This last few weeks has been busy, so I apologise for that… I did promise a posting on my trip to South Africa, so this is it.
After the rather surreal existence of Dubai, South Africa was a reasonably normal, welcome relief. The Airport was decent, though it wasn’t brand spanking new, like the Dubai creation. It had a humanity to it. And I couldn’t find the hotel car when I got there.
After an half hour of concern, I got the car, locked the door and off we went. I say lock the door, because even for someone from Northern Ireland, who is well used to people not knowing what they’re talking about when they describe Northern Ireland, perception is still a powerful human emotion… or rather constraint. South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular, has a fierce reputation as a violent place. A perception that wasn’t broken by pretty much every building, whether private residence or shop having a 10 foot wall surrounding it… and the more concerned having three lines of electric fence or barbed or razor wire along the top of the wall.
It was kind of unsettling truth be told.
My journey was however safe, and I got to my hotel in good form. The Hyatt Regency, Johannesburg is a pleasant enough hotel, in a nice part of the city. The truth be told, I wasn’t planning on spending much time there anyways, but I was happy with the hotel. It was in the restaurant that evening however, when I discovered the first real difference between Dubai & South Africa – price!! A full blown 3 course dinner in the Hyatt Regency hotel came to the princely sum of £10 (about a fifth of what I’d been paying in the Emirate). Weeker.
The Johannesburg stop was purely a cricketing venture, as South Africa were facing England in the First Test of four at Centurion, in Pretoria. This was actually my first challenge… it was a 40 minute drive between the two locations, hotel & cricket ground. I had three options of transport. Hotel Car (very expensive), Hotel Taxi (expensive), hired cabbie (cheapest… but security issue).
Unsurprisingly I went with Hotel Taxi, which was about a £50 journey, each way.
Having arrived at the grounds in Centurion, the driver dropped me off at the ticket office, and I joined the queue. This was where I discovered that South Africa seems to have organisational similarities with India – i.e. not much. The queue was nearly a quarter mile long, but it seemed to move at an OK pace. I got to chat to a Saffer in the queue who invited me to join him & his family in the ground. When I got to buy my ticket, I noticed that only 3 out of 6 ticket windows were open. Like I said, not much organisational ability.
In the ground, the sun was shining & the place was filling up nicely before the start of play. I sat with Chris (the Saffer) and his Dad. We chatted about SA, NI, and my travel plans. They were thoroughly nice people, and it turns out that the Spitting Image song (“I’ve never met a nice South African”) was no longer true for me. It turned out, that the reason the crowd was so big was because it was a national holiday in SA – the “Day of Reconciliation”. Originally, this was a day to celebrate the Afrikaans victory over the Zulu’s at the “Battle of Blood River” where 10,000 Zulu’s were defeated by less than 500 Afrikaans. Or as one Afrikaans I met in the queue to the drinks described it, “we whooped them”.
Obviously, my mind immediately sprung to Michael Caine & the film “Zulu” – the movie which immortalised the “Battle of Rourke’s Drift”, where 139 British Soldiers defended their position against up to 5,000 Zulus. Surprisingly, the Afrikaans in the queue had never heard of either the movie or the battle. I put that down to selective education – the Afrikaans and the British never did see eye to eye.
I also got to share in the Saffer family BBQ or Braai (pronounced “bra”) which was so very nice of them & filled me nicely. So day one was pleasant, with England struggling on the field.
Day two, having got myself back to the ground, I got my NI flag up near the stand, and sat amongst the Barmy Army, England Support. An eccentric bunch if ever there was, but terribly friendly & good for a laugh. The cricket was the main point of the day, so no real stories apart from one young couple… he was English, and loved his cricket. His girlfriend was American, and was learning (bless). So as the conversation was progressing, I innocently asked the American, “so, is this your first Cricket match??”
“Oh, no, I’ve been to one before.”
I was mildly surprised, imagining that he’d shown her the delights of the Leather on Willow before, “excellent, when was that??”
“Yeah, I was here yesterday for my first match.”
Que much laughing and hilarity from the handful of Cricket lovers around the poor girl. I’m not totally sure her boyfriend knew how to react, so he laughed at her with the rest of us. Bless. I can only imagine the conversation that evening when he had to explain that both days were actually the same match.
The other highlight of day two, was a brief conversation in the Hotel before the cricket. I’d managed to get some burn the previous day, so decided I needed some sun screen. I casually asked one of the staff in the hotel if there was a pharmacy nearby. After giving me some simple directions, she casually said “but don’t bring any valuables with you.”
This immediately got my attention. “Why not??”
“Well sir” she said, “it’s not exactly safe out there.”
“I’m sorry, what do you mean, ‘not exactly’??”
“It’s not exactly dangerous either, sir.”
“Err, which is it then??”
That immediately put me on edge, but it did amuse me. Here I was, staying in a top hotel, in a nice part of town, and she was just so casual with it. Anyways, I made it back to the hotel with no tragedy.
Day three of the Test was more of the same really. Hanging with the Barmy Army again, flag flow prominently – and I was on TV apparently!! – and England were starting to put on a fight for the match.
The highlight was the evening, when I went out for dinner in a local restaurant near the hotel. I got chatting to a waitress, a lady in her 60’s. She was the daughter of a White farmer from Kenya & she had ended up in SA through being kicked out of pretty much every former British colony between Kenya & Johannesburg when the British pulled out. She had an incredible story to tell.
All her family had left SA, and she was planning to leave immediately after the World Cup finals there this year. She’d had enough of the corruption & the lack of organisation. In her words, SA needed to be a “police state to function properly.” Which is rather sad when you think about it. However, she had reason to feel so. The last time she stopped for the police on the road, she was abducted, tied up, put into the boot of her car… by the police. She was found 3 days later, and when she got out of her car, everything had been stripped out of it, including seats!! Now, when she’s coming up to a police checkpoint, she drives through, lets them follow her to her house, closes the gate behind her & talks to them on the intercom…
She also told me about the last time someone broke into her property (she owned 11 acres of land in Johannesburg). “They got shot” she told me. When I enquired by whom, she immediately replied “By me of course.”
Wow. I was trying to imagine Mum with a gun… Turned out she had 3 rifles and 6 handguns on the property… no, not Mum, the waitress.
South Africa… some spot!! Anyways, I’ll tell you about my Safari another day.