As I slowly circle a soggy Durban International Airport’s pay parking area waiting for my wife to emerge from the arrivals terminal, my bad-temper hormones are doing what they always do when faced by bureaucratic arrogance. This does not make a grumpy ugly bastard look any better.

There are a mere dozen stopping bays in the pick-up and drop-off zone, and competition for them is fierce. Next to these 12 overworked prizes stand a further six slots, and they’re empty. The only problem is a pair of signs saying: “VIP pick-up and drop-off only”, and a plastic chain to keep out the tax-paying riffraff. Two fierce-looking dudes wearing shades pace up and down, making sure the common herd doesn’t get uppity enough to try to sneak into a VIP bay.

On my next lap I pass a tearful woman gesticulating anxiously as a tow truck hitches up her Volkswagen Jetta in the Plebeian Zone. “Sorry lady, you can’t leave your vehicle, not even for a minute, and once we’ve called the tow truck we can’t stop the process. You’ll have to fetch your car at the pound.” And pay a few hundred bucks, of course. Ah, well, that’ll free up one of the 12 low-status bays. But some peasant in a Fiat Uno nips in ahead of me, so I have to set off on another tooth-grinding low-speed circuit of the airport.

When I come past at the end of lap four, the six VIP bays still stand empty, which doesn’t surprise me. I use this airport three or four times a month, and don’t remember ever seeing them in use. Really, really important people with double-barrelled names and chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs get deposited and picked up right at the doors of the terminal building, precisely next to the “No drop-off” signs.

I do some mental arithmetic during my next hypertensive lap. One-third of the 18 drop-off bays are allocated to VIPs. Does this mean that 33% of the greater Durban area’s 3,5-million-odd souls are Very Important People? What if I’m one of them and my letter got lost in the post? And if I’m not, where did I go wrong? Do I have to share my bay with 211 908 other unimportant nobodies? What happens if we all need to pick up our wives on the same day? Can I load up Jenny and her luggage in 0,4 seconds?

The next time I pass the still unoccupied Forbidden Zone I stop and ask the security officer whether I qualify for admission. I explain impatiently that, for me, my wife is a VIP — why else would I have married her? He looks at me as if I’m mad and puts me straight. “You have to go to the permit office and fill in a form. Then you can be a VIP.” Trouble is, to go into the airport I’m going to have to pay to park, and nothing on God’s earth will get me to do that now. This has become a Matter of Principle!

From home a little later I phone the Airports Company South Africa. Now I’m on a mission, but I know I’m going to have to name-drop if I want to be taken seriously. Pretending to be a local politician won’t work, because I don’t have a Mercedes-Benz or a criminal record.

I decide my safest plan is to pick on somebody famous, somebody foreign and, above all, somebody dead, because I don’t want to be embarrassed by bumping into my alter ego the next time I go to the airport. I toy briefly with the idea of adopting Adolf Hitler for parking purposes, but decide against it — after seeing how our government treats Mad Bob, I suspect it would organise a brass band at the airport for a visit by the führer.

As the phone is picked up at the other end I have a flash of inspiration and pitch my yarn to a sympathetic ear. I tell the official who I have to fetch, and why. At the end, I’m asked to send an application by email.

When I send my off my request it reads:

Hi Colin,

I spoke to you today about using the VIP drop-off zone for Mr Benito Mussolini. Mr Mussolini has held high political office in his country in the past and is probably going to be the Italian shadow minister of defence after the next election. He is getting on in years and doesn’t like being left hanging around. For that reason I’d like to be able to pick him up and drop him off in the VIP drop-off zone, but without any fanfare.

Please let me know urgently exactly what is required from me to facilitate this arrangement.

Gavin Foster
Chief Coordinator

Let me tell you something for nothing. Acsa may not be very nice when it comes to towing ordinary people’s cars away, but it is achingly efficient in its dealings with VIPs. Later that same day I receive a reply from Colin Naidoo, granting me permission to pick up a 120-year-old deceased Italian dictator in the VIP zone at Durban International Airport.

All I need to do is forward copies of my and my driver’s ID, along with the vehicle’s registration number and details of the flight. I have to let them know if the Italian consul will be meeting Mussolini on his arrival (heaven forbid!) and whether there will be a bodyguard travelling with Il Duce. If so, will the bodyguard be armed? And, of course, there’s the matter of — ahem — money. “The cost of the permit is R5 per person per day and R35 per vehicle per day. You will need it for the arrival and departure.”

I reckon I’ll give up now. The tow-trucks can carry on towing cars away, and those empty bays can stay empty until hell freezes over for all I care. And me? I’ll just keep on going in circles until I discover the magical password that allows you to pick up and drop off passengers right at the main entrance to the airport building.

Readers who wish to find out if they qualify to use the VIP drop-off area at Durban International Airport can send an email to [email protected]. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to help you.

Originally published in the Independent on Saturday


Gavin Foster

Gavin Foster

Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and...

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