A lost generation of sinbads, puppies, gasps and sitcoms

My friend Charl e-mailed the logo for the Guardian’s home-swap website: I heart NY, a bearded Beefeater called London and the SA multicoloured Y-front flag. He asks why we don’t tap into this international brand recognition when it comes to wine. A cynic might point out that none of the keys unlocks an SA door as there’s no panic button on the keyring. And sure enough, inside the site, the African swap options are in Morocco and Kenya, with the latter a dodgy destination after recent events.

image001 A lost generation of sinbads, puppies, gasps and sitcoms

A report in Rapport of 17 February headed “shock figures about the exodus of educated youth” by Lizel Steenkamp, is the pink elephant in the tasting room of SA wine. The Institute of Race Relations estimates that 850 000 white people emigrated between 1995 and 2005 with the conclusion drawn that 20% of white South Africans have home-swapped in a decade. With crime, grime and affirmative employment practices still in play plus the new Eskom factor, that figure is probably closer to one quarter, two years later.

Emigration seems to be a game white teenagers like to play. Comparing the 1996 census with a population estimate made last year, the 345 000 whites in the 15-19 age cohort were down to 290 000. Where did they go? The Aussie bureau of statistics reported in 2006 that over 90 000 South Africans have lived Down Under for more than two years confirming that Australia in addition to the UK, New Zealand, the US and Canada are favoured destinations for the home-swappers.

The age and racial complexion of SA is clearly changing rapidly and both are bad news for local fine wine producers. A snapshot of punters at any of the major wine shows (with the notable exception of the Soweto Wine and Brandy Festival) reveals a collections of lilywhite sitcoms (single income, two children, outrageous mortgage), puppies (poncey upwardly-mobile professionals), sinbads (single income, no boyfriend, absolutely desperate) and gasps (gay, affluent sans progeny) with a few buppies (black urban professionals) and woopies (well-off older persons) at a loose end.

The missing 55 000 white teenagers from the 1996 census would today be in their late twenties and ardent consumers of De Toren Fusion V and Kanonkop Paul Sauer. Their place has been taken by whisky chugging West Africans and those exotic ladies at Teezers with no English (or Afrikaans) but a taste for French Champagne and impressive embonpoints. With whisky and whiskey sales growing at twice the pace of brandy, I’ve decided to home-swap off to Bushmills in Northern Ireland, to see what all the fuss is about. Back next week.