The morning after. Woken by English voices again in the corridor : “going to Durban”, “flying home”, “going back to Joburg”. The students running the prison-sleep facility are sweet natured and sympathetic, but they know their football, and Germany are their new favourite team. Oh yes we’re going home we’re going home we’re going, football’s going home. But we’re not. No. Last night some wag re-invented the “England Til I Die” song (I know I am, I’m sure I am) as “Ghana Til July”. Class. Along with the rest of Africa we adopt Ghana as our team. So yes we reconvene in Steers for the largest breakfast ever seen – strangely midwestern atmosphere here in Bloemfontein, proper giant on-the-road breakfast where we nurse our wounds and plan the next few days activity. It’s a four-hour drive north to Johannesburg. For reasons unknown, five of them squeeze into one car, and only Jenny and I sit in ours, but – we’re following The Bee. This is a theme we will return to throughout our time in Johannesburg, not always with a happy ending.
The road is uneventful – apart from meeting old mate Shekar in a gas station, awaiting the Capello press conference. He works for the Standard and weirdly (or perhaps not) knows Billy. We decide to head for Soweto FanPark to watch the Dutch play Slovakia, slayers of Italy. And so in we go. This being the legendary SOuth WEst TOwnship we are taking pictures of the most ordinary sights – people at bus-stops, painted adverts on walls, views of traffic jams. The cooling towers are spectacular and graffittied all over, and Orlando Stadium, home to the Orlando Pirates, is impressive. The team I used to play for in London on Sunday mornings was called The Hoxton Pirates as a tribute to the Soweto team. Many circles being joined here. The name has echoed through my life since I can remember, but I guess mainly since the student uprising in 1976 when I was 18. It all feels very peaceful and clean and organised here though – all streets are paved, lamp-posts, electricity, real houses not shacks, hard to see any corrugated iron or clap-board dwellings that you’d get in Khayelitsha. I realise that they’ve had 15 years of investment here. Mandela has since moved away (he used to live on Vilakazi Street just up from Desmond Tutu) but Tutu still lives here among his people.
And it’s become a vast suburb, rather like Milton Keynes, all bungalows, an orangey glow from the red earth and pastel orange walls of the houses, and buses, cars, traffic, a brand new shopping centre, tourists. That’s us ! We find the Fanpark and enter through security. So thrilled are we to be there that we’re taking pictures of anything with the word Soweto on. After some nice cups of tea from a man from Ivory Coast (commiserations) we walk in to the big screen and join about thirty people dotted about watching the Holland game. Really empty. The sun is setting and it’s a beautiful evening but there’s no ‘vibe’ as such. Some lads playing football, some kids playing vuvuzelas and bouncy castles, a few Europeans like us.
We drive up to our new home in Bryanston at half-time, one of Johannesburg’s wealthy suburbs, our street gated and manned by Checkpoint Charlie as we call him, our large house owned by ‘Black Diamonds’ Sotwa and Muriel, part of the emerging black middle class, with two young girls, . They have installed a chap called Willard (the sweetest-natured man you’ve ever met) who tidies up and cooks us breakfast every morning. He is here for the World Cup from Malawi, happy to have found work. The house has a huge back garden peopled by woodpeckers, prehistoric ibis pigeons and siamese cats who don’t like black people. We worked out that the ‘staff” in this area will probably beat pets who scavenge. We have a large room with bathroom, shower and tea-making facilities. It’s a joy. That night Brazil beat Chile and will play Holland in the quarter final. We watch the game in Fashion TV Cafe – suggested by Ade, one of the characters. Ade is an Australian Nigerian Englishman. Other characters in this bar tonight are Laney (England Til I Die editor and Brentford), Billy (Brentford and Kick Racism Out) and Aisling, her sister Rosie, Craig and his sister Alli (Bristol Rovers and Bristol City) and John or Wally (Chelsea). And me (Brighton). The bar is red and peopled by French students getting off with each other. They are about twelve. Jenny (Spurs) makes friends in the ladies toilet with another working girl with a spectacular set of breasts from Nigeria. We realise that girls dancing to disco on their own is a kind of semaphore. Ade spends the entire game online. Our waitress actually has the nerve to tell us that our fifteen percent tip an a reasonably hefty bar bill (with burgers n chips) “isn’t big enough”. Nice. Back in the house characters recall previous World Cups, the general election and what we’re going to do about it. A different kind of blog altogether.
The following morning the assembled characters get into the three cars and head back to Soweto and the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is just round the corner from Mandela’s House, and thrumming with tourists. It’s a new construction and movingly takes us through the events leading up to June 16th 1976 when the students of Soweto marched and refused to be taught in Afrikaans. Thousands mobilised that day and scores were shot dead by the police. Hector Pieterson was the first to die and a large photo of his lifeless body being carried by another student with his sister running alongside dominates the area.
It’s one of those iconic images of grief and despair that changed the world – after the deaths and the ensuing fires with government buildings set alight, the world sat up and took notice, the UN passed a resolution, China and others condemned the SA Govt and Anti-Apartheid movements the world over boycotted South African goods (at the request of the people of south africa it has to be said). The Unions joined forces with the students and the system was at war with it’s own people from that moment. Fifteen years later Mandela was released after a campaign of terror, largely managed from Botswana, strikes, boycotts and international pressure. It’s an amazing exhibit, built on the spot where it all started.
We drive from Soweto due north to Pretoria, another name which echoes down through the years. Jen wonders if we can visit John Vorster Square, where the notorious police station stands and where so many activists perished “jumping from the window” including Steve Biko and Chris Hani. My guess is that it would have changed it’s name – we see Nelson Mandela Drive, Freedom Square and Transvaal has become Gauteng, so complete has the revolution here been. We find the stadium and a couple of tickets for £40 each and bamboozle our way past very lax security so that we’re sitting right behind the goal. Paraguay v Japan. Last 16. Frankly a dull football match, but we always find plenty to entertain ourselves. Billy Laney and Ash enter the world of the Japanese Ultra where drums are banged and Samurai attitudes struck. John Jen and I decide to go upstairs for the second half and I meet a drunken afrikaaner enthusing to two black chaps whom he doesn’t know about sport, south africa and the world cup. I congratulate them all on hosting a brilliant tournament, it’s been a spectacular welcome and very moving (people in gas stations commiserating with the Lampard over-the-line effort) and the white fella expounds “And look at the last fifteen years!” (you’ll have to imagine the accent) ” the country has changed so much ! I can talk to you (the black fella) without my father giving me a clup round the ear”. Extraordinary. The black fella clasps the white chap’s hand and gives him the bloodbrother handshake. Another great World Cup moment. Meanwhile the Japan push the Paraguay all the way through extra time to penalties then miss the fourth spot-kick, cue tears and wild celebrations.
Paraguay have never been in a quarter final before. The game finishes and the locals (for the stadium is filled with locals black white and indian) melt away into the night, we pay our car-park attendant the usual 10 Rand and drive south to a restaurant in Melville called The Catz Pyjamas. Or at least that’s the intention. After following The Bee for an hour and a half, with stops, torchlit map consultation, petrol station direction requests, U-turns and other dithers, all while listening to the first half of a classic Spain v Portugal clash On The Car Radio with Alli John and Craig in the back, we peel off and head back to an Italian we saw ten minutes earlier and Ignored (God Knows Why). Later we discover that The Bee was actually meetng someone in the Pyjamas so had to find it. But we didn’t and we ordered beer and settled down for the second half. Villa scored again, and Spain progressed. Alli and Craig are off to Cape Town tomorrow so I hook them up with the Guest House in Khayelitsha there, built in a squatter camp and completely sustainable. We finally manage to change our flight to the following Monday from Johannesburg, which means we don’t have to drive a couple of thousand kilometers and 14 hours south back to the Cape.
We bed down in Johannesburg and decide to explore.