John and Julie Sweet - First France, then South Africa

The Sweet Life

According to Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, most of what's said on the radio has about as much impact as "a duck farting in thunder". And I'd say that's also true of most of what's written in magazines and newspapers. But there are exceptions: back in 1994, returned from one of my earlier visits to South Africa, I profiled the country on the radio travel show I then presented. Among my listeners was John Sweet, at that time living with his wife Julie in Saint-Raphaël. John called me up; was the country really as attractive as I said it was – and as he 'd heard from other visitors? Indeed it was, I told him. That decided it. Within a few months the Sweets were living in a beachside villa just outside of Port Elizabeth and their household was soon expanded by the arrival of daughter Emma.

I visited the Sweets at their new home in 1996. This time round I spared them that but called up to check on their progress from my balcony at the V. and A. overlooking Cape Town's waterfront. John reminded me briefly of the background; in 1980 he gave up his bookmaking business in the U.K. to settle on the Riviera. For a while he ran a bar with Roy Day – J.R.'s (that should date it for you!) – and then switched to operating a gamesroom in Saint-Raphaël. His final venture here was making scenic videos. But what pushed him to leave? "It's a nice place – but it's too crowded and I had enough of paper-work and tax."

So no regrets about moving to South Africa? "Absolutely none. I'm confident for this country and I feel it's a wonderful place for my daughter to grow up." He doesn't seem to have much reason to grumble. A beautiful house with the Indian Ocean at the bottom of the garden. A modern town a few minutes drive away with shopping "every bit as good as on the Riviera". A good school (private) for Emma and a lively multiethnic community all around – but with no neighbour too close for comfort. John is back in the horseracing business with a website for bookmakers and a publishing operation producing formbooks; Julie has returned to her old trade as a serious astrologer. Would John encourage others to follow in his footsteps? "Yes – on condition they're bringing some entrepreneurial spirit to the country and hopefully creating work for others. I've already got my first employee. South Africa can give you a lot but you've got to contribute as well."

From Reporter Issue 84