Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Africa

This is as close as I got to the Grand Final. The photo was taken by Jacob actually, and we had split up a minibus ride ago, but Jacob had a ticket. I was wandering the periphery, a shag on a seething rock, practically illegal, knowing there was no fan zone anywhere.

The reason I was there at all is because I was trying to keep up with Keith and Kate, Total Sports Employees, who also weren't going to the game. They didn't really know where the fan zones were, oddly enough for travel people, but were planning on finding one. But we were shepharded onto different minibusses at the park and ride point, which of course dropped us at different random points closer to Soccer City. I found out about their story later, but I'm not going to relate it because mine is more interesting.
One thing I have learned travelling is that you can get anywhere by asking the right questions. "Where's the nearest fan zone?" I ask a cop.
"Ah... Newtown."

"Where do you catch a bus or cab to Newtown?" I ask another cop after wandering for a while looking for such a thing. The apparently thousands of mini-busses and busses were all coming in and becoming permanently stuck in place. There really wasn't an easy answer to the question and when one police officer directed me to "the other side of the stadium" (which looked like it might be about 30 miles) I strongly suspected she wanted me to become someone else's problem.

Finally I flagged a mini-bus that had extracted itself from the jam and was going back to Gold Reef, the park and ride zone, for more passengers. He showed me where to get a mini-bus toward Newtown.
It was the first time I've used Johanessburg's real public transport system. Generally the tourists are warned against using it, and they are never really advised about it. The owners of the B&B in Durban mentioned it, but explicitly said that it was dangerous, but then again, they are not exactly ANC voters, and one can't help supect that the main problem with the mini-bus system is that the mini-busses are full of local black people. Call me a cynic.
There are hundreds of them, all the time. They regularly beep their horns just to sort of say, "Here I am!" Each of them have established routes, but they can be hailed at any point. They are absurdly cheap to catch.
I was told how to catch them in detail on the first day of arrival from Mark. "Put out your hand like that eh? Five fingers eh? Randburg. Seven Rand 50 eh?" That particular trip was alternately a 10 minute walk so I never used it. But whenever I've needed a cab I've used metered taxis, Jay (a white local who has moved in on the people-moving business for lack of adequate service otherwise, and who also asks, "Eh?" at the end of every statement), or the provided busses.
The minibusses go all over Joburgh, and anyway now I was in one, in Soweto, heading for some place called Newtown. It was full of black, local people. About 4.00pm. I was on my own, out of the blanket-policed zone of control, without the immediate responsibility of my son, and the evening had started.
Of course I still had no idea where I was going. "Will you get me to Newtown?" I asked the driver. He nods. "How much?"

"Six Rand."

Almost embarassed, I hand forward three small silver coins. As people were dropped off and picked up along the route, the bus remained, miraculously, precisely full, without disappointing anyone. When people got on they passed their money from person to person through to the front, the driver would count it and then wordlessly pass any necessary change back over his shoulder to be passed back to the appropriate person.

Helpfully, a bloke behind me says, "I'm going to Newtown." I wonder if he's going to the fan zone, but think at least I'll know where to get off the bus.
It's about a twenty minute drive, and when we get off it turns out he is heading for the fan zone, and I am pleased for the company and the guide. We walked for about four or five blocks and there wasn't much indication of anything except light industrial urbia, but as promised there was eventually more people and we came to the security check and passed. Back into the foreigner-protected zone. But still at least 95% of these people were not foreigners. This was mostly a closing night party for the locals, and I was where I wanted to be, finally.

As pictured before heading out, I was wearing colours. Ben, a compatriot who was going to the game supporting the Netherlands in full kit (pictured next to Jacob below), had found the kangaroo and given it to me. Later in the bus I ripped the joey off and gave it to Ben, who still has it.

The kangaroo was a good prop, but the flag was essential, as I had earlier determined that for this last, celebratory night I must wear my own team. Jacob, on the other hand, is as Spanish as he could possibly get.

The flag was the main prize, and now, back at home in Brisbane with my beautiful fiance, it remains my most valuable momento.

Jacob and I walked to Randburg for the last time early that morning. Jacob was buying a jacket for Ben, who as well as being fairly promiscuous with the teams he supports is an extreme merchandise junkie, and wanted some more Spanish regalia for himself as well. I just wanted something destinctively Australian, as I'd given my scarf and hat away in Durban and my Socceroos jersey wasn't much good under the necessary layers against the cold. It had occurred to me tht a flag would be perfect, but knew that there would be no Australian flags for sale. It was all Spain and the Netherlands, with a few French and Japanese leftovers, and no flags.

But in the Randburg Mall there is hanging by the elevators a series of World Cup Nations flags. In broad daylight, Jacob casually informing me of how many people were watching, I managed to reach one of the pieces of fishing line holding up the Australian flag from the balcony of the second level. I carefully hauled it up, worrying that the rod the flag was hanging from might slip from the line with the vertical weight, until I could grab the rod and bring it over the balcony. With my teeth I cut the line on one side so I could slip the flag from the rod. I placed the rod, still attached to a fishing line to the ceiling at one end, on the ground, and we walked as casually as possible, myself refusing to even acknowledge that anyone might be looking, back through the mall and, after looking once more in a merchandise store for the Spanish shoelaced volleys Jacob was after (he settled for South African ones), outside and back to the Football Gulag.

There is much security and police, but little enforcement.

If the best the internationals can do is call us convicts, then we must oblige. Stealing the Australian flag, which I proudly wore, was my greatest yob act in South Africa. But to continue the story of the day...

I wasn't ready for a permanent companion so I lost my guide from the bus pretty quickly, despite him trying to establish a night-long relationship. What I needed was a toilet and a beer. And food. Oh, and cigarettes.

What I didn't need was for someone to paint a really terrible rendition of an Australian flag on my face and take 30 rand from me, but the guy did direct me to the toilets.

Generally you don't include the toilet stop in a diary-like account but I have a reason in this case. But even before I get to the message on the back of the toilet door I need to backtrack yet again.

Mark at the Gulag has brought up a concerning narrative several times in the past couple of weeks. He is absolutely certain that when the World Cup is over - now, but this weekend is when Mark thinks it's likely - there will be an outbreak of xenophobic violence against foreigners. "It's not IF it will happen ey? It will happen eh? If there's even a rumour violence might happen here then it happens. But this time everyone's saying it will happen eh? It will happen eh?" Etcetera. In Mark's opinion the 'bloodletting' will even be 'right' in some way. I tried to probe the point with argument, but didn't persist beyond the point of discomfort. I still want to think he's wrong, that he's just a freak, but for the record, watch the South African media this weekend.

And I had no other confirmation of Mark's viewpoint until I read the back of the toilet door at the Newtown fan zone, which said, "Any foreigners still in [an unremembered placename] after the 2010 World Cup will be burned with petrol to the ground." After that someone else had scrawled, "Racism will kill us all," and there was to-and-from dialogue after that from various contributors, but the headline was large-writ and dominated the door.

Food was easier to find than the toilet, and beyond that having my cigarette supply in order became a higher priority than beer. So I wandered from the fan zone to see what I could find.

A couple of blocks away I found a restaurant which looked lively, and beyond that a bar. The bar was black, with people playing music, smoking and looking very relaxed. It was still only about 5.00pm or so.

I shouldn't paint too much of an off-the-beaten-track picture of this place. It wasn't that far off the track. By the time of the game I guess it was 10% full of foreigners, and security guys were still about, but there were none of either there by 4.00am.

I still really just wanted some cigarettes. Rolling tobacco, which is cheaper and far less bad for you, is really hard to get in South Africa, so I often had to resort to cigarettes, which I don't really like. The guy at the door of the bar - overstaffed as everywhere - asked for 30 rand and went to get my cigarettes, rather than just directing me to the machine, so I bought a beer from the bar as he did so, naturally.

There wasn't any seats left but there was only two girls in one booth so I sat and asked if it was ok that I did. Their names are Amanda and Nelly, and I was with them for the rest of the evening. My apologies for no photographs - Jacob has the camera at this point and, incidentally, is doing brilliantly with it.

The girls are educated and intelligent, with Zulu accents. The Africaans accent is frankly disturbing. Like the German accent if you hear too much of it it kind of drives you mad, but it is a shame that we have come to call that the South African accent. The Zulu accent, like the Zulu people, is very cool.

Actually I find the white Africaaner people to be uptight, uncomfortable and slightly irritating in general. With rare exceptions, like Kevin, the guy next to me on the second flight to Durban, it's like they don't want to be here but insist on every excuse for not leaving except the underlying definitive one that they can't. The people at the bar - mostly Zulus I suspect - were not like the immigrant workers - mostly Zimbabweans - directed around by Mark back at the Gulag. The Zulus seemed a cool, proud people, who moved and resonated with grace and purpose.

The people I met that night were very pleased with my opinion of the Afrikaaners' accent. I think they were also pleased that I was there, blatantly an Australian yobo, by myself, at all.

"Are you scared?" Nelly asked soon after introductions.


"You're lying. You are scared."

I didn't feel that scared. "Maybe I am a bit, but it's a fear I want. I want to actually be here, for just one night before I go back to Australia."

I shouted the girls to dinner at the restaurant next door, where we bantered with a table full of Spanish revelers whilst eating meats and drinking coctails. One of the girls organised a few joints outside (I found out weeks ago that the standard price is five rand each) and we smoked one as we walked to the fan zone for the game. There was part of one left, which I pocketed for later.

The truth is that although there were thousands of people, the night was very cold. It was so cold that all my compatriots who actually went to the game didn't party at all afterward but went straight back to the Gulag on the first bus. It's hard to get beer, and another guy who had latched on to us had been extremely sleezy toward Amanda, so although we watched the first half with interest, and although I felt like a very smug yobo with my stolen flag and a pretty girl under each arm, it was not the best environment, so at half time we headed back to the bar. The bar, now, was quite packed.

And the whole place moved. Everyone, foreigners from all corners, locals black and white, were friends, as we somehow colonised a space and I did that sideways slither through the bouncing, writhing crowd to the bar for drinks.

There was attention of sorts for the game, but it wasn't easy to see the screen, and I missed bits. But when the whistle blew for full time, before extra time, the DJ within seconds had changed the sound to music and the place danced. Apart from the restraint of the game itself, the place wanted to dance, and dance it did.

When Spain scored the place went completely insane, and I lit the half-joint. I'd already met a few people, but a stranger, who turned out to be a player in Brazil's second division, smelled it and I passed it naturally without expecting it back from the crowd. The place was generally going off at this time.

Mbizo, the football player, grabbed me as I once more braved the journey to the bar. "Got any more weed?"

"I thought I did but my friend can't find it," I replied honestly. "Have you?"

"Sure man, I'll sort it," Mbizo said with enormous enthusiasm, "I'll smoke you up man. Fuck it I am going to so smoke you up." I liked him a lot. He had charisma and cool, and clearly was the dominant male in the small crew of blokes he was with. He grabbed me a short while later and, taking me outside, introduced me to his friends, the only name of which I can remember is Happy.

From that time on there were many, many joints, and although I was buying drinks and cigarettes at a fairly rapid rate by this time for quite a few people, they resolutely refused money for the dope. Once again, once I lit up inside they did too. I couldn't help feeling that if the foreigner could do it that they could to, but there was no holding anyone back once it had started. If there was still police and security around outside, I doubt they would have cared or noticed.

I can't hide that I was extremely happy with how the whole thing had worked out. However fleetingly, however superficially, I felt a great need to actually be with the locals. A number of times in the past month I have gone a bit off the beaten track, but I needed to really do it and that night I felt I got the closest. The guys clearly enjoyed my company, and I thoroughly enjoyed theirs, as we bantered about football, South Africa, life and peace between all people.

Most of all, until 4am when the place stopped selling drinks and finally closed, we just danced. Then the girls and a boy friend of Nelly's walked a couple of blocks with me to find an ATM, and I farewelled the girls with some money for a cab. The guy whose name I have forgotten (by this time I am, I admit, staggering) then walked me many blocks to some transit place with 24 hour taxis. I slept most of the taxi ride back to the Gulag and, checking that Jacob is safely in bed, retired.

Congratulations Spain. Ben was absolutely devastated, but Jacob had had an excellent night. Deserved winners.



Blogger Ladyfinger said...

So many parts of this story (and others) that I would love to hear 'unpacked' - when's the book coming out?

July 15, 2010 3:38 pm  
Blogger john said...

glad you got back alive Honourable Hamish san

July 21, 2010 8:22 pm  

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