Unst man BOBBY MACAULAY continues his series of reports from the football World Cup in South Africa. Unfortunately he was unable to access the internet last week so this week is a double helping.
Friday 11th June was a big day – the build-up of years of excitement and the hysteria of the last few weeks was finally being recognised.
The World Cup slogan “Feel it, it is here” captured the mood as the country ground to a halt over the biggest event people have ever witnessed and may ever witness in their lifetimes. The dampener on the day could not have been felt more either.
The 13-year-old great-granddaughter of Nelson Mandela was killed in a car crash while driving home from the pre-tournament concert in Soweto. This led to an understandable absence of Mandela from the first game and served only to heighten emotions further.
We were still in Cape Town and intended to watch the game at the Grand Parade, the official FIFA fan park, on the big screen. The park opened at 11am so we confidently wandered up at midday, four hours before kick-off. We were disappointed to find it packed out to its 25,000 capacity. Apparently people had been queueing since 7am. The pub would be a better option.
As we walked through central Cape Town the atmosphere was electric. Roads were impassable due to the volume of people walking up and down them, car horns were drowned out by the constant drone of the vuvuzela, and people of every colour were wearing their colours while singing and dancing in the streets.
After finding some bars fully reserved or completely booked out we settled in Zula, a music bar on Long Street, the most renowned area for pubs and clubs. By kick-off it was full to capacity and expectancy was growing.
I’m not a huge fan of opening ceremonies and I can’t say that this one changed my mind. The questionable imagery of a giant dung beetle rolling the controversial World Cup ball, Jabulani, off the pitch was enough for me.
However, seeing the ever-dancing, ever-smiling Archbishop Desmond Tutu decked out in green and gold and swaying in time to the diet of South African “urban flavas” instilled some comedy into the situation.
Zula Bar is in the minority of nice pubs which have not chosen to ban the vuvuzela, due to its loud droning tone and its apparently addictive nature.
South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has claimed that the noise of the vuvuzela acts as his team’s 12th man. An unconfirmed rumour is circling that South Africa is ordering emergency supplies of ear-plugs to combat the situation. The most sound advice I’ve heard is that anyone sitting in the lower tier of the stadiums is advised to bring a waterproof jacket, for hygiene reasons.
South Africans have been politely requested to refrain from blowing vuvuzelas during national anthems, I imagine so the country’s fledgling democracy can avoid any diplomatic skirmishes with any of the 31 countries in attendance.
So far this has been valued for the most part, especially during South Africa’s emotional anthem. The anthem is comprised of verses in Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, creating the situation where, akin to a barbershop quartet, different members of the team sing their different parts, all culminating in the last line in English which everyone in South Africa knows – “Let us live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land”.
The game kicked off and despite a shaky start it was clear Bafana Bafana were out to cause an upset to Mexico, ranked 64 places above them. The goalless half-time gave South Africa further hope, demonstrated aptly by an impromptu 10-minute street party below us and the vuvuzelas getting louder.
I don’t think I’ll ever see a reaction to a goal like that of when Siphiwe Tshabalala rocked the Mexican net halfway through the second half. The national outpouring of emotion was a release to the tension, which had built up since the competition was awarded to South Africa, which forgot racial and political differences and restored a common pride in the country.
Shame Mexico scored too. But nevertheless, the party raged out on the street, the millions of extra litres of beer ordered for the tournament were flowing freely and my half-Mexican travelling partner Celisse was contented.
The main tourist spot in Cape Town is the V&A (Victoria and Albert) Waterfront. It consists of expensive shops, cinemas, fancy pubs and restaurants and more than a smattering of references to the English gentry. It commonly attracts tourists from all over the world but during the World Cup it is simply easier to identify them.
The brand new Green Point Stadium is a 15-minute walk away, past scaffolding-clad footbridges, being hastily built over the busy road. The police presence is impressive, as are the hordes of information people, dressed in yellow and more than happy to offer any form of advice on staying, eating and travelling in Cape Town. Everyone feels safe and happy.
Johannesburg is the crime centre of the world and parts of Cape Town are not far off. Every house has gates around it and bars on all the windows. The South African authorities are not attempting to hide this fact though they are devising ways to stem the flow.
A special court has been set up to deal with World Cup-related crimes, a term that probably relates to crimes affecting the 400,000+ tourists which have descended across the country.
At the time of writing this, three people have already been convicted under this court. Two of those three were Zimbabweans who robbed two foreign journalists of their equipment.
To demonstrate how annoyed the authorities were, and to show the international community that they are acting aggressively, the two got arguably disproportionate sentences. The first man was convicted of robbery and given a 15-year prison sentence; the second was given four years for handling stolen property.
Personally, the only aggression I have been aware of was a Uruguayan man threatening a policeman with a sky-blue vuvuzela. I am unsure of the motive for the threat but was pleased to see the situation resolved amicably with the offender stumbling away in the other direction, blowing said vuvuzela, back to the safety of the pub from whence he came.
Cape Town is nicknamed Little Europe, not only for its high density of white people, its expensive shops and restaurants and its royal family place names, but also for its climate. It is winter in South Africa so most days have been overcast, a bit rainy, 15 degrees through the day and a bit cold at night.
Thankfully, Friday was beautiful, full of sunshine and had a warm wind. I think I prefer the weather now than what it will be like in summer, as I’ve hardly had to touch the factor 50+ since I arrived.
After the disappointment of not making it into the fan park for the opening match, we headed back the following day for the England v USA game. Although there were very few queues and enough space for everyone, there were still a good few thousand fans watching in the spitting evening rain.
The fan park housed a traditional market, two five-a-side football pitches, plenty of food stalls and a couple of beer tents, as well as kids entertainment and music – not unlike the Fetlar Foy in many ways.
Grand Parade is overlooked by the impressive Town Hall, the site for Mandela’s first speech after his release from prison in Robben Island. I’m sure he would be proud of its current use.
We left Cape Town to travel along the coast to Plettenburg Bay and Port Elizabeth. I liked the atmosphere here and everyone seemed to take life at a slightly slower pace than in Glasgow. I didn’t witness any crime and the weather was good, tourists were happy and the average pint costs just over £1.
After two weeks of relatively hedonistic eating, drinking and watching football, we left the buzz and noise of Cape Town to head east along the coast. Our last day there was marred by a dramatic loss for Bafana Bafana at the hands of Uruguay. This result dampened spirits to an extent though there were still similar party scenes around Long Street to what it had looked like after the Mexico game.
What was clear was that maintaining the stamina of this hysteria was proving difficult, especially as the hosts looked not to be progressing to the next round. This seemed a good time to head on our way. Our mode of transport was the Baz Bus, a valued and intuitive business which provides daily hop-on-hop-off transport along the main backpacking routes in South Africa.
Our first driver was a slightly overenthusiastic Madagascan called Mark. He regaled us with history and travelling tips and was on first name basis with many of the petrol station staff we passed by on our way. What was clear was that exiting Cape Town led to many differences, the most obvious being language.
Afrikaans is traditionally the white person’s language, derived from the Dutch settlers and in my opinion is a particularly ugly language. In cities, where tourists and multiculturalism requires English proficiency, Afrikaans is either not spoken or is the second language.
In small towns along the coast, it was many people’s first language and some people’s only language. One such small town was our first stop, Plettenburg Bay which is just over halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
The people in the bars, cafes and shops were all very friendly; even the people in the cars would wave as they drove past, something I hadn’t experienced outside Unst. What was very clear in Plett, and still in too many places in South Africa, was despite the political equality, there are blatant economic and social inequalities, which the newly free South Africa has not yet addressed.
Many non-white people have jobs but very few are in a position of power. The biggest cars and houses are owned by white people and bars and restaurants are rarely frequented by different races. This bizarre reality seems to perpetuate itself seemingly without the need or desire to change it and I imagine that is replicated around the country.
What the Eastern Cape is famous for is adventure, everything from elephant rides to cuddling cheetahs and white water rafting to skydiving. What Celisse had her eye on was bungee-jumping.
The Bloukrans Bridge Bungee is the world’s highest at 216m. It is set on an impressive bridge over a sheer ravine and attracts adrenaline junkies from all over the world to jump off it with only a big elastic band around their ankles to stop them from hitting the stream at the bottom.
I am not such an adrenaline junkie so as Celisse made the impressive journey along the rickety walkway under the bridge, I sat in the well-placed bar that overlooks the bridge and had a pint. The decision was due partly to lack of funds but truthfully due mainly to lack of balls.
The next day we jumped back on the Baz Bus to complete the journey to Port Elizabeth, one of many major cities in South Africa that are being officially renamed to try and shed their colonial heritage. Many are reverting to traditional African names to reflect linguistic and cultural distribution but PE is now to be known as Nelson Mandela Bay, a further great dedication to the great man.
We are staying in backpackers’ hostels this week, a cheap staple when I travelled during my last stay here and a sociable and accessible way to experience the country. During the World Cup backpackers have, on the whole, doubled their prices and still find themselves full to bursting in all cities which host stadiums, plus in many that don’t. Fortunately though prices are still more manageable than in Johannesburg where hotels have on average inflated prices by 400 per cent.
We took the opportunity to experience the city’s fan park, a petite cricket stadium with a generally more relaxed atmosphere and reaction to what was a very eventful encounter between Brazil and the Ivory Coast. We were guided to the stadium by Christopher, one of the many young volunteers involved in the massive logistical undertaking of staffing the event.
The most relaxed part of the staffing machine we came into contact with were two elderly black men sitting on the grass in front of us, watching the game. They barely moved for the entire game, despite people clearly standing in their way of seeing the big screen. One of the men was wearing a high-visibility vest with “Operations Supervisor” emblazoned on the back. I was very impressed both with his supervising abilities and his calm demeanour as the event seemed to pass without incident.
Our main reason for being in PE, however, was for our one and only taste of a World Cup game. We took our time in buying tickets, for reasons of cash-flow and general lack of organisation. By the time we booked them, days before the opening match, the only game with the cheapest tickets still available was the seemingly mundane clash between Switzerland and Chile.
However, as Switzerland pulled off the shock of the tournament in their first match by beating tournament favourites Spain, the game now had the potential to qualify one of the two for the prospect of playing Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast in the last 16. An added attraction was my family links with my Swiss granny, while Celisse’s Latin roots led her to supporting Chile.
The South American fans were certainly making the bigger impression with flags decking out the city and Spanish songs reverberating through the bars and restaurants. Conversely the Swiss fans tended to fit a certain stereotype – tall, short hair, small round glasses, stone-washed jeans and a nice warm fleece, varying in their choice of conservative facial hair. The pace and indeed result of the game reflected these impressions with Chile winning 1-0.
Tomorrow I start the two-day journey from PE to Swaziland, via Durban. The all-years reunion at Waterford Kamhlaba (my old school) should bring together the remnants of most of the last 40 years of the school, giving me the opportunity to see folk from school that I lived intensely with for two years that I haven’t seen for nearly four years.
What will also be interesting is how the political and social situation has changed since I was in the country last, and I look forward to examining the progress.