Today, Gambling in South Africa is big business. Glittering casino complexes have been established in all nine of South Africa’s provinces following the recent legalization of gambling and a further five licenses are expected to be granted to each province in a national rat race among the provinces to attract tourists and create employment in one of the most promising economy’s in Africa. The South African gambling industry is certainly one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy; new casinos started shooting up all over the place.
However, this was not always the case. The South African gaming industry was always considered an anomaly, and was a product of the nature of the South African pre-rainbow nation apartheid political system. Gambling was officially illegal in South Africa for many years; the reasoning came from a somewhat ambiguous belief in protecting the welfare and integrity of the South African society. Yet its practical implementation was as contradictory as it was perverse. All over South Africa “proper” gambling was illegal; however, huge Casino complexes were developed in the former homelands. In order to understand this, one needs to understand the political character of these Homelands.
The ‘Homelands’ and Emergence of Casinos
Also known as “Bantustan” a homeland was territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South-West Africa (now Namibia), as part of the policy of apartheid. Ten Bantustans were established in South Africa, and ten in neighboring South-West Africa (then under South African administration), for the purpose of concentrating their members of designated ethnic groups, thus making each of those territories ethnically homogeneous as the basis for creating autonomous nation states for South Africa’s different black ethnic groups.
Indeed most casinos in “South Africa”, in fact, formed only part of a much bigger resort area that encompasses a hotel or hotels and a wide range of leisure and sporting facilities and were built in these Homelands. The most venerable and to date by far the largest of the complexes is Sun City, flagship of the Sun International hospitality fleet of venues and founded by leading South African entrepreneur Sol Kerzner in 1979. It boasts four hotels, including the ultra-sophisticated, domed and minaret Palace of the Lost City; fine restaurants (one set on its own tropical island), a vast ‘Super bowl’ indoor centre that hosts conferences and indoor spectaculars; spacious and quite beautifully landscaped grounds, a huge man-made lake with its own beach and tidal waves; a planted forest, and two superb golf courses. These were “superlative” entertainment Mecca’s that could easily compare to the Bellagio or the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. Similar complexes were built in the Transkei and Ciskei. South Africa flocked to these Homelands, which were constructed nations, who were anything but autonomous states.
They were a practically solution for a government that wished to rid themselves of the African population, but saw no scruple in promoting gambling haven for South African gamblers. It needs to be said that these complexes provided a huge amount of employment for the population in the areas, but the principle behind it remained strange. South African gamblers enjoyed all the comfort and luxury that these temples of gaming had to offer. Indeed the South African legislation provided a huge market for these resorts.
Consequently, in 1994, with the election of Nelson Mandela and with it South Africa’s first truly democratic government, these homelands were no longer “needed” at these areas became officially part of South Africa.
This in turn made the gambling issue some what complicated, as now these resorts were no longer in a different state, but operated in South Africa. The Government quickly accommodated the South African thirst for gambling a legalized it. As a result South African no longer had to travel to these areas to spend a penny as impressive casinos offered their services in Johannesburg or Cape Town.