On my first ever visit to South Africa in the early 1990's, after the end of apartheid but prior to the new government of Nelson Mandela being sworn in, I was the guest of one of the then 4 Departments of Education; black, coloured, white and Africaans. I was with the first, and I visited many schools in huge black townships outside Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Durban and in remote villages. In some cases I was the only white guy amongst 1 million blacks.
One of them was in what was then the 'nation', or homeland, of Ciskei with its tiny capital of Bhisho, only recognised by the Republic of South Africa. They had built some nice houses for officials and even an 'International Airport' with a short runway. They dismantled and brought a passenger jet up from East London on the coast. When it was reasembled and filled with fuel, they found that it was too heavy to fly from the runway if they allowed passengers onboard the flights! Well it sat there and rusted.
Today the town is capital of Eastern Cape Province and the runway has been extended. I visited a village school near Ft. Beaufort, with a dirt floor and enthusiastic shoeless youngsters and dedicated teachers. They put on a song and dance display for us visitors which I will never forget.
Little did I think that there would be such changes brought about so quickly as to be capable of organized FIFA World Cup 2010 two decades later. For a couple of nights I stayed with white friends near Johannesburg and there was great excitement. The reason? BBC TV, which would not allow their programmes during apartheid, was showing MR.BEAN that evening for the first time. Such are the rewards of a non racial society!!!
South Africa is ready but not quite. Oliver Tambo Airport, the busiest in Africa, has been almost doubled in size since my visit 2 years ago and has dedicated lines for visiting Wold Cup fans through immigration, though my 400 seat passenger jumbo, arriving at 11.00pm took time to offload our luggage. With 4 or more of these jets arriving at one time from Europe or America, hurry up and wait! I utilised Cape Town International a couple of time in the last week or so and that has also expanded, but you still have to pay for an expensive taxi in or out of town at South African airports unless you have friends pick you up. World Cup CEO Dr Danny Jordaan told me that they would have bus shuttles to downtown and thousands of new buses to take fans to matches and across country, but who will drive them and get a commercial licence to do so?
The nations highways are very good and with many lanes, but in Gautang between Johannesburg, Sandton, Midrand and Pretoria there is gridlock and the Gautrain is a couple of years away from completion. There are hundreds of thousands of privately owned shared taxis seating a dozen or more passengers, but most routes are between the cities and the grim townships to take people to work and back home. Of course, in this new Rainbow Nation, you can now live anywhere you want-if you can afford it. You can also get around Jo'burg for about R3, about 50 US cents if you are not too worried, and I utilised them frequently.
Shopping-NO PROBLEM !! There are giant shopping malls with big stores and food courts to rival Europe and the rest of the world, and I went to grocery stores with up to 40 check out counters. There are also smaller shopping centres with very inexpensive meats, vegetables, clothes and homeware, and at road junctions an army of people selling everything from cell phone cards, newspapers, candy, souvenirs and drinks. In the country near tourist landmarkers are hundreds of stall owners selling local crafts lining the roads.
The last stadium to be completed, was Greenpoint in Cape Town this week. That and the stadiums at Port Elizabeth and Durban are by the sea. Up in Nelspruit, in Mpumalanga (Place of the Rising Sun), on the Lowvelt, gateway to Kruger National Park, and the Bylde River Canyon,the stadium, Mbombela, is unique. I was there two years ago when it was only at ground level, with an army of workers, many female. They are less likely to spend their wages at the local 'shabeen' or beer hall, and to take it home to feed their families. Today it has a unique support structure of 18 giraffe looking towers, to reflect the nearby game parks, and inside the seating is in a black and white zebra pattern. Only 4 matches: Honduras v Chile, Australia v Serbia, North Korea v Ivory Coast, Italy v New Zealand.
Fan parks have been designated, and I was in Long Street prior to the recent WC Draw in the Cape Town Convention Centre. Estimates of crowds were probably a third of the number that showed up, and it was jam packed. There were a few giant screens but not enough, and some people had taken folding chairs to sit on, babies in strollers and even bicycles.This was dangerous. The areas need to be expanded and more rules, altough there was security and entrances. Private security and police were in abundence.
I spoke with Billy Cooper, the South African Associated Press chief sports reporter in the press box at a PSL match at Wits v Chiefs and told him that a couple of years ago I had suggested that 100 or more foreign fans would be murdered. 'No way,' he exclaimed, 'They won't allow that to happen. Stay away from drug infested areas such as Hillbrow', as he pointed out the well known part of downtown Johannesburg. 'Be sensible and don't stray'.
JABULANI is the name of the new FIFA World Cup 2010 soccer ball with only 8 panels, thermally bonded that will be played with during the tournament.