Posted: 11/23/2007


   Pretoria is a big, but pleasant laid back city of about 3 million, 50 km north of Johannesburg and a centre of Afrikaner culture and learning. It was the climax of The Great Trek from the Cape of Good Hope in 1850s when the British gave the Boers their independence and the Zuid Afrikaaner Republic was formed  north of the Vaal River. It is named after Andries Pretoria, hero fighter of the Battle of Blood River 1838, when 470 Boer farmers under his leadership defeated 12,000 Zulus.

   Nelson Mandela was convicted of treason in a courthouse in the city and sent to Robben Island until he was freed and sworn in here at the Union Building as the first democratically elected President.  I was in the Balcony Suite at Loftus Veldfeld Stadium, and was put in Mandela's seat in the first row on the half way line for the Mamelodi Sundowns vs Jomo Cosmos S.A. Premier League match.  The Sundowns are nicknamed The Brazilians after their style of play and their uniform colours of yellow and blue  and called the Chelsea of South Africa. They are owned by Rand( South African currency) mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe and coached by Gordon Igesund.  Jomo Cosmos are owned by former Colorado Carribou and New York Cosmos player Jomo Sono. His nickname Jomo (the spear) came from former Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta.

   Who did I bump into and chat with at this stadium but BORA MULITENOVIC, now resident of Mexico City and the legendary coach of USA National team in FIFA 1994 World Cup and FIVE World Cup teams-Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria and China as well. "How about the England job, Bora" I asked? Is $5 million (Mclaren's salary) enough for you?   "Ron, I would PAY $2 million a year of my own money to get that job". Well, here you heard it first !!!

   Before the collapse of apartheid it took forever to fly to Johannesburg International Airport, now renamed O. R. TAMBU International. SAA South African Airways had to fly from London around the western bulge of the continent, refueling in Cape Verde Islands since overflight rights were not allowed. Yesterday I flew from Amsterdam over Libya, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Zambia, not exactly your model democracies. At 35,000 feet I was watching 'Mr Bean goes on Holiday' in Dutch, eating Belgian ice cream, in the super hospitality of KLM airlines in a 747-400 jumbo jet with 450 passengers. Tourism is booming down here ,and on my last visit just after Mandela took over 14 years ago I experienced the richness of its coasts, its game reserves and its people-the RAINBOW NATION, with 11 official languages.  It took 2  hours flying over the Sahara Desert and then the green of the Congo basin.

    Thebo Mbebki, Mandela's successor has his office in the Union building, clearly visable from the back balcony of this well heeled stadium, surrounded by jacaranda trees.  It is a big place of learning with the strikingly modern South African National University(UNISA), like a beached space ship, and University of Pretoria, and many large schools for the leaders of this new nation. The city has many suburbs that could be Orange County or San Diego County- lots of expensive homes and apartments with red tiled roofs and palm trees and giant shopping malls.   The Voortrekers Monument and Museum has a wall of 64 wagons draw up in a laager, or circle, which is the most worhipped site for Afrikaners, who speak a Dutch inspired language. Most locals speak a native Northern Sothu, although English is the prime teaching tool at schools.

    In the lobby of the stadium I looked at a bust of Robert Loftus Owen 1862-1932 for which the stadium is named. It is made of brick and concrete and richly panneled woods in the main stand and the home of THE BLUE BULLS, the local rugby team who are the best in the world and play in the Super 14 against clubs from the rest of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. They were 3 times champions of the Currie Cup the national club tournament before the recent Rugby World Cup robbed them of about 60% of their players who won the Webb Ellis world Trophy for South Africa  Springboks in Paris last month. It will be used in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

    My host Malcolm works for VODACOM, the stadium sponsor and they also are sponsoring the FIFA World Cup and lots of soccer clubs and tournaments. In a country where most of the inhabitants don't have either bank accounts or credit cards, they were the first cell phone company in the world to offer a pay as you go service.  He was telling me how Pretoria is possibly the least windy city in the world, but just on half-time there was a spectacular display of lightning in the African sky and the heavens opened to torrential rain, straight down without a wind.  The players finally left the field within a minute of the second half of this Premier League match and it was eventually abandoned.

    The skill was pretty good, but once attacks break down there is no real desire to pursue and get the ball back. The Sundowns are the local team and had a band of about 300 supporters in yellow and blue robes, swaying, chanting and blowing on their VUVUZZELAS, the long plastic horn that makes a lot of noise.