Yet more notes on South Africa

FRIDAY 25th June ~ On Football Fridays, replica shirts are de rigueur in South Africa, so I donned my Leeds top and strolled into the afternoon sun. Stopping off at a local store I picked up a bunny chow, a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread filled with hot curry. Is it a pie or a sandwich? Whatever it is, it’s the tucker of choice for the hungry get.

Waitrons flitted between tables at the proliferating street cafes of the smart Richmond Hill neighbourhood, on whose wide avenues prowl uniformed car guards cheerily pointing motorists (many driving Mk1 Volkswagen Golfs, which are still made in the area) into parking spaces for a few rand.

Job creation schemes are evident everywhere. From the army of World Cup volunteers clad in bright yellow Adidas, to the workshops specialising in the repair of just about anything, the sense here is of the hopeful opposite of automation.

To either end of Parliament Street, lines of multi-coloured food huts sat forlornly, draped with flags of the World Cup’s competing nations. Though occupying city centre sites, few attending supporters – certainly not England fans on organised trips – have seen them, and locals were turning their noses up at the inflated prices.

Tour operators and FIFA are spoken of here with some disdain. There are tales of entire hotels being booked out only for swathes of rooms to be dropped at the last minute. As elsewhere in South Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium games are not full houses. At the fanfest, most prominent are the multi-national sponsors with local artisans confined to the fringes, unsignposted in rear car parks.

Street markets and impromptu pavement stalls are a way of life here. I made the mistake of stepping by one into a small art gallery, where the Afrikaner proprietor told me how they’d adored living in the UK because in South Africa there’s no culture. “Not like yours,” she added.

At that moment, a young cast of black and mixed heritage performers were basking in the glory of a sell-out show at the town’s Opera House. At that moment, a group of hip hop artists from nearby Motherwell were defying all frustrations at their township’s half-built arts centre by squeezing into a nearby studio in an upstairs box-room. At that moment, South Africa was certainly not at a loss for culture.

That night we headed out, where it was open mic night with wannabe funnymen reciting mother-in-law jokes in Xhosa. According to those in the know, it was a typical evening in Port Elizabeth, with a lack of those those funny-looking foreigners. Apart from this one.

No more notes on South Africa on TBG.

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