this cyber cockpit. Maybe a prime case of techno overkill?

What I could feel by the seat of my pants is that the Audi-developed 2.9-liter V-6 Turbo, very ably assisted by the new 8-speed gearbox, propels the Panamera 4S to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds.  The series must be a serious challenger.

READ MORE: A Concept Car That Captivates

Land Rover is yet to take the title as South Africa’s Car of the Year, but the new Discovery, which has shed 400 kilos and has reportedly got astounding off-road ability, may have what it takes to go beyond its rivals in the market.

What the Discovery hasn’t shed is the dollars. With a base price of $72,000 it may battle in the value-for-money stakes.

On the financial front, the Alfa Romeo Giulia is well placed among its obvious rivals in a cash-strapped economy. The base price for the perky two-liter petrol with 8-speed automatic transmission is a touch over $40,000.

Compared to some boring teutonic monikers, the Italian name conjures up images of passion, style and performance and the Giulia doesn’t disappoint in terms of ABS – Adrenalin Boost per Second. After all it is the runner-up in Europe’s Car of the Year.

The winner overseas? The fashionable Peugeot 3008 SUV which is not the first French voiture to strut its stuff on the local COTY catwalk but could be the first to drive away with the prize.

Honda call the CR-V a comfortable runabout vehicle. They have sold more than nine million of them in 150 countries around the world with the more robust and chunky fifth generation set to keep the cash register ticking.

Then there is the futuristically-styled Toyota C-HR which takes crossover sportiness to a new level and undercuts the Honda and Peugeot by a substantial margin.

Toyota won the very first Car of the Year way back in 1986 with the Corolla Twin Cam, and the C-HR leads the charge for the country’s leading automaker.

But heavy competition in the crossover/SUV stakes (along with a bigger dent in the bank balance) comes from the latest Audi Q5. No visually dramatic changes but bigger, lighter and with 10 liters more luggage space.

The pint-sized Suzuki Ignis crossover hits our shores at a quarter of the Q5 price and is practical yet fun to drive with some modern, youthful interior touches. Amazingly it accommodates my lanky two-meter frame with ease!

I’m not sure if the Kia Picanto would do the same, but the third-generation looks set to put some zing into the competition with its “tiger-nose” grille and price tag of under $10,000.

And finally there is the Volvo S90, taking on the likes of BMW, Merc and Audi in the full-size luxury market. Volvo are hoping to complete a hat-trick for the Swedish automaker after are putting a massive capital injection of $11 billion behind the fray.

Now it is down to the motoring jury to tap their iPads at the beginning of 2018 and assess every aspect of the chosen 10. The irony is that none of them will know the final result until the curtain is drawn around the winner of the Car of the Year at the big reveal in March.

Drivers, start your engines…

Written by Derek Watts

Big Shots

Celebrating Women With Monumental Strength

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Sixty two years ago, on August 9, 20,000 women of all races, classes and creed marched, singing and chanting, babies on their backs, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, to deliver a petition to then Prime Minister J.G Strydom against the introduction of the apartheid pass laws.

This meant black women were not allowed in urban areas for more than 72 hours unless they possessed a pass with the holder’s details, including payment of taxes and permission to be in these urban areas. The march was led by the struggle stalwarts: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa.

“I didn’t see much of Helen Joseph at the march, she was in front of the crowd. She was a big strong woman and she led the march with other strong women. They told us that women are holding passes and if we don’t demonstrate against [the government], we [too will one day end up] holding these passes,” recollects Ramnie Naidoo to FORBES AFRICA. She was only was 14 years old at the time, escorting her mother at the march.

Pictured here is Helen Joseph (1905-1992), founding member of the Federation of South African Women, and Rahima Moosa (1922-1993), union activist and member of the Transvaal Indian Congress, both co-leaders of the 1956 Women’s March.

They have been immortalized in the Long March To Freedom, a procession of 100 life-sized bronzes celebrating the pioneers of South Africa’s journey to democracy, at the Fountains Recreation Resort in the City of Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa.

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Arts

Talking African Writing in London

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Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual literature festival, dwelt on Afrofuturism and where black British artists see themselves in the burgeoning new aesthetic.

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Life

Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival

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It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.

 

Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

Read More: Setting Fire To Swaziland

“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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