My Pop Life #236 : Superman ft. Bucie – Black Coffee

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Superman ft. Bucie   –   Black Coffee

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I am a cat-man.  I have always had a cat or two or three, and I understand them.  A little. Cat Man Do.  My reward for good behaviour (miaow!) has been to have used up only a third of my 9 lives…  Two I have written about already : Falling Out Of A Van Going At 50 mph On A Scottish Road (see My Pop Life #232 – C’Mon) and Drowning When Drunk At Dawn In A Las Vegas Swimming Pool (see My Pop Life #235 – You’ve Got A Friend).  The third attempt was more recent than these two teenage incidents and will have to be entitled Being Dropped In A Cage From A Boat Into 30 Metres Of Shark-Infested Seawater With No Oxygen Etc.

It was 2010.  It was – in all seriousness – the second time that I had given up acting for a living.  My way this manifests itself is as follows – I call my agent – in this case Oriana Elia – and inform her that I will no longer audition for anything, and will in fact be quite happy if I never work again.  It was a kind of petulance, a kind of release, and a kind of sanity that swept over me that spring.  I cannot remember the details that pushed me over the edge, but within four months I was in Cape Town doing a film with Halle Berry.

But first a little matter of a World Cup.  I won’t write about it here, but Jenny and I have been to every World Cup since USA 1994 when we lived in Los Angeles as a special treat and these adventures are memorialised in My World Cup Blog.

The World Cup in June of 2010 was in South Africa.  While we were in Johannesburg for the latter stages I received word of a job – in South Africa – in July/August.  Their winter, our summer in England.  A straight offer.  Thank you casting director Gail Stevens.  A special lady.  I was back in the game.

I decided to go home for two weeks rather than stay down there, and thus it was for the 2nd time in a month that I arrived in Cape Town in July and checked into the Waterfront Apartments.  It was actually my third time in Cape Town because I’d been filming here in 2006 (see My Pop Life #117) on The Flood, and spent one day off at the Khayelitsha project of our first aider Kerryn Pitt.  My first stop on this visit was to drive out there and see how they were doing.

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Kerryn Pitt

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Table Mountain from Khayelitsha Township

They were doing well.  They still had their World Cup flags flying over the township.  Kerryn was on good form and had been building a Guest House for the project, alongside the orphan’s school & kitchen.  Township Air B’n’B.  We chatted, I took photos and vowed to return.

That night I met the director John Stockwell for a drink. My worries about the script were aired and then turned to more general worries about the film when he asked me to re-write it.  I decided not to get involved at that level.  Perhaps I asked for more money, I truly can’t remember.  It felt like much of it might be improvised.  The schedule was to be improvised, everything was weather dependent so we had to be ready to shoot any scene at any time, and we’d all be working every day.  And there were no rehearsals, so the first time I met Halle Berry was on the first day of filming, down in Simons Town on False Bay.  I’d made a major fluff of my first meeting with another female lead actor –  Sigourney Weaver back in 1991 on Alien 3 (see My Pop Life #171) so this time I had a plan – smile,  make friends, be charming.  Not too difficult because being the first black actress to win an Oscar was completely historic and inspiring and I told her so.  She is gracious and kind and friendly.  It’s going to be fine.  So far so good and my other co-stars Sizwe Msutu, who stayed ashore, Olivier Martinez, Luke Tyler and Mark Elderkin all seemed untroubled by delusions of grandeur and I rather hoped for a decent shoot.

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Me, Halle, Olivier, Sizwe in a dinghy going home

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Luke Tyler & Mark Elderkin

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John Stockwell

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Olivier Martinez

The film by the way remains one of the very worst-reviewed films I’ve ever had the privilege to have been in.  It’s called Dark Tide and it scored a fairly unique 0% on the website Rotten Tomatoes.  But rubbish films can still be good fun to make (and of course the opposite too – good films can be a fucking nightmare on set and off !)

It is set almost entirely on a small boat at sea.  There are six of us on it.  I play a British millionaire who brings his son (Luke) on a shark weekend – Halle is a shark whisperer who owns the boat and whose business is going bust.  Mark played the skipper and Olivier her partner.  Oh.  That makes five.

Anyway.

What is a shark weekend?  Well in South Africa, Mexico, Australia and other areas of the world it is where you rent a boat and climb into a cage and get lowered into the water to watch them up close.  Cage Diving With Sharks.  What could possibly go wrong?

In fact Luke Cresswell, my buddy from Brighton who co-created Stomp along with Steve McNicholas was just down the road in Gansbaai, filming Great Whites from a naturalist’s angle and he generously took me out on my first free afternoon to watch the water.  A preview of what was to come.  What strange coincidences life throws at you, and great to see him.

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Luke on his shark boat

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Luke and Great White Shark off Gansbaai

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And I had a wonderful drive back along the Garden Route to Cape Town at dusk

I’ve written a little about the shark experience, especially the sea-sickness angle in My Pop Life #37 – A Salty Dog.  Halle rented a house nearby with her daughter and nanny,  the rest of us were in apartments on the Cape Town Waterfront and were picked up at 5.45 every morning.  My driver Hans was a large Afrikaaner who resisted stereotype yet was a huge fan of Meatloaf.  We’d have an hour’s drive into the dawn, playing my music, playing his, playing the radio, then into unit base as the light arrived.

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Simons Town, False Bay

Costume change & make-up plus breakfast at unit base then down to the quayside and board the boat V.S. Volante at 8am and start the engine which produced a very particular kind of smell – of oil – then out to sea and shoot all day til the light faded at 6pm.  Six days a week.  Lunch was brought alongside by a rubber dinghy.  We often anchored up near Seal Island, which is where we were that day.

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Green Point at the top was near the Cape Town waterfront. Simon’s Bay was base camp about an hour down the Cape.

I’ll just digress gently and note that while we were filming, guys were chumming the water on either side of the boat.  Throwing bucketfuls of dead fish overboard to attract Great White Sharks in other words.  Then if one came near us we would film with it behind us, or even try and get it to approach the boat.  Some of these were large – the females we were told, some were smaller and whip-flick irritable – these were the juvenile males.  Of course they were.  We were not expected, naturally, to get into the sea with these beasts, we had a stunt crew for all that.  But apparently we only had three sets of oxygen tanks, and they, naturally, were for the stunt crew.

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Seal Island

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On the fateful day in question, it was decided that Luke my son and I would do a scene with skipper Mark just before we go down for our first cage dive.  This involved being fully dressed for scuba diving – masks, fins, weights, tanks.  The tanks weren’t full of oxygen.  They were props.  Fair enough, we weren’t going underwater.  We were doing some chat then climbing into a cage which went up to waist height off the back of the boat.  And cut.  The stunt crew with the real oxygen tanks were at least a 45-minute boat ride away.  Halle and Olivier were inside the Volante resting.  Olivier was actually  affecting a tremendously French couldn’t care less attitude while clearly staying available.  Halle’s favourite.

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Lunch arriving.  Be honest, it isn’t a large boat.  See cage on the stern.

We were shooting off the back.  Sorry, the stern.  As we waited for the camera I looked at the cage, suspended from a frame by a rope and pulley.  We would climb in via a door in the top of the cage.  I noticed something.  “What’s that blue rope?” I asked marine co-ordinator Jason Martin alongside me.  I hadn’t seen it before.  “That’s a safety rope” he answered,

in case the pulley breaks but that isn’t going to happen

Right thanks”  I said.

Luke was sitting on the other side of me and hadn’t heard this exchange.  “Hey Luke” I said, “you see that blue rope there?  That’s to stop the cage from plunging onto the ocean floor when the pulley breaks. Which it won’t“.

Good to know”  he said.

We got into position.  Line-up.  Ran the words.  Camera ready.  Actors ready.  Boom op ready.  Turn over.  Speed.  Mark it.  247 take one.  Crack!  And the stage was ours.  We did the words and climbed into the cage.  The water was quite lively and as Luke climbed down into the cage beside me a huge wave went over our heads. “I’d better hold my breath” I thought.  And the wave stayed there.  And stayed there some more. “Hang on“‘ I thought, “I really need to hold my breath here“.  Then Luke just disappeared upwards through the cage door above us, and so did I, breaking water to a crowd of alarmed and panicked faces looking down, reaching out to take our arms, hauling us back onboard where we sat down in a puddle.

What happened?” I asked.

The pulley snapped”  someone said,  “The safety rope stopped you from dropping down 30 metres onto the sea bed.

I looked round. Sure enough the blue rope was the only thing holding the cage.  There had been no big wave.  Below us was the rocky shelf of Seal Island – not that deep, I had dived in Egypt down to 20 metres.  But that was with oxygen.  Plus the speed we’d have dropped would’ve given us the bends.  And then where the shelf drops into the depths, the underwater cliff edge,  is where the sharks hunt for seals, which is actually why we were anchored there.  You couldn’t drop an anchor onto the ocean floor anyway, the chain wasn’t that long.

Everyone was really shaken up.  John the director was apologising to Luke and I.  People were bringing tea and biscuits.  We would be taken inside and they’d shoot something else.  Drama and panic.  Are you guys OK?  I lit a cigarette.  Luke and I conferred.  We were happy about the blue rope (which isn’t in the photo above I’ve just realised, must’ve been added after that day…) but unhappy about the pulley snapping.

For the rest of the day we were placated.  I think we were both in shock and in the dinghy ride back to shore I said I would speak to my agent.  Film sets are notoriously unsafe spaces in many ways – I remembered the accident on Alien 3 with Linda, Sigourney’s make-up lady – but this seemed to be a many layered accident with plenty of possible ways to die or be seriously injured.  There’s always an insurance angle on films which is often the reason why a film isn’t greenlit – they can’t get a bond.  The fear of the insurance doubling rippled through the production – and I’d like to think there was also a concern that two actors might have been lost, and thus the film, because they wouldn’t have gone back and re-shot everything with two new actors.  Would they?

It was decided that Luke and I wouldn’t do any more work in the water, most of it was going to be done in Pinewood Studios later in August.  But in fact that scene was eventually re-shot a few clicks down the shore from Simonstown, in the sea.  The ghost lingered but we got the scene.

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Sorry babe I’m already happily married

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After this drama a kind of rhythm was established.  The day was based on how seasick we felt, how quickly the ginger basket was emptied of sweets and biscuits and drinks.  Scenes and sharks came and went.  We couldn’t find the right stormy conditions for the final sequence so in the end it was decided to head south and round the Cape of Good Hope into the open Atlantic to get some churning seas.  That was a day of sickness and drama as Olivier (in character) ordered me to sit down as the waves started kicking the boat around and I (in character) refused.  In make up the following morning Halle came to my chair and started whispering in my ear about making up with Olivier because he was still screwing about it, and would I mind apologising to him.  “I was acting a scene” I objected but Halle had my earlobe between her thumb & finger and was gently rubbing an affirmation out of me.  Olivier and I made up but he still insisted that if we did fight, he would win.

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One weekend I invited Halle, Olivier, Luke, Mark and John to the Indlovu Project in Khayelitsha, and we spent a precious couple of hours in the township where the kids danced for us, we were fed and watered and chatted and took photos of each other.  Halle later donated a generous sum to their project and Olivier supplied them with punch bag and some sets of boxing gloves.

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As the film drew to a close whatever feelings we had about the story we were telling was slowly but inevitably being subsumed by the wild beauty around us and one by one we surrendered to the surroundings.  There was an afternoon of behind-the-scenes interviews where we all mucked in and watched each other’s clips.

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Luke holding the screen for Norma Hill-Patton’s interview, Halle Berry watching. I’d worked with Norma  before on ‘Buster’ the train robber film (1986).  Life is long.

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Effortless grace and lucky guy

We wrapped up and I flew back to Brighton and Jenny and Chester and Mimi.  Dark Tide reconvened in the Paddock Tank in Pinewood Studios.  My oxygen tank didn’t work there either when I was inside the cage one afternoon, so I did the pointing to my mouth thing and my guide diver found me and gave me an emergency oxygen feed as we swam to the top of the tank.   It doesn’t count as a life though if you’re counting.  Never in danger.  It was the Paddock Tank where I’d previously shot the underwater sequence in The Boat That Rocked/Pirate Radio in 2006 (see My Pop Life #205).  I was starting to feel like a veteran underwater actor.  I’m not a great swimmer but I have no fear of being underwater despite nearly drowning when 19 –  I learnt to swim in Hornsey Road Baths when I was 25 years old and the first thing they made us do was go underwater and stay there for ten, then twenty seconds.

Halle came out for dinner one night with Norma to meet Jenny and our friend Martina Laird in the Groucho Club.  They both loved her.  She is a real sweetheart who doesn’t pick the best men.  Olivier lasted six years and they have a child together.

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The handsome couple were married 3 years later

All through that summer I was listening to the radio, to the sounds of South Africa.  I didn’t need my comfort music around me for some reason, and delighted in the new sounds of that new nation.  They were obsessed with house music and a fella called Black Coffee.  In 2006 when I’d shot The Flood in Cape Town I became hooked on a song called Mdlwembe or Umdlwembe (see My Pop Life #117) from the Tsotsi soundtrack which actually dates from 2000.  Ten years later it was house music which dominated the airwaves and this DJ in particular who stood head and shoulders above the pack.  His album Home Brewed was released in 2010 and you couldn’t escape from it’s silky rhythms in bars, restaurants, taxis and on the street.

My favourite memory of the shoot was this moment :

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My favourite shot of Halle was this :

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I write this from lockdown in New York City where the numbers suggest that we have been plague central for six weeks.  99% of the citizens wear masks outside in a huge act of compassion to protect the vulnerable and the elderly the diabetics and the asthmatics.  My wife Jenny is one of the latter.  She hasn’t gone out.  I don mask and gloves and stride out to the shops, intrepid and steeled, keeping spatial distance from the other explorers. The shop has its own rules and lines, screens and bagging procedures.  We are at war.  When I get home, the shoes are left in the hallway, the vinyl gloves unpeeled and trashed, soap and water, bleach wipes on all bags, all produce, all shopping, keys, cards.

Death is just out there.   I will trade in my remaining 6 lives for my wife’s.

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the blue rope with the knot which saved us

My Pop Life #117 : Mdlwembe : Zola

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Mdlwembe   :   Zola

February 2006 I made my first trip to Cape Town, South Africa having been cast by old buddy and casting director Jeremy Zimmerman in “The Flood” a massive ITV mini-series about the Thames Barrier being unable to hold back a tidal surge which swamps central London.  Almost all of the show was shot in Cape Town (for London) with only the final week in Greenwich, looking down onto Christopher Wren’s Royal Naval College from the hilltop.  It was the end of a long journey.

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Mount Nelson Hotel, 2006 – me and Eamonn Walker

I was placed in the Mount Nelson Hotel on Orange Street under Table Mountain  (even if I keep on running I’ll never get to Orange St).  It was rather grand and disgustingly white supremacist even in 2006.  The only black guest there was my brother-from-another-mother  Eamonn Walker, (see My Pop Life #104) doing a US TV medical show,  can’t remember which one.  It was a lovely co-incidence and we hung out, ate food, and I got to meet his producers.  Eamonn had already spent previous time in Cape Town making a cheetah film and he knew the ropes.  The number of times black staff with white gloves had approached him with a quizzical “can I help you?” and received a pretty curt “No” in response.  The old black and white photographs on the wall, the air of rotten filthy greedy entitled robbery hanging around the whole place.  Outside at the open air pool an old white man shouted at a black pool attendant : “Nurse!  Towel!”.  I wanted to kick his face in.  Meanwhile on set, Cape Town was pretty funky, lovely architecture around Long St and environs, and even some black people on the crew.  This was a mere 12 years after the first democratic elections in South Africa by the way.  I had some days off coming up – I asked one of the younger fellas what I should do. “Go round the Cape, see the baboons” he suggested.

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The next day I hired a car and Eamonn and I drove south, saw penguins, baboons, zebra and spectacular geographical sights.  The view from the top of Table Mountain is second-to-none.  I spent some time with my screen daughter Jade Davidson and her mum in the Botanical Gardens.  And yet I needed more.  More than the tourist destinations.  The proper South Africa.  I’d been in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London for years, I didn’t want to fuck about in some cobwebbed timewarp of colonial bigotry in the heart of Cape Town.   I wanted to go to the township – visible from the airport road, a huge sprawling city of tin and wire called Khayelitsha.  When I mentioned this to the same young white fella at work next day his answer shocked me.  “Those people in the townships man – they’re rich. they organise bus tours, they’re making money off their poverty”.  He was 19 years old.  His parents were clearly Boers, Afrikaaners from the country drenched in racism, struggling with the new reality.  The medic, Kerryn Pitt, got wind of my desires, and offered to drive me out there on Sunday – a mutual day off.

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Kerryn picked me up from the hotel and we drove for 45 minutes and on the way out of the city she gave me the background.  She was running a school in Khayelitsha and many of the kids who attended were orphans, specifically AIDS orphans.   Kerryn encourage the locals (who had nothing as I would shortly see) to take these kids in and offer them shelter, and the school would give them 3 meals a day and wash their clothes.

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The highway was now an asphalt corridor between two cities – corrugated iron shacks linked by endless wiring to the odd lamp-post.  Dirt poor.  We turned off and drove into the township.  Everything was one-storey, made of wood, tin, corrugated iron, bits and pieces.  All of the inhabitants were black.  There were shops, hairdressers, cafes, bars, stalls, no road markings, lorries and some buses which were minivans full of people.  Kids with bare feet staring at us.  Nothing I had been told about this type of settlement could prepare me for being there.  It is quite simply overwhelming.  First – it is huge.   Over a million people living in shacks.   Most with no running water, no flushing toilet, no sink or shower.  No electricity.  We finally reached the project and parked, then walked past some rudimental dwellings to the project.  It was one building, like a school, with some washing machines and a kitchen.  Pretty basic, but it was a local hub of care for the kids who were everywhere.  I was introduced to the staff and shown around.  Kerryn explained that they were trying to persuade an old chap to move so that they could build a hospital on his land – an AIDS hospital that would also teach and practice Bush Medicine, using the knowledge of the sangoma (a healer, always a woman), and pass on her methods to the next generation.

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Kerryn had originally chosen to start this project because her grandmother had asked her to – Kerryn is white, but her grandmother was black.  Maybe she was her old nanny?  (“Nurse!”)   Feeling slightly out of my depth but impressed with the energy of the place we travelled back to the white privileged world of the Mount Nelson.  Just a few doors down was a cinema.  They were showing a new South African film called Tsotsi, so I decided to go and see it that evening, despite warnings “not to go out after dark in case of crime”…

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scene from Tsotsi (SA 2006)

Tsotsi opens in a township just like the one I had been in.  Soweto.  (SOuth WEst TOwnship just outside Johannesburg).  The young boy is at the window and he turns round.  His face is a scowl, dark and angry, and the beat of Mdlwembe starts to pump and the lyrics to snarl.  The song that opens the film is by a young township musician called Zola – real name Bonginkosi Dlamini, from the part of Soweto known as Zola.  Despite the temptations of drink and drugs, crime and simply struggling to earn a living, Zola became a beacon of hope for the new country, expressing the rage felt by the still-ignored township-dwellers years after apartheid was abolished.  The film Tsotsi is hugely powerful and won an Oscar the following year for best foreign film – the storyline from an Athol Fugard novel, the acting, including Zola as a’bad guy’, the directing by Gavin Hood and the soundtrack featuring the finest kwaito tunes of the new century are all first class.

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Zola himself read Steve Biko and his ideas of Black Consciousness when he was growing up, and placed those thoughts into his music.  Sadly I can’t find any translations of the lyrics to Mdlwembe online, except that the word itself translates as delinquent, so if anyone out there knows what this song is saying I’d be grateful.  But when you listen to it, it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to understand where this song comes from and what it is expressing.   South African music is exciting rhythmically, always has been, and here the influence of hip-hop on the home-grown kwaito beat is truly thriling.  Zola eventually got his own TV show on Channel 5 in South Africa and released a new LP last year, 2014, called Intakathusa.

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But this tune, from his debut album Umdlwembe in 2000, is quite simply a peak moment in music for me.  A cry of rage, full of potency, lyrics of fury directed at the new black Government, to wake up and heed the needs of the people.   It’s brilliantly produced but still sounds rough round the edges, there’s piano, guitar, a shuffle, a surging feel to the music, and the spitting Zola achieves is magnificent even without knowing what he’s saying.  There was an election while I was in Cape Town, the ANC were out in force, no longer a banned terrorist organisation, but now The Government, defending their record in an election campaign.  Cape Town, not an ANC stronghold, was still covered in their black green and gold posters, as well as those of the opposition.  The Government won, again.

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My Pop Life #82 : Lilizela Mlilizeli – Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

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Lilizela Mlilezeli   –   Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens

Ululate/Applaud

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I talked about Tom Hark and South African kwela music in My Pop Life 51 and made a passing reference to the music which evolved out of that late 1950s flute jive – mbaqanga or Township Jive, which electrified the whole scene and replaced the flutes with saxophones around 1960 in Johannesburg, Soweto and beyond.  Featured imageThis is the most powerful music I know, the most urgent, the most bouncy, the most potent.  Perhaps apartheid repression contributed to this eruption of musical energy which lasted for at least 30 years to 1990 and beyond.  We first got exposed to it in the UK with the LP The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto which caused a storm upon its release in 1985.   Malcolm McLaren, ex-manager of The Sex Pistols and international musical huckster had already used the bass-line and rhythm of “3 Mabone” by The Boyoyo Boys on his hit New York skipping single Double Dutch, (and was successfully sued by them) but this was our first exposure to the bands behind that immense sound : Amaswazi Emvolo, Abafana Busequdeni, the Magkona Tsohle Band and Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens.  Almost more than the seductive soukous of Kinshasa and Franco & TPOK Jazz, (see My Pop Life #38) this music excited me beyond anything else from this era – although Run DMC Public Enemy and KRS-1 were also creating and building something exciting in New York called hip hop.

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Simon Mahlathini Nkabinde is what they call a groaner, singing so impossibly deeply that the sound appears to come from his boots.  The Mahotella Queens – on this record a reunion of Hilda Tloubatia, Nobesuthu Mbadu and Mildred Mangxola, had been singing since the early 1960s and appeared together on many many South African LPs and singles.  Featured imageThey were backed by the great Makgona Tsohle Band (“the band who can do anything“) who in effect were the creators of this sound and performed as the house band at Gallo Records, who had poached talent scout Rupert Bopape from EMI (see My Pop Life 51).

Featured imageHe created the Mavuthela subsidiary of Gallo which specialised in black music from the townships. Earthworks re-released a number of fine LPs from this period, and all are rather fantastic.  The Makgona Tsohle Band comprised of Joseph Makwele on the bass, Lucky Monoma on drums, West Nkosi on saxophone and Marks Makwane and Vivan Ngubane on guitars.  The result was hit after hit after hit.  This was like the Jo’burg Motown.

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After Paul Simon broke the artistic boycott in 1986 with the Graceland LP a worldwide appetite for South African music grew stronger, with increased exposure for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masakela and Miriam Makeba. This, along with  the success of the Earthworks Soweto LPs, compelled West Nkosi to pull the band back together for one shot at the international market.  The LP Thokozile is the result.  Many of the tracks are re-recordings of classic mbqanga/”mgqashiyo” hits, including Lilizela Mlilizela, written by Marks Makwane, and produced by West Nkosi.   The album was an international smash hit.

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They played at Hackney Empire in 1987 to promote the album and blew the roof off the place.  Mahlathini is dressed in leopard skin and growls lasciviously into his microphone.  The Mahotella Queens are pumping 300 lbs of heavenly joy and have more energy than a hydro-electric power station.  The band are frighteningly good.  I went along with friends from the Scala days – now film industry colleagues – Steve Woolley, Dominique Green and Don MacPherson.  My girlfriend Rita Wolf and David Keyes (who were both in the play Sanctuary at the time) also came.   They all wondered how I knew about this band.  But that’s our secret isn’t it readers 😉

Featured image It wasn’t the only time I saw this great band in action, but that can wait for another post.  But the first time that I got to work in South Africa was in 2005, in Cape Town in the show “Flood” about a tidal wave coming up the Thames.  One of my first stops was the music shop on Long Street where I found the History of Township Music CD and an album by Abafana Busequdeni.  Musical riches !   I always like to buy music from wherever I’m visiting, I could have bought the entire shop in Cape Town.

Incidentally “mgqashiyo” means “to bounce”.  In Xhosa – the click language.  You can hear them click every time they sing it.  Listen to that bass line and bounce along !

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World Cup 2010 in South Africa part one – Cape Town

Cape Town June 17th

– we land in South Africa to the news that the local team Bafana Bafana representing the host nation have lost 3-0 to Uruguay while we were flying.  Uruguay are destined to be the party poopers at this World Cup, and everyone’s least favourite team. A kind of gloom is on the land as a result –  it’s winter but more like an English summer’s day on Table Mountain. The q for the cable car is so long we don’t bother. Robben Island is booked up all weekend. The English have arrived – all 20,000 of us, the best-supported team at this World Cup, though whether the boys deserve it is open to question. We watch Argentina take South Korea apart in a restaurant in Camps Bay as surfers catch a wave a few feet away. Very white this part of SA. Later that day France capitulate against Mexico giving Bafana Bafana a sliver of hope.

June 18th

– my birthday. We drive to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa, pausing for baboons crossing the road, and searching in vain for penguins. Germany lose to Serbia and we drive back through Chapman’s Peak a stunning rocky cliff road that rivals the best of Amalfi or California. Then the ritual preparation for The England. Draped in flaggery and clutching our tickets we take a local minibus to the stadium just a couple miles up from our B&B in Seapoint.

greenpoint stadium june 18

The vuvuzela massive makes it’s presence felt, the stadium is a masterpiece and quite a thrilling structure, the weather is warm, and then, oh dear, the game. How such successful practitioners of the art of football produce quite such a turgid display of misplaced passes shin bounces, pathetic headers and off-target excuses for shots is beyond my analysis, but the regular torture of watching England play football is comfortably exceeded by this woeful and inept display. Two chaps behind us cannot believe their eyes and they voice all of our thoughts over the 90 minutes. “Sort yerselves out for christsakes”. “What’s going on?”. “I can’t believe what I’m watching – fuckin sort it out!”. The English footballers were clearly unable to sort it out. Add to the disappointment a rather large contingent of the England around Jenny and I singing “You can stick your vuvuzela up your arse” and the evening was complete. Quite the worst evening I have ever had on my birthday. We did go along to Norman Cook’s party after the game, picking up some S African musicians onto our guest list, and it did cheer us up somewhat thank god. But clearly England were not going to challenge for the World Cup. We felt bemused, stunned, angry, confused. Not good.

June 19th

Long Street cafe has the games, the internet and a decent menu, and a mixed clientele leading us to believe that perhaps people are starting to get it together over here.  Holland eventually beat Japan but Ghana and Cameroon struggle to make an impact and Africa is not being represented well at this tournament. We drink in Camps Bay later and meet some of the characters – Billy The Bee has gathered a large crowd of English many of whom have done World Cups before – including of course myself and Jenn. This is her fourth World Cup and my fifth – and various tournament veterans swap stories from Japan/Korea 02, France98, Germany06 and USA94.   After convincing the locals that Valentine is a member of the Ivory Coast squad we drive off in search of the next bar but it never appears and after 90 minutes, rather like England, we give up.

June 20th

New Zealand celebrate an early goal v world champions Italy

To the FIFA Fan Park in Independence Square where Mandela made his first speech after being released from 28 years in prison – the square and District 6 in general reeks of history but the fanpark is terribly disappointing – over-policed, very corporate and empty save for a few hundred locals and their face-painted kids, a smattering of soon-to-be-gutted Italians and four chaps from New Zealand in tights. We watch the second half in an Italian restaurant in Seapoint where our waiter (who looks Sri Lankan but sounds Cape) tells us that Cape Town types haven’t started sharing their wealth with the nation yet. The sun sets. Back to Long Street and a search for the perfect African vibe finally settling on Bob’s Bar where the almost entirely black clientele mingle with european footie fans from England Portugal and elsewhere to watch the big one : Brazil v Ivory Coast.  This is the African World Cup Final. The pool table is covered, the lights go down, Jen sits next to a very busty Nigerian lady named Candy who is waiting for her Swedish boyfriend to come and marry her, at which point she will ‘clean her pumpum’.  Sandy and her two friends are working girls and supporting Brazil, to the point where whenever Brazil score (3 times) Sandy attempts to do the same by waving her two giant Brazilian-flag-painted breasts at the middle-aged England fans in the bar, shouting “I’m a winner!”   But when Drogba scores for the Ivory Coast the roar is huge and african and electric. It is amazing how the africans all support the other teams from the continent – unheard of elsewhere on planet football. But the first black World Cup needs an African Success. I’ll never forget the intensity which came over the chaps playing pool when one by one they found a chair and lined up along the green baize, intent on the game, the World Cup meant everything to them. I imagined the scene being played out in bars and homes and clubs around the whole continent, around the whole world.

Fan Park, Cape Town

June 21st

Lunchtime kick-off at Green Point stadium and we’re back there in the rain with tickets for Portugal v North Korea, who are a bit of a collector’s item,unseen in a World Cup since their ’66 heroics. We see their “fans” – apparently Chinese actors pretending to be Korean – and are seated with the thousands of Portugese.

Portugal singing the anthem v North Korea

They sing and shout and eventually cheer as Portugal demolish North Korea 7-0.  Ronaldo finally scores rather like a trained seal after two barren years for the national team. It’s a big scoreline but North Korea collapsed in the 2nd half.  Later we eat wild boar and ostrich watching Chile and then take pictures from Signal Hill before going back to Lavender Lodge for the Spanish game watching in bed as we need to get up at five the following morning for a long drive down the garden route to Port Elizabeth.

World Cup in South Africa 2010 – part two : Bafana Bafana

5am Lavender Lodge, Seapoint. We rise and shower, breakfast and hit the road while it’s still night. Driving east through the city and out past Khayelitsha towards the winelands. It’s too early in the morning to drop in on my HIV orphans project  which I visited last time I was here – but we’ll be back. As we climb the impressive mountain road the lights of False Bay twinkle below us and disappear. The faint glimmer of dawn is on the horizon. Layers of mist swirl across the road, a tree-top here, the distant mountains poking through the blanket of soft cloud, the car eating up the kilometres.  Gas stops are clean, peopled by africans of varied hues, and you never fill your own tank – someone does it, wipes the windscreen, asks if you want the oil and water checked, gets tipped and on you go. We spot ostrich in a field, then in the back of a lorry. As the sun rises the mist starts to break up and melt and the full glory of the countryside is revealed, just one long unbroken road stretching out before us.

dawn on the garden route


Our deadline is 4pm – when Bafana Bafana kick off against France in the make-or-break final group game – or to be more accurate our deadline is 3.50 because we both want to hear our hearts beating when they play the national anthem of South Africa, N’kosi Sikelele Afrika, and wherever we are on the road we have to be part of it. So I drive like a demon until lunch, which, appropriately for the fabled Garden Route, we take in a Garden Centre. Surreal but there we are at outside tables with fry-ups, coffee and tea, delicious. Back on the road. All the land we drive through is farmland here, so the chances of seeing wild animals is slight. Nysna is a stunning break in the road, a great bay, a cliff-break to the sea, a small busy community. We move on through Humansdorp and reach Port Elizabeth where the road sweeps down to the beach and the Indian Ocean. I’ve been driving for eight hours and it’s 3pm. We push on driving north towards Addo on a small one lane road. Suddenly : zebra, wildebeest. It’s another farm. Then : monkeys, on the side of the road, in the bushes, a whole family with babies. That’s not a farm ! Thrilled we push on to Addo National Park and drive in at 3.45, park up, buy two beers and sit down in a great thatched dwelling with no walls, open to the bush, but crucially with a TV screen suspended from the roof and a few hundred South Africans gathered to wish, and hope, and pray. They need to win 5-0.  The anthem is immense, and touching when a six-year old girl behind us joins in.

Watching Bafana Bafana's last game in Addo

The game is lively. A Frenchman is sent off for the elbow. High drama. Bafana Bafana score after 20 minutes, then another, then another which is disallowed. We can scarcely believe it. 2-0 at half-time. In the other game, Uruguay are beating Mexico 1-0. Come on bafana !! Three more goals against ten men !  But it isn’t to be, they huff and they puff, the French score a goal but are still beaten 2-1 by our hosts South Africa, the greatest result in their history. France are bottom of the group and out, and so are Bafana Bafana sadly, on goal difference to Mexico, who proceed with Uruguay.  The locals are sad but not gutted I sense, and indeed they recover quickly, after all they are still hosting this tournament, and mindful of their role they brush themselves down, become philosophers (like us all) and whole-heartedly throw their support behind all the remaining African teams in the competition, and most notably Ghana. What is striking to us untravelled Europeans is the enthusiasm that white people have for Ghana, considering both themselves and Ghana to be Africans. And thus we learn an early lesson in south african culture. It’s not just black and white. They’re a rainbow nation, and they are moving forward. Together.

Next day we safari in our own vehicle through the park. There’s a map outside the office where they flag sightings from the dawn patrol, and since this park is the size of Buckinghamshire we need to target our morning.  Kudu are immediately in evidence, large graceful beasts, and it isn’t long before we see our elephants. A large family slowly crossing the road in front of us, eating, travelling, not bothered with us or the few other cars here. Magnificent spectacle it is to see them getting on with their day and we take endless photos.

Addo

We are not allowed to leave our vehicles here as it is deemed to be their space, and besides, it’s not safe !  Further down the road we spot a warthog with his wiggly tail, then a bird squawk beside the car alerts us to movement and a mongoose flashes by pouncing on a mouse. A kill right beside us. Then the leaves shake and it’s gone. Further up the hill are a group of eland with their elegant long horns, more ostrich and loads more, literally tons more elephants. We carry on driving into Port Elizabeth (PE) where England are due to play Slovenia at 4pm. We’ve had a wonderful wildlife day and decide not to try for tickets (later learn that people are giving them away and the ground isn’t full) but to try the Fifa Fanpark instead and get a different vibe. We make the first of many mistakes by asking a taxi driver fixing his engine where the fanpark is. “Summerstrand” he says with authority and waves us in the direction so off we go. Fifteen minutes later we are asking at the gas station where the fan park is – “next to the Casino, you can’t miss it”.  Turns out to be a funfair so now we ask a policewoman (with ten minutes to kick off and both of us getting frazzled with endless circling moves around PE). It’s in the cricket ground !!!  We finally park up, walk in through the frisk security, and indeed here we are at the Oval Port Elizabeth. Hundreds here, all locals from what we can tell, generally supporting England – we can tell from the painted faces and scarves.

south africans supporting england in PE cricket ground

This is rather moving, since the night before their beloved Bafana Bafana had been knocked out of the tournament thus ending the hosts’ interest in the World Cup, yet the very next day they’re actually painting their faces with the red on white cross of St George and cheering on the uninspired millionaires Gerrard Lampard Rooney and Defoe – oh what a goal !! Come on England !!!  Half time we mingle with the locals, eat local food (kudu burgers ? “proper african food” says the white lady serving from a caravan) and wait forever for a cup of tea. Defoes’s goal is replayed on the big screen. C’mon we can do this. Hope springs eternal. But it wasn’t to last – a brief moment of inspiration, a flickering match in the dark which cannot light the way to the poetry of football, to touch, to control, to pass, to cross, to shoot, to score. We grind out a 1-0 win and actually laugh as John (poison) Terry throws himself horizontally at the ball in a surreal attempt to deflect a Slovenian shot. USA score against Algeria in the 92nd minute and we finish second in the group, but without deserving anything from a weak group of teams, we are through to the knockout stages with a chance to turn it round. So who will it be ?  Serbia ? Ghana ? Germany ???

mummy warthog protects her two warthoglets, Addo

World Cup 2010 in South Africa – part 3 : please not penalties

24 June

Addo – We wake before dawn because we’ve signed up for the 7am guided safari, on the understanding that more animals will be visible and moving around at that time of day. Breakfast is delayed until we return. It’s cold and we huddle in an open sided vehicle as our guide explains that we may not see any animals. Oh. But once inside the ‘wildlife area’ – so-called because amidst all this farmland, the citrus groves, sheep grazing and steers, the only place you’ll find wild animals – ie ‘the big five’ : elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard or the smaller (?) six : hippo, giraffe, jackal, hyena, warthog, eland – is inside an electric fence patrolled by wardens. This comes as a shock to me – my imagined Africa has already disappeared, certainly here, probably in Kenya, Zambia and elsewhere too. We shiver and wait for a sighting, cameras ready. A jackal, almost as soon as we’re inside, skulking through the scrub. Kudu. Elephants more elephants, bless ’em. Then a long wait, a long drive and – nothing. A driver tells us a lion ‘just crossed the road’ but since there are only six lion in this giant park we don’t seriously expect to see it. Nonethless we stare at the bushes for ten minutes. Then as we turn around for the drive back to camp, a crashing noise to the right and a huge lone Cape Buffalo runs acorss the road directly in front of us and into the bush on the left. Cameras click madly and I get one great shot of him, an aging male, not with the family any more, wandering around solo.

3 subs no goalie

At breakfast we discuss last night’s results : Germany beat Ghana 1-0 with a beautiful goal by young star Özil, but the Aussies went out with a bang beating Serbia 2-1 thus Ghana have qualified for the 2nd round – the only African team left in the competition.  Had we topped our group we’d have played them in Rustenburg, but that pleasure now falls to the USA, while we just need to drive a few hours north to Bloemfontein and a meeting with the young German team. Thrilling prospect though it is, our plans and all of the 20,000 England fans out here are now in disarray : we have rooms booked in Joburg, booked on the assumption that we would win the group. German and Dutch fans have made similar arrangements, but their teams had the dignity to deliver. Ah well. We hit the road for a short (3-hour) drive to our next B&B in Graaf Reinet and wave goodbye to Addo.

Oranges oranges everywhere, oranges and lemons by the acre. Or hectare probably. Cape fruit. Outspan. All the dreaded symbols of apartheid that we boycotted all those years ago, leaving them to rot in the fruitbowl if mother made the short-sighted error of actually buying the stuff. All so different now – black majority rule, a country looking forward not back, we need to get with the programme. Monkeys sit on fence posts by the roadside but if you slow down to take a picture they jump off and lollop away in gangs like teenage boys.

vervet monkey

The road here goes on forever, rather like those desert roads in New Mexico and Arizona, the endless horizon, the deep blue sky, the odd vehicle. It’s exhilerating stuff and we stop in random Boer towns for gas and drinks, the accent is strong and the skin weathered. There is cactus, more monkey gangs and a field of blue cranes. As we reach Graaf Reinet and fill up, the chap at the till thinks that “3 teams can win the World Cup. Brazil, Argentina….and Ghana!”  It’s the first indication we get since last night’s game of how the african imagination has embraced the Ghanaian campaign and will follow them all the way – to the final ? Who knows ??  The B&B is delicious – cats and dogs lazing in the sunlit garden, tea made for us on arrival, a spacious cosy room, and moreover, directions to the Valley Of Desolation.

Karoo landscape near Graaf Reinet

Graaf Reinet is surrounded on three sides by the Karoo National Park, and the geography here, nevermind the wildlife is quite stunning. We take a short drive past the lake and wind our way up the mountainside, the views at the top are breathtaking on Monument Valley scale. Not quite Bryce Canyon at the top, but a similar rock formation towers over the Karoo desert. On the way back down the sun is dipping and animals are making their way to the lake, crossing the road where they fancy – we see ostrich, springbok – my wife’s favourite animal which means I can’t eat any at dinner – and the smaller duiker and very large-eared Cape Grysbok which is basically bambi. Upon our return to the hotel two German guests are hunched in front of the TV in the lounge watching Italy get beaten 3-2 by Slovakia and dumped out of the tournament – the holders of the trophy are going home! It’s a thrilling moment – even my brother Paul texts me from Shanghai “best match yet!!”,  Missed it, I answer, “on safari”.  He doesn’t send any more texts after that – until the game with Germany that is…

In the evening we eat some ostrich and have a glass of wine in a very arty little restaurant called Die Kliphuis just round the corner. Graaf Reinet is a quite superb little gem of a town with over 200 listed buildings, and a quite unique feel to it. We see a Japanese couple in the blue shirts walking around, but mainly locals. Our black waiter is definitely gay, like the white proprietor, so that was another collecter’s item. Back at the B&B we watch Japan see the Danish off with a wonderful display of football, winning 3-1 to book their place in the last 16 then go to bed happy and exhausted and reasonably drunk.

June 25th

Breakfast is completely awesome, as it has been every morning on this trip. B&B is simply the only way to travel. On the drive out of town we are randomly stopped and asked for our driving licence opposite the local township – always on the edge of town, always crowded with always black people. It’s stopped feeling weird. As we drive across more stunning scenery we spot a large group of springbok leaping around in some kind of courtship display and flexing and stop for pictures. A group of eland stand by watching impassively.

springbok

Then we hit the trail again, more monkeys, the odd meerkat and ground squirrel aside, it’s non-stop to Bloemfontein.  Actually we did a quick sandwich stop at an interesting desert museum type place which had hosted forty Swiss the night before. They’re playing in Bloem tonight against Honduras – but it’s not a game we’ve planned to attend. Spain v Chile is on the TV !!

Bloemfontein is entered the wrong way completely and we find oursleves in the market area totally surrounded by people, taxis, people with huge loads balanced on their heads, men in suits on mobiles, kids in rags. A few right turns, and there is the stadium, the Waterfront (small lake) and the FIFA ticketing office. No it’s sold out (England v Germany in 2 days time) but come back tomorrow and englandfans will have a desk. If you have a fan number (we do !!)  The place is crawling with Swiss dressed as cows, with horns and cowbells, and there are a few Hondurans too.

Swiss gather at the waterfront, Bloemfontein

The B&B is possibly the best yet, Cape Dutch architecture, a siamese cat called Izzy whom I fall in love with (we do miss our two on the road) and – wonders will never cease – a hairdryer !! Spain deliver and so does David Villa scoring another terrific goal. He establishes himself as my wife’s favourite player in the tournament. Hard to argue, though Özil is pretty special I think.

Breakfast is glorious as ever, with Izzy becoming literally attached to my knee, then off we go to search for accomodation at the University of the Free State, since we only planned to be in Bloem for one night. We were supposed to drive to Joburg today, but Billy the Bee has sublet our room successfully and we’re gonna stay here. The University room is only 600 rand a night but it’s a prison cell. We console ourselves with the thought that if you are actually at this University and staying in this Hall Of Residence, you’re one of the lucky ones. Back at FIFA and englandfans we get so incredibly lucky it’s not true – someone hasn’t needed their pair of Cat 2 tickets to tomorrow’s showdown and for one hundred quid each (face value) we are IN.  One of the more sublime feelings on this earth is to score a pair of tickets to a World Cup game, usually outside the stadium with 15 minutes til kick-off, this is almost two whole days away. We relax for the rest of the day and watch the gathering England fans as we witness Uruguay beat South Korea with a superb goal by Suarez. More about him later. In the evening we look for another fanpark and find one in the other University – a large hall inside (nice – it’s cold) with a large screen, beer, and food. Not great food, but we stay in a pretty african atmosphere for the big one – USA v Ghana. It’s tight and goes to extra time at 1-1. When Gyan rips the US net with the winning goal the place erupts, I leap off my seat and the man behind me gives me the biggest squeeze. It’s the most euphoric moment we will experience at the tournament. Ghana are in the quarter final, and will play Uruguay.

Next day after a night in the cell, thus woken by English accents outside our door (shared bathrooms) from all corners of this green and pleasant land (“what’s breakfast like ? Mince. Shit.”) it’s England day. We’re England all flipping day. T-shirt, flags, jackets, tickets, the lot. The waterfront mall is awash with St George and it’s very very difficult to get a drink anywhere. It’s heaving with English and Germans. Locals have joined in on one side or the other.  Drink ? We’ve pretty much drunk the place dry and it’s not even 3pm. We finally manage to find some beer and talk briefly about the perils of pitching your tent on a hippo path with two chaps from Dewsbury who have been camping in Kruger. And the delicious slow walk to the stadium surreptitiously supping beer from the bottle and spurning offers of spare tickets, meeting Steve from Brighton and moving inside the arena to confront our destiny, full of hope and love and joy.

chav millionaires look like this

their anthem is also better than ours

the human condition : the hope of glory...

And thus the game. Lovely seats, between sets of British asian fans, front row second tier – thus when people stand up, there’s no-one in front of you. A perfect view then, of the demolition job the young talented German team performed on our aging fat superstars. Never at the races frankly. They turned us, outran us, outpassed us, outscored us by four to one. Yes yes, all the talk at halftime was of the text received from Ibiza that the ball was two feet over the line, three feet over the line, a goal, that Lampard had scored, should be two-two, but deep down we knew, as one fan said to me in despair : “what is it with England and tournaments?”  This isn’t the forum for that debate, but we were spanked that afternoon by a side willing to run for each other all day. We barely moved above a trot. Out. And stay out.

As the afternoon faded to evening and Germany progressed impressively to the quarter finals and a probable match with Argentina, we were left to cry into our beer and into the arms of happy Germans, and look for food. The bars were awash with hugging entente ; grown men weeping into fat German shoulders. Music pounded into the african night. Drink was drunk. Not a glass was broken in anger. We wished them luck, and went home to bed. Fucking England. What a bunch of inept overpaid woeful wankers. They let us all down, and it hurt.  Time to move on. One more night in the cell then away. If you’re out of luck or out of work we can send you to Johannesburg.

lesson one : learn how to pass the ball

World Cup 2010 in South Africa – part 4 : Soweto

June 28

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.

Soweto graff cooling towers

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.

Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto

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 beat Japan on penalties in Pretoria

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.

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