July 12, 2010
A fan says thanks for the memories.
The month is over, and the world has a new champion. An eighth name in Spain has entered the footballing pantheon and a nation rejoices while the rest of the world that was not Dutch politely applauds.
For those of us fortunate to cover the tournament from start to finish, a time of long drives, equally long waits, bleary mornings and some hugely sub-standard stadium food is at an end. But your scribe would not swap a minute of it. On returning home, one will have to measure my own perceptions of South Africa 2010 against those of others, most of whom will have viewed the tournament through the fish-eye lens of domestic television coverage, or the prism of the written media.
Before I allow my views to be affected by those of others, I will proffer some of my own reflections as I soak in the morning after the night before. It's another bleary one.
Perception versus reality: Months of scare stories about security, crime and potential disease can wear a man down. No amount of rationalising about how people live and work in Johannesburg every day could prevent trepidation on my entry to South Africa. My host for the tournament later described me as having a "petrified" look on my arrival after a drive across a city labelled the most dangerous in the world by the likes of Louis Theroux and, rather unhelpfully, the local man sat next to me on the plane from London.
A month on, and I am not alone in wondering what I was worried about. Sure, a driver needs to be wary and there have been isolated incidents of crime. But not on the scale of the long-predicted apocalypse for fans and journalists that supposedly awaited us. Someone, somewhere, has made an awful lot of money from the security business during this tournament. As I was told by a South African émigré back in London, if you live by the rules here, those of caution and common sense, you should be just fine.
Feathering the nest: Few could blame the South African populous for wanting to cash in on a bonanaza that might only be repeated when hosting a future Olympics. There were some ludicrous nightly rates for hotel abounding until right before the tournament and these continued for those booking last-minute. But once here, this is not an expensive place to subsist, with food and drink far less expensive than in Europe and America. The real rip-offs lay in those places and planes tied into FIFA's pet travel company, as run by Sepp Blatter's son-in-law. And mention must be made of the exclusion zones placed around stadia to deny street vendors, very much a part of South African life. While a £2 billion profit was pocketed, what actual benefit to a local economy that serves the lowest strata of society was set down in this churlish denial?
Stadium culture: Ticket prices meanwhile excluded much of the black population, a group that are for the greater part soccer fans, too often leave stadia full of touristy types, fans perhaps watching their first games. And the allocation of later games was odd, with Durban's semi-final seeing fans of both Germany and Spain placed together which meant that the atmosphere lacked partisanship. The vuvuzuela will long be whinged about, especially by those who were too close to one being blown, but without them, this observer is convinced that many a match would have had no atmosphere at all.
The superstar syndrome: When is the advertising world going to learn that high finance and profile does not mean high class on the global scale? And when are putative stars going to learn that if anything is going to set them up for a fall then it is appearing in a high-production advert. This tournament proved that World Cup success is delivered by teams and not individuals and the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Messi failed as their team did, with the first two performing nowhere near their club standard. Two less marketable players in Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta took the eventual plaudits; two players who are professionals first and marketable commodities second.
Written off too early: A drab first set of matches had the critics prematurely reaching for the brickbats while ignoring the fact that most coaches set the target of not losing their first game. Irony indeed then, that a team who lost their first match went on to win the whole thing. The Jabulani ball, the location, the pitches were all blamed and then largely forgotten once the competition began in earnest with a set of rousing encounters.
A club mentality is a strong mentality: If we set aside the horrors of their final encounter, then an examination of the Spanish and Dutch then it can be seen that continuity is key to success. The Netherlands made the most of their limited resources while Spain made the most of the richness of their resources with some suggesting they did not even reach their potential here. What the teams shared was a common purpose where egos were set aside. Barcelona and Real Madrid may be one of the world's great rivalries but that was sidelined by Spain in favour of a team ethic. England and France's collapses after ego-driven faction threw up irreparable fault lines showed just how not to do it. And good riddance to them too.
This time for Africa? The legacy of this tournament for the hosts have been a significant improvement in infrastructure, with major roads improved and a number of freshly-built stadia. We await to see how long such benefits are reaped for but the real gift that the South Africans gave to this tournament was their welcome. The enthusiasm and determination to prove themselves as hosts was incredibly heartening and though organisation could often ail, it was a far better policy to accept that everyone was doing their best and that problems would eventually be sorted out. The country has made many new friends.
Lessons learned? Brazil in 2014 will provide different challenges but many similarities too. Its social structure is similarly stretched all the way from ridiculous wealth to rank poverty so FIFA and organisers must try harder to include the second group while winning the lucre of the first. And the touring nature of each team at the World Cup should be put to a stop. An England fan needed to travel from Rustenberg to Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein just to watch his team disappoint. Groups should be awarded to a base, as used to happen at World Cups.
All ideas just jotted down on a Monday morning that seems empty without a World Cup. Normal life will soon be returned to, but the experiences shall be cherished forever. Farewell South Africa and thanks for having me.
July 11, 2010
The crowds of TV crews arrive at Soccer City.
© Getty Images
It’s noon and I’m at Soccer City. A bit early, you might think, but never too early on World Cup final day. There are roadblocks to negotiate, crowds to avoid and all the excitement to savour.
The roadblocks come courtesy of the VVIPs who are in town: One queen (Spain), one king (Monaco, though technically he’s just a prince), two princes (Spain and the Netherlands) and 15 presidents. And Sepp Blatter, who is technically a president but fits more easily into the royalty category.
More exciting, perhaps, are those who fall in FIFA’s “guests” category: Rafael Nadal, hoping for a repeat of 2008; Katharina Witt, who (I know it’s a tenuous link!) won an Olympic gold in 1988, the year the Dutch won the Euros; Shakira, of course; actor Morgan Freeman, probably as a standby in case Nelson Mandela can’t attend; and a host of footballing greats, from Matthaus to Desailly to Weah and Milla.
That’s an awful lot of black Mercedes and police escorts; no wonder the radio’s been on about clogged roads from the morning. My short cab ride to the bus pickup had two interruptions: one for said black Mercedes and escorts (I couldn’t make out who was in the Merc) and one for the bus carrying Spain from presumably their team base to their town hotel. It flashed by but I did make out Fabregas peering out the window, no doubt wondering whether he’d get a role tonight.
The stadium complex is a hive of activity even though kick-off is more than eight hours away. Some of the car parks are populated, a few are almost full. Everywhere there are armies: armies of volunteers, of police, of hospitality staff in their whites, of the FIFA TV crew in their blue, of, well, troops in their fatigues.
There are 90,000 people to feed, search, protect, usher in and out, make comfortable. It’s a brilliantly clear winter’s afternoon; the forecast is fine, not too chilly. Shakira and co are expected to perform around 1830. I can hear the music already pounding from the stadium. Watch this space.
July 10, 2010
The Soccer City media centre
© Getty Images
Finally, Jo’burg. After almost five weeks in South Africa, spent largely around the Cape, I’ve come up north to the Highveld. I’d been warned about the differences – public safety, of course, and the colour of the landscape, a dirt brown from the greens of the south – but no one told me about the space! The vastness would satisfy even the Dutch, whose own geographical limitations inspired them to create space everywhere else, in their art, architecture and, of course, their football.
The sense of size begins with the drive to Soccer City; 40 minutes of non-stop highway driving – evoking memories of The Band’s Endless Highway - at a fairly high speed.
The stadium complex, set amid vast tracts of open land and approached after passing seemingly endless parking lots, is large enough to do justice to its name. The media centre and broadcast centre are situated on either side of the multi-hued, 90,000-seater calabash; it takes ten minutes on an empty road to drive from one to the other.
The media centre here is comfortably double the size of Cape Town’s, with suitably enhanced food options within. It had better be big – there will be a minimum of 1100 reporters and 250 photographers who will be using it on Sunday, and it takes a very large tent to hold all of us. On the day of the last World Cup final, the media centre at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium was simply unable to cope with the crowd; many of us who didn’t find chairs and desks simply sat on the ground, taking turns to use the power and net connections.
I digress; back to Jo’burg, whose size (and colour) is the sort you would associate with the American Midwest or rural Australia; after the intimacy of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and even Durban, where one could walk to the stadium and around it, this takes some getting used to.
Driving into town extends the feeling; I’m in a bus with the driver and conductor, three of us in a vehicle meant for 65 passengers. We drive along the De Villiers Graaff Motorway, the warnings of rush-hour traffic mercifully not coming true, it’s an almost non-stop drive past clusters of gated colonies interspersed with mine dumps, barren land, industrial parks and what I later learn are golf courses.
The bus ends up outside Sandton City, near the Michaelangelo arch, and my destination is the Garden Court Hotel where my hosts in Jo’burg are waiting to pick me up. I gather from the conductor that the bus can’t go any farther but the driver has gone to get “security” who will take me there. This is a new one but communication is severely impaired by the language barrier.
My hostess advises me to stay put in the bus. And after a while, as a means of breaking the ice, the conductor tells me I shouldn’t get down from the bus until my friends come and the driver agrees. “We will not leave until you are with your friends. Safety first.”
Ten more minutes and it seems my friends have taken the wrong turning down a horribly jammed road, so they ask me to get out and start walking down the road to the original pick-up point. I think twice, it’s dark and that stretch of sidewalk is fairly deserted. I have two bags, a laptop, a mobile and, most valuable of all, my FIFA accreditation.
The driver and conductor seem unsure but I tell them not to worry. I walk the 200 yards of desolate sidewalk and wait for five minutes before salvation arrives.
This morning I do the reverse journey, in daylight. It’s fairly uneventful till the end, when I get off the bus at Soccer City. I hear a raised voice behind me: “Hello!” It’s the conductor from last night. He shakes my hand, gives me a broad smile. “You are okay? Your friend picked you up?” He seems genuinely happy to see me. “You take care, okay?” I will, with a little help from him and his countrymen.
Soccer City will play host to this year’s final
© Getty Images
1986 - Argentina 3-2 West Germany: A Macclesfield front room, with my mother and father. I celebrated wildly when Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner from Maradona's through pass.
1990 - West Germany 1-0 Argentina: A different Macclesfield front room. This time I was alone. I celebrated wildly when Andreas Brehme scored the penalty, when two Argies got sent off and especially when I saw Maradona crying his heart out.
1994 - Brazil 0-0 Italy (Brazil win on pens): A random bar in Calella Della Costa, Costa Brava, Spain. The first night of a holiday with five other friends to celebrate the end of our schooldays. Terrible match, wild celebrations when Baggio misses. Later on that evening, one of our number sang an extremely camp version of "I Will Survive". Suspicions - later confirmed - were aroused.
1998 - France 3-0 Brazil: A hostel in Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia. The match kicked off at 4.30am local time. The previous day must have ended in a good night because I slept all the way through and was forced to watch the replay the next morning.
2002 - Brazil 2-0 Germany: The Soccernet office, Hammersmith, London. The end of a long tournament of getting up at ridiculously early hours. I was on photo duty and got into trouble for using an image of a Brazilian fan in a state of partial dress. We later repaired to a local pub for wild celebrations.
2006 - Italy 1-1 France (Italy win on pens): The same seat in the same Soccernet office, Hammersmith, London. The end of a long tournament of working ridiculously long hours. Just me and a much-missed freelancer as all hell broke loose when Zidane exploded. I still found the time to get cash on an Italy win on penalties ... thankin' thee. I repaired to my tiny flat and slept for days afterwards.
2010 - Netherlands ?-? Spain: A packed press box at Soccer City, Johannesburg, with me in it. Allow me a moment of smuggery, if you will. I shall be there. I am delighted and know I am extremely privileged to be able to say that. My usual state of cynical being has been set aside, as it has been for much of this tournament. I can never criticise FIFA again...
It is the question I have been most asked before and during this tournament. Would I be at the final? My answers have been guarded, in the hope that a lowering of expectations mean I can set aside disappointment. Because that one always works, doesn't it? I am not yet, and may never be, the type of veteran or journalistic big-hitter for whom such occasions are only a small break from the routine. I was asked the fateful question for the last time on Friday by a friend from, yes, Macclesfield. Tentatively, I made for the FIFA website to check my status, finally arriving at the right page and scrolling down in trepidation. "Approved" read the legend. I celebrated wildly.
The easing of the match schedule as the tournament whittles down its participants has allowed me to see more of South Africa, with safaris undertaken and more socialising done. A lengthy road trip to Durban allowed me to take in breathtaking scenery, and a city very different to my Johannesburg base. All memories that will hopefully last and some of which are stored on a ropey camera. But I am here for the football. That is the true purpose of my visit and the doubts had crept in on submitting my application after midnight on Wednesday. Perhaps I should support the Dutch for removing Brazil and their 800 journalists almost certainly further up the list than a lowly "Internet Journalist", as I am so categorised. But I care not who wins - it's just great to be here, to use a familiar phrase.
Please forgive my self-indulgence. I am very excited.
July 6, 2010
Locals are shut out of training
Deep in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs, beyond the leafy Rondebosch area, is the Athlone Stadium. On Monday evening, as the Holland team practiced on its newly laid turf, the buzz in the ground and outside belied the sense of hurt felt by the local community.
Yes, Athlone has a new pitch, and yes, it has new stands as well, and probably a fresh lick of paint as part of a $50 million facelift to raise it to the standards of a World Cup practice venue.
But Athlone, its people feel, should have got much more – it should have got the matches, not the practice sessions.
The Athlone Stadium is home to Cape Town’s two top teams, Ajax and Santos but, more importantly, was the centre of the “protest” sports movement in the apartheid years. This was where SACOS – the South African Council of Sport – would stage its meetings, sporting and otherwise.
And this stadium, adjoining the townships of Gugulethu, Langa and Khayelitsha, is where Cape Town’s best footballers learned their trade. “Benni (McCarthy) played here, Quinton (Fortune) used to live a couple of blocks away,” said Basil Palanyandi, who grew up nearby and now coaches the community’s youngsters. “Steven Pienaar also played here. There’s history on this pitch, there’s a football history here you won’t find in Green Point.”
And therein lies the nib – FIFA wanted the World Cup stadium to be built in the more touristy area adjoining the Waterfront. There were angry protests from Cape Town’s footballing community, who wanted tradition to be maintained but reports suggest the city authorities were given something like an ultimatum – Green Point or nothing for Cape Town. And so Athlone got its upgrade and its promise of practice sessions, which turned out to be two sessions in the four weeks of the tournament – Portugal were here a fortnight ago.
The sense of hurt persists. As we drive into the stadium complex, before the Holland team arrive, we can see the locals lined up in the housing projects that surround it. I ask Ronny, standing across the barbed-wire fence, whether he’d been able to see the Portuguese players, and whether he expected to see the Dutch.
“The Portuguese came here, we were told they’d have a small session with us but that never happened. I don’t think we’ll get to see the Holland players.” Does he feel cheated? He shrugs his shoulders. “We don’t matter, man, we never really matter. I see the games on TV, that’s all I want.”
Up in the VIP box, which is where the media are seated for the practice session, I tell Basil about this conversation. “It’s a shame they don’t allow the kids in for this,” he said. “They could occupy just one stand, it would mean so much to them.”
His feeling for the kids is heartfelt – every year he’s been taking one team from Cape Town, officially representing Bishop Desmond Tutu, to the Dallas Cup, the annual youth tournament that sees teams compete from the world over.
That’s the conundrum thrown up by the Green Point Stadium – should it have been in Athlone, where the sport’s soul is, or in Green Point, where the tourists are? At the risk of offending everyone, and sounding like a tourist-journalist, I would say I can see FIFA’s point of view. The crowds at and near the Green Point Stadium have been amazing, the stadium itself becoming one of the many tourist spots in that area, and there are more restaurants and bars around it.
Athlone is surrounded by open fields, factories and housing projects. And a fair bit of barbed wire. I don’t quite see the tourists flocking there for an 8.30pm kick-off.
Basil, the pragmatist, has the answer. “The World Cup is almost over for Cape Town, what’s done is done. Now let them (the city authorities) keep Green Point for the rock concerts and bring the football back to Athlone.”
I think he’s right. Though I don’t think the football ever went away.
July 4, 2010
Neighbourgoods Bazar, Cape Town
Saturday evening was a rush of football in Cape Town, the match hosted here yielding a fairly dramatic upset. The morning, though, was as far removed from the football as could be: It was spent at the Neighbourgoods Bazar, a weekly food-and-fun market in, appropriately enough, the Woodstock area.
It's on the site of a flour mill, with the brick buildings housing the permanent shops and a couple of huge marquees hosting the temporary stalls selling everything from rolls of sushi to bouquets of Sweet William. There must have been around 80 stalls, manned largely by enthusiastic amateurs - though I did notice a couple of professional outlets – who are vetted for their eco-friendly quotient. They are probably vetted for the level of zaniness too – one stall selling breads stacked the loaves in an old canoe. The patrons are obviously regulars, members of Cape Town' swish set and the hip and arty, though outsiders are made more than welcome.
That, though, is not the point of this story – such bazaars exist the world over, and Cape Town itself has other informal markets selling organic produce and ethnic crafts. The larger point is that the Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road and indeed the larger Woodstock area, have been reclaimed from decay and desolation by a couple of entrepreneurs, who set up their art gallery next door. They were followed by a host of friends and fellow professionals so that Woodstock and the adjoining Sir Lowry Road are now the places to be seen, to exhibit and to set up restaurants.
This is only one example of Capetonians reclaiming their city. The most famous road, Long Street, was similarly run-down, its grand Victorian architecture showing its age and crumbling to pieces and the area being taken over by pimps, drug-pushers and other petty criminals. That's when – around the beginning of the decade - a pair of expat accountants returned home and began investing in the property on Long Street, restoring the buildings and eventually leasing out what they didn't run themselves. They own the iconic DaddyLongLegs and Grand Daddy hotels, and most of the other buildings on the road. Today, it's the city's tourist hub, its location in the city centre making it just a few minutes' walk away from most of the museums, parks, the Parliament.
Closer home, the area where I have been staying, Sea Point, has been similarly reclaimed by a citizens' initiative. Today the Main Road it is one of the safest streets I have seen; I often walk back, alone, after the night matches with laptop, camera et al. Yet it wasn't always so. "This was the drug street of Cape Town," David, the owner of the Manhattan Café, told me. "You couldn't go from this restaurant to your car without three drug-dealers accosting you. And of course with the drugs there was the violence."
That was around six years ago. Then the residents of Sea Point stepped up and, with the police and some non-profit organizations, took their area back. It took a while, David said, but the plan was wide-ranging and covered many potential problems. Today the area, patrolled by the city police as well as locally recruited security personnel, is family-friendly. Watching the Spain-Paraguay match with me in a café last night were a mother and her toddler, another single woman, a young couple and a family of four.
That's the larger story – there are problems in all cities, and the bigger the city the greater the problems. Cape Town has its share too, but people no different to you and me are starting to take back control of their city. That's the pride that runs through this World Cup, which has made it, for me, a success so far.
July 3, 2010
Carlos Alberto Parreira could not reach the second round
Anyone wondering what Carlos Alberto Parreira is doing now that the team he coached, South Africa, and the team from the country of his birth, Brazil, are out of the World Cup? Enjoying the good life of course.
Parreira was spotted dining out at a fine, secluded restaurant in the upmarket suburb of Sandton last night during the Uruguay v Ghana quarter-final match. He entered Mastronomio restaurant, known for its homemade pasta, with just one friend after 15 minutes of play and asked to be seated somewhere where he could see the television. A few minutes later, a party of seven Brazilians arrived to join him. All were in a sombre mood, which was to be expected as their team had been knocked out of the tournament just hours before their dinner party.
Parreria was the jolliest of the lot; he blew a cheeky kiss at one of the ladies, and joked with the restaurant staff. He didn’t even watch that much of the game, only looking up from his meal when Sulley Muntari scored in the dying seconds of added time in the first half. It was tough to tell who the South Africa coach was backing, as he didn’t make a sporting sound all evening. Not even when Diego Forlan equalised for Uruguay.
An hour after arriving, Parreira left. As he was walking out of the restaurant, two middle-aged women, who were surprisingly clued up about the ins and outs of football, stopped him. “We think you did a wonderful job for our team and we are very proud of them,” they said to Parreira. His characteristic beaming smile accompanied his reply, “Thank you very much.”
Parreria will vacate his post as coach of Bafana Bafana 30 days after the World Cup final and is set to retire in Brazil. He earned a salary of $257,000 per month in his first stint as coach of South Africa, but his salary during his second stint has not been revealed.
July 2, 2010
Casa Little Brazil in full swing.
Two hours before kick-off the joint is jiving, the liquor is flowing and it’s yellow as far as the eye can see. I’m at Casa Little Brazil, formerly known as the Sea Point Civic Centre, an otherwise nondescript municipal building a stone’s throw from Cape Town Stadium. It’s been given a vibrant makeover for the World Cup, donning the yellow and green of Brazil to welcome the 5,000-odd fans who’ve made Cape Town their base.
There’s a party on every matchday – heck, there’s probably one on every day – with music, dancing, food and drink all sandwiching the two hours of football. I buy my ticket online – only 300 allowed inside so you have to book early – and turn up at the appointed hour, walk past the foyer, covered in sand to resemble the beach, and enter a hall that is as noisy, colourful and chaotic as it should be. And that’s before the vuvuzelas have started, though Pedro and his troupe of samba dancers are the visual equivalent.
There are closer to 500 people here, I later confirm from an official, and everyone, it seems, is a Brazil supporter, even those wearing the Bafana Bafana jerseys that closely resemble Brazil’s famous canary yellow.
Kick off. Cue vuvuzelas. Within minutes Robinho’s scored. Cue pandemonium. No, he hasn’t, offside. Cue more pandemonium, fist-shaking and curses in many languages. No matter, within a couple more minutes he has really scored and this time the noise blows the roof off. I’m standing at the back with a bunch of Angolans, who share a history with the Brazilians of being colonized by Portugal.
Just past half an hour and there are gasps and cheers as Robinho dribbles his way past one defender, then another, finally laying the ball off to Luis Fabiano, a neat back-heel to Kaka. The shot is saved by Stekelenburg. Cue howls of protest – how dare he! Foul given against Brazil and Dunga falls to his knees in anguish, clutching his forehead and screwing up his face. The scene is replayed all around me, literally and metaphorically; this is an emotional group of people.
Cue Toto the drummer, whose job it is to move around the room and keep the beat going. He does that with amazing dexterity, manoeuvring arms and hands in the tightest of spaces. He’d be Messi if he was as nimble with his feet. The rhythms keep changing, flowing effortlessly from his brain to his hands to the drumsticks, and to the people all around. It’s a seductive beat and soon the reporter’s objectivity goes for a six.
A funny thing happens, though, when Netherlands score early into the second half: there is loud cheering, mainly from the back of the hall where I am. Where were they when the MC, before the game, asked all Netherlands to raise their hands? The second goal, a quarter of an hour later, is greeted with even louder cheers. Clearly Casa Little Brazil has opened its doors a bit too wide.
In response the Brazil gang step up the volume, Toto takes it up one notch and the veins stick out in his forehead. The Angolans enter into a heated debate with Lewis, a South African who’s supporting Holland – and very loudly too. Lewis’s wife calms him down, then calms down the Angolans. One pulls at his Brazil jersey. “I paid a lot of money for this!” The anger goes way beyond football.
More confusion as the referee orders Felipe Melo off the field. The anger mounts when, minutes later, he pulls out a red card for a Dutch player but quickly replaces it with a yellow. As Brazil’s game alternates between foul and fantastic, there’s even time for a bit of flirting. “You look like Luis Fabiano,” a young Brazilian girl tells one of the Angolans, and gets her picture taken with him.
Faux Fabiano doesn’t really comprehend what’s going on but you can tell he doesn’t really care about the detail. His compatriot pinches his nose – “I can smell a goal here”, he says. I’m presuming he means the score on the pitch.
Alas, there is no further goal. The whistle goes for full-time. On the giant screen the Brazilians sink to their feet. All around me there is a stunned air – not silence, the Dutch fans have seen to that. Angolans and Brazilians console each other with thoughts of 2014. The night is young, the bar is full, Pedro and his dancers are swaying their way on to the floor. Life will be good again.
July 1, 2010
I told myself I’d use the days off to do things I’d not done before or see parts of Cape Town I hadn’t yet explored. I did a bit of both, and the takeaway from a day spent on a walkabout was far more than the pleasure of the sun on my back or the feast for my eyes.
First, the small victories. I took a minibus ride. Yes, I know it’s been a while but most of my daily routine involves walking down the hill, turning right at the main road and walking a couple of miles to the stadium.
For those not in the know, the minibuses – minivans, really – are the transport lifeline of South Africa’s big cities. They are cheap, available everywhere and, most important, they are fast. The speed is achieved by the simple expedient of breaking every law of motoring, but there’s an additional trick: the van will stop just after a pedestrian crossing, when the conductor will jump out and press the button so traffic behind, including competing minivans, are forced to stop. Ingenious, effective.
In truth the most intimidating aspect of the vans is that they are loud - you can hear the music, and the conductor’s shouting, long before you see the vehicle. You pay your five rand to the conductor, tell him where you want to get off and settle down to enjoy the sight of other cars scrambling out of the way.
Inside, it’s a large slice of the Rainbow Nation - there’s all colours and all communities in there, people getting to or from an honest day’s work. It reminded me of that line in the song What If God Was One of Us: "…Just a slob like one of us/just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.”
My first port of call was the Company’s Garden, started as a vegetable patch by and for the Dutch East India Company four-odd centuries ago. It’s a bit more than that now, a carefully sculpted park with squirrels – imported from North America by Cecil Rhodes, whose statue still occupies stage centre - and ducks and lots of flora.
Rhodes isn’t the only person commemorated in stone: Victoria is there, as is Jan Smuts, the politician and philosopher, and there’s a memorial to soldiers killed in the World War I battle of Delville Wood.
Near the park’s entrance is the Slave Lodge, the building that housed the slaves shipped in through the 18th century from the Dutch colonies. It has had many makeovers and avatars since those days - including, ironically, a spell housing the Supreme Court – so that today it appears a fairly grand and ornate structure. Just as, round the corner at a busy and cheerful traffic crossing, the spot where slaves were sold.
Nature has its way of bringing the past alive, though, and walking round the rooms, some deliberately kept dark, you do feel the dankness and the gloom. Those with a bit of imagination can even smell the desperation; it certainly had a different smell to it than the air outside the four walls.
The rooms detail, fairly graphically, how the slaves were treated in this hell-hole, where they were herded back every evening; there is a short film that re-enacts the life of a slave and it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. There is nothing redeeming here; the slaves were free labour for the colonisers, the women – 600 of them stayed here – free entertainment for the sailors who were allowed in en masse every day.
I was glad, after a grim hour, to stumble outside into the warm and bright sunlight, and headed eastwards up the hill towards Bo-Kaap, the area populated by the Cape Malay population, the descendants of the slaves from Indonesia. It is very distinctive with its brightly coloured houses and the fragrance here is of curry and spice – the Dutch were, after all, masters of the spice trade and Java was one of their prized possessions for this very reason.
Three different slices of history, yet – and this was what I took away from the day - each has been preserved, and the preservation has been as immaculate as in, say, the UK, the gold standard for all things heritage.
There is a tendency in newly liberated countries to erase the past, the good along with the bad; statues are removed, buildings razed, street names changed, often without any logic or any appreciation of the historical and artistic value. We are certainly guilty of that in India, where statues of the Raj era have been removed from their plinths and replaced by, frankly, hideous homages to freedom fighters. It is a disservice to them, to say the least; often the statues are not to scale, too small or too large for the base where they are sat.
Cape Town’s is a far more sensible approach. There is obviously a need to remove traces of oppression and signs that honour colonialists – and in Cape Town work has begun to rename roads - but equally there is a need to recognize that not all foreign or colonial influences were bad. Football, for example.
It started with an apple. But this has nothing to do with Adam and Eve. This is all about pettiness on the sort of scale that gives officials and authorities – in this case sports authorities – a bad name or, considering the core of the issue (so to speak), a rotten name.
I was not allowed to bring an apple, a cheese roll, some peanuts and a chocolate bar into the media centre of the Loftus Vervseld stadium ahead of the Paraguay-Japan game the other day. But why not?
With catering standards poor and prices in all media centres a total rip-off – official dry cheese role retailing at R30 (£2.62) – it has made sense throughout the tournament to nip into a supermarket or make your own snack rather than pay inflated prices.
FIFA has strict rules about commercial rivalry to official products but not when those products are totally different. The funniest part about this is that the general standard of security checks on just about anyone entering the World Cup stadia over the past three weeks has been totally haphazard to the point of laughable.
One day, off you go trotting through with a wave and a smile from security staff, no problem. Next day, same items, different venue, thorough search and occasional confiscation. Stressful or what?
Seeking to bring a small packed lunch (for personal consumption only) into Loftus for some reason was a big deal, presumably a major safety issue, for the staff of a company named Fidelity Security. Norah Swart, the lady in question, wasn’t smiling or bothered by manners in ordering: “You can’t bring that in. It’s not allowed.”
She asked me to ditch said items in a nearby bin. I refused. She could not explain the reason for her intransigence but supervisor Jacobus Swart said they were just “obeying orders.” Aren't they always?
Incidentally, this was the same stadium where many journalists were left no option but to sit on the floor to write since there were not enough facilities. Norah would have been better employed ordering up some extra chairs and tables.
There is a serious point to the above: all the goodwill earned by the enormous amount of work put in by FIFA and local staff risks getting lost amid an increasing number of such unnecessary incidents. It’s always the few who spoil it for the many.