South Africa’s post-1994 democracy drew an influx of foreign visitors. SAC received its fair share of dignitaries and traditionally rolled out a red carpet to welcome such VIPs – the red walkway always presented an impressive sight. On one such an occasion, the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, flew in by helicopter. SAC’s reception team at the helipad included the then Ministers of Science and Technology and Communications.
The red carpet was rolled out over the grass which, overgrown in patches, created unsightly lumps unsuitable for VIP feet.
With the sound of helicopter blades in the distance, Raoul Hodges was seen in low flight behind one of SAC’s powerful lawnmowers, grabbed in haste without a bin to catch the cut grass. As the clumps disappeared, the grass fell where it was cut. The carpet rolled out smoothly. Murphy chuckled.
The helicopter arrived with blades spinning furiously and hovered for a moment before it set down on the helipad. The sudden gust of wind blew the freshly cut grass directly onto the carpet. As if orchestrated, numerous pairs of hands including those of VIP’s, dignitaries and cabinet members grabbed and shook the carpet in snakelike undulations to rid it of the pestilence. When the helicopter door opened, Presidential feet stepped out onto an almost pristine, albeit not entirely straight, red carpet with no evidence of the frenetic activity moments before.
“We used the red carpet many times after that visit, but always made sure that no loose grass was lying around in the vicinity of the carpet before we unrolled it.”
– Renier Balt