Sun City: The Resort that Launched Sol Kerzner’s Empire

Posted on 3 April 2020

Perhaps South Africa’s most infamous destination, at least through the 80s and 90s, Sun City continues to be a major point of interest to this day. Situated in the North West Province, near Rustenburg, Sun City is the eccentric work of one Sol Kerzner, who used the resort as a launchpad for an international empire of holiday resorts. However, at the end of March, Kerzner passed away at the age of 84, reportedly still making deals to extend his empire further.

The founder of Southern Sun and Sun International – South Africa’s two largest hotel groups – the Troyeville-born accounting graduate created a resort that became famous around the world for its glamour, luxury, and anything-goes reputation. Since the early years, Sun City has brought its reputation more in line with what is acceptable in society, but still exhumes the flair that initially made the resort so eye-catching.

While Cape Town developed some of the finest accommodation on the continent, Sun City still boasts the allure of its notorious past. So, now we look back on the resort which launched a South African businessman into the upper-echelons of the international resorts trade.

The world-famous Sun City

Decked in luxurious furnishings, spectacular architecture, and sublime food and drinks, Sun City was a millionaire’s playground in every sense. Everything was put in place per Kerzner’s designs, but one thing of note, was that much of what was in place was fake. There were fake beaches, a manmade volcano, fake elephants, a manmade lake, fake jungles, and even simulated earthquakes at the Sun City resort, but of course, it was the nightlife that people came to enjoy.

Determined to make Sun City a luxurious destination of extravagance, Kerzner made the Sun City Casino the centrepiece of the resort. Pretty much the only aspect of the experience which wasn’t fake, the casino drew in the crowds with its real gambling tables, selection of alcohols, and girlie shows. It was very much the place where glamour and, what was deemed to be, debauchery at the time, came together in the expensive venue.

The resort has expanded a great deal over the decades, with the establishment of several hotels to suit different budgets opening the resort to more than just the upper-class. However, the casino and other prestigious areas of the venue remain very expensive.

This doesn’t matter too much to most patrons as they can play casino games with online platforms in South Africa, that don’t require an entry fee (or a dress code!), and can be accessed more conveniently in any location that can get an internet connection. So, while visitors may not want to spend a king’s ransom in the casino, they can still enjoy everything else that the eccentric resort has to offer as well as some bouts at the felt tables.

Launching Kerzner’s empire

What has become the hedonistic heart of South Africa’s holiday destination scene proved only to be the beginning for Kerzner. His incredibly ambitious resort which featured a classy casino, two championship-grade golf courses designed by legendary South African golfer Gary Player, and an indoor arena caught the eye of other international companies looking to establish resorts around the world.

Sun City also managed to raise its level of prestige after being dubbed ‘Sin City,’ by many in its early years. Superstars like Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey played there, President Nelson Mandela chose the resort to host his presidential inauguration’s VIP function, and it also hosted some world championship boxing matches.

While continuing to invest in and expand Sun City, Kerzner built the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut – expanding the plot to include a hotel four years after its opening ceremony. He then forged the world-famous Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and transformed the Paradise Island Resort into a giant hotel that features the largest casino in the Caribbean. Perhaps his most impressive work, however, was in the perfectly-suited, equally extravagant city of Dubai with Atlantic: The Palm, which was built on the record-breaking manmade island of Palm Jumeirah.

Now a much more open and friendly destination that it was once perceived to be in its early years, Sun City remains one of the most luxurious resorts in South Africa thanks to the eccentricity of Sol Kerzner.


Image: Unsplash

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