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JUNE 2, 1997

Re-emerging South Africa

THE rumors of attempts to revive the South African Grand Prix are interesting, but the major problem remains finding the money to take Formula 1 racing back onto the African Continent. This is something which would please F1 bosses as it would add to the global image of the sport.

The last South African GP was in March 1993 but in late 1995 the Automobile Association of South Africa began talks about holding a race in 1996 or 1997. Early last year, however, the Rand fell 22% in value against the dollar and the plans had to be abandoned. The economy is now picking up again.

In recent months the AASA has conducted feasibility studies for street races in both Cape Town and Durban but these have been discounted as being too expensive. There is still Kyalami, which is doing well but not raising enough money to pay for an F1 race. The AASA reckons it would need $7.5m to stage a race and cannot find anyone to pay.

The most likely source of income would seem to be the government. In this respect the AASA is well-connected as one of its board of directors is Prince Thumbumuzi Dlamini of Swaziland, who is President Nelson Mandela's son-in-law. The problem for Mandela is that there is much else that needs to be done in South Africa and while a Grand Prix might attract more foreign investment it is harder to justify than investment in health care and new housing.

Finding private backing is a possibility and with the South Africans offering eight casino licenses at the moment, there is a possibility that the winning bidders might fund a race to draw worldwide attention to their casinos. One of the bids is for a casino in the goldfields town of Welkom and we understand that there are plans to promote the facility with a street race.

Welkom is a long way from anywhere in the Orange Free State. It already has a small racing circuit called Goldfields Raceway but the town does not in any respect have the infrastructure necessary to support a Grand Prix.

Another possible source of backing could be from the new black African tycoons, who are currently making headlines. The obvious choice would be former secretary-general of the African National Congress Cyril Ramaphosa, a big F1 fan. He quit politics last year to enter business and has rapidly carved himself an empire (and a fortune) as deputy chairman of New Africa Investments. This company is in the process of trying to gain joint control of Gold Fields of South Africa. Ramaphosa is also on the board of directors of South Africa's largest company, the $14bn Anglo American and deputy chairman of South African Breweries, which has a 98% share of the country's beer market and is estimated to be worth $8bn. Profits at SAB last year were $560m. With Ramaphosa's influence and negotiating skills - he formulated South Africa's new constitution five years ago - money for a Grand Prix might not be a problem.