Christchurch’s biltong boss

2011-10-08 00:00

RESILIENCE defines David Stanley.

It is a quality that the former East Coast Radio morning anchor believes South Africans have in abundance.

“There are South Africans all over the world and when they get to new countries they often find they adapt well and make a success of themselves.”

David and his Kiwi wife, Nicole, picked up sticks and left Durban in 2002 for predictable reasons — violent­ crime and inequality in the job sector. Nevertheless, it was not a simple decision.

“It was really hard to leave Durban. I had a great job at East Coast Radio and my wife had a growing recruitment business. If I didn’t have children we would never have left South Africa,” Stanley says.

Back home he had been living the hard-news reporter’s dream at East Coast Radio, covering politics, crime and disasters.

Before his five years at East Coast he reported on the trial of the former defence minister Magnus Malan, who in 1995 was charged, along with other former military officers, with murdering 13 people in the KwaMakhutha massacre in 1987 — murders said to have been part of a conspiracy to create war between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

On assignment he also interviewed a group of young tourists after they were assaulted, gang raped, left for dead in the Transkei and mistaken for witches as they walked through a village bloodied and naked, seeking help.

Two years into a job at SABC, Stanley was approached by East Coast Radio’s recruitment team and asked to set up a news service for the station.

The core of the team were Mary Pappaya, Benita Levin, Diane MacPherson, Ragani Archary, Linda Page and Stanley.

Most stories Stanley recalls are sad or horrific, or both.

“Unfortunately they blurred and obscured the multitude of happy stories­ that also happened every day in our province. They are there but forgotten, ridden over by crime and violence.”

And so the great trek to New Zealand began.

When David, Nicole and their sons Daniel (15) and Tyler (13) first moved to Christchurch, David worked as a journalist at The Press newspaper. However, when a hobby of making biltong for friends to eat at braais grew into a demand from the wider community he took a risk.

“I was working at The Press during the week and then marketing the biltong in the weekends.

“Eventually I found I was doing 70- to 80-hour weeks and the [biltong] business was selling more and more, so we took a gamble and I left my job.”

Today Canterbury Biltong supplies New Zealand’s two major supermarket­ chains as well as the military, all the ski-field delis, and tourist shops nationwide.

Over the past 13 months Christchurch has been walloped by three serious earthquakes — and the Stanleys have not escaped the fallout.

Nicole’s father, Ross Bush, was killed in the February quake when a building fell on his car.

Stanley’s business ceased operation for six months after the building was damaged in the same tremor.

“Fortunately we got the business into a position where we had a bit of fat to live on and we managed to survive,” says Stanley.

Canterbury Biltong is now in a new building, continues to have a strong client base and, Stanley says, is more challenging than journalism.

With Canterbury Biltong, he says, “it’s not just meat — you are building a business and you are building a brand. When you do that you have to deal with the uncertainties that come with that — building customers, and paying bills … it provides as much mental stimulation as journalism did.”

Stanley describes New Zealand as a fantastic country to live in.

“My kids go to great schools. We have a property that is unfenced, we don’t have any burglar bars, the kids can play where ever they want at night, my wife can walk on the beach til 10 o’clock in the evening if she wants, and I am not having to worry about anybody jumping in my window in the middle of the night.

“It took me six months to stop leaving a car length [of space] in front of me in traffic and stop looking for hijackers when we got here. It’s those sorts of things I don’t miss at all — worrying about my wife and children when I am not with them.”

But New Zealand is not South Africa. He misses the game parks, the animals, the heat, the roaring thunderstorms, the vibrancy of the people, and Maritzburg.

“Sure there is crime and horror and a huge amount of personal tragedy­ that people suffer in South Africa, but that’s always been the way with Africa. In paradise there are always snakes in the grass.”

“There is nothing like a Durban thunderstorm after a massively hot day, when the clouds come over and it belts with rain for an hour. The place smells clean afterwards. It’s beautiful. I miss that very much.”

Stanley also has memories of Pietermaritzburg — holidays in Himeville, trout fishing and guinea fowl shooting.

The Stanley family moved to Pietermaritzburg from Johannesburg when he was 16. Stanley went to Carter High, his sisters went to St Anne’s, and all of their school holidays were spent in Underberg with his grandparents.

“I regard Maritzburg as my home more than Jo’burg. I grew up there, it was where I went to school, where we rode our motorbikes.

“My grandparents were there until about 11 years ago, when they moved and retired in Cape Town. I have really strong ties there.”

And perhaps it is that upbringing that has instilled in Stanley the resilience to adapt and make New Zealand his home.

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