Searching for Santa’s red suit in the scorching heat

2011-12-21 00:00

HAS global warming killed Santa? Or have the recession and tight financial budgets left him temporarily unemployed?

A few years ago jolly, round, white-bearded men could be seen on every street in woollen red suits and black boots, ho-ho-ho-ing while ringing their bells calling shoppers to Christmas specials or just spreading merriment.

But on a search around Pietermaritzburg Father Christmas was like an urban legend, except under the roofs of air-conditioned shopping malls.

“Ma’am, you are in the wrong hemisphere,” replied a Verimark sales assistant at Makro when I asked if there was a Santa roaming around the store.

Jessie Goronovsky, a Howick shopper braving the masses at Liberty Mall, said she had spied a red suited man … somewhere. “I can’t remember where I saw him,” she said, trying hard to recall, “but it is sad that they have become so scarce”. Still thinking, she muttered, “He wasn’t much of a Santa!”

That mall’s Santa Claus was happily crowded by children all wanting their photos taken in the re-created North Pole outside Pick n Pay, but there were no bells or belly-felt ho ho hos.

After walking from store to store, and past 10 aisles in Game, there was a man in a military uniform shopping for some toys … Santa in disguise, perhaps?

At Cascades Shopping Centre a little child took a photo with a statue of Santa standing outside the Coffeeberry cafe. Just around the corner stood Hennie Carstens in his festive attire, cracking jokes at shoppers passing by.

“It’s a hobby for me,” he said, “I joke with the people and have fun. There’s no point standing here and looking glum the whole day.”

Carstens is practically a regular in the Santa suit and takes pride in his real beard and hair, which he has grown for the last 15 to 20 years.

In this, his second year at Cascades, Carstens said: “I did it in Cape Town a lot. A friend would call me and say that he had a job for me. In Jo’burg I had an agent.”

Forbidden from disclosing his earnings, he said the wages vary greatly from having a set amount per day to being paid 10% of the money made from the photographs taken of him and children.

Outside the temperatures were scorching and Carstens pointed to the ceiling, “It’s not hot in here. There’s no need for me to venture outside.”

In Edendale Mall the temperature wasn’t as comfortable. Mduduzi Gogela sat on his big chair with beads of sweat forming on his forehead and his white cotton moustache slipping off his upper lip, revealing his stubble. Even the elves seemed drained. Despite this, they continued to embrace the children cheerfully and spread some festive joy.

“It’s hot,” said Gogela, “but it’s alright. There’s a lot of kids who have come to take photos so it makes it worthwhile.”

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