I've just come back from South Africa, where photographer Tom Gordon and I were interviewing leading players in the country's aerospace and aviation industries, including South African Airways chief executive Siza Mzimela for our sister magazine Airline Business. Flight's own special on South Africa comes out on 11 September, ahead of the Africa Aerospace and Defence show in Pretoria later that month.
It was my first visit to South Africa and it's clear that the country's problems have not vanished with the end of apartheid, almost two decades ago. Although there have been improvements poverty and unemployment remain endemic and crime is a major problem. Beside the very 21st century highways and modern rail transit connecting the suburbs of Johannesburg and Pretoria are sprawling townships (although housing conditions within them vary from elegant modern townhouses to corrugated iron shacks). South Africa's middle classes live in gated compounds behind high barbed wire-topped walls and security gates. While I was there, the tragedy at the Marikana platinum mine, near Johannesburg, was unfolding.
But for those lucky enough to be in a job, this is still the rainbow nation, a multicultural society where respect for racial differences is not just entrenched in the constitution, but now part of the social fabric. A sign in a Virgin Active gym I visited stressed a zero tolerance for any kind of racism in the "new South Africa".
The end of apartheid and sanctions have transformed South Africa from an inward pariah state to a country able to export not just its rich resource of raw materials and agricultural produce, but its considerable industrial, entrepreneurial and technological prowess. With sub-Saharan Africa poised to be the next big growth region, South Africa is positioning itself as its economic powerhouse. In aviation that means being the hub for both airline services and general and business aviation. In aerospace, it means using expertise created during the isolationist years to train a new generation of designers and engineers and export products to the rest of the continent: Paramount Group's AHRLAC reconnaisance aircraft is a prime example.
I'll be writing about the prospects for South African industry in our 11 September issue.