Snout of Africa, Part I

The Indian Ocean, at Umhlanga, Durban. 100%.

Within 48 hours of being in Africa, I had found the solution that had bamboozled local economists for years: the way to cure the chronic national debt in South Africa is to charge 5 Rand every time the words “one hunder-ed per cint” are used. Within an hour of landing in South Eastern city of Durban, it became apparent that this was the stock in trade answer to the other ever-present equivalent of “how are you doing?”:

“Howzitmate?” (all one word).

“One hunder-ed, one hunder-ed per cint” (extra syllable added for pronunciation) is the phonetics behind most greetings. In a country who’s language is so strong in its pronunciation, this seemed the best way to deal with it. And, nine times out of ten, it would have been more likely to really mean more like 50-60 per cent, but it was the reassurance that was needed after landing. And at that point, having flown uneventfully, yet comfortably, to Durban from Manchester the day was done.

However, due to the time difference of an hour, and 12 hours on the plane, it was not sleepy time, it was film-watchy time, and catching up with some films I’d never pay to go and see:

–          The Hunger Games – starring Woody Harrelson in a wig that is less wooden than his acting, Donald Sutherland as Captain Birdseye in The Matrix, and nobody else you’ve heard of, except the gay stylist from The Devil Wears Prada, and the weirdo guy from American Beauty with a fucking terrible beard. I think Lenny Kravitz is in it too, but I can’t be arsed to check. I’ve not read the books, nor ever will, but it’s effectively a holocaustic Little House on The Prairie, chased through the forest by First Blood and The Truman Show. I won’t spoil it for you, as the direction in the first half of the film does that for you: clunkier than the change machine at Asda the day before giros are paid.

–          Young Adult – Charlize Theron plays an attractive ghost writer of children’s books, whilst getting properly hammered back in her hometown. Only highlights are Teenage Fanclub’s ‘The Concept’ being played on a late-80’s coloured Maxell cassette at the beginning, and the crippled guy wearing a ‘Death To The Pixies’ t-shirt. Honestly, those are the highpoints. I would, like her character, start hitting the booze hard at this point. Also, someone wears a Breeders t-shirt. Yes, two t-shirts stole this film for me. Christ.

–          Jeff, Who Lives At Home – starring Dr Faggot from the Hangover, the fat bloke from The Muppets and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Susan Sarandon as their sexually confused mother. Supposedly ‘quirky’ comedy (meaning not funny at all), it has a one-gear plot. The sort of film you don’t press pause on when you need to stretch your legs, get some crisps, have a wee, talk to a stranger on a plane. You’ll miss nothing. As your life won’t miss it, if you don’t ever see it. You’ve missed nothing. Thankfully, for all concerned, we were landing shortly, so I couldn’t get to the second tier of shite films waiting for me.

Due to the fact that it was nearly midnight, I was unsure as to the actual location of the hotel, however I could hear the soothing yet powerful sound of the Indian ocean, crashing angrily against the rocks of the shark-infested coast in the darkness. I was hopeful the morning would greet me with a smile, and potentially a welcome break from the pouring doom of England’s summer.

100% lighthouse.

Sure enough, the whoosh-crash of the ocean was unrelenting through the night, but as morning broke and the sun rose, the view was spectacular. And it was warm enough to dine outside, though the wind was threatening to blow harder as the day drew on. This is winter after all, so as we put shorts on, coats and wooly hats amongst the locals were a regular site. Whoever decided for them to have winter during our summer is a bit of an idiot, frankly.

As with most of your writer’s travelling revolving around business, the opportunity to get under the skin of a city in a short space of time can be difficult. In this instance, Durban was a bit of a non-event for me: airport, hotel, office, hotel, office, airport, was how those days panned out.

Fortunately, in the little time I had, my allies for the week, Adrian and Mark, found time to take me to dinner near the upper-middle class suburb of Umhlanga. Over a decent steak and a bottle of red, it was possibly my only chance to have a decent discussion and try and find out what I could about the political state of a nation that I’ve never visited, and had a rather polarised opinion of from afar.

“It is still a third world country, riddled with corruption” said Adrian. As white, middle class, late-thirties/early-forty somethings, both have lived through, and adjusted to, the most dramatic political and economic  transition their country’s history. Yet, where the hope lies in a unifying democracy, the spectre of opportunism and division hangs heavy in the corridors of recently-acquired power.

Apparently, five million homes were promised to be built for the poorer, black society that populate the townships and outlands. Only 215,000 have been built, when nearly 2 million should have been completed, and over half of those have had to be demolished as they were built so cheaply they were unsafe. Meanwhile, the contractors and those that allocated the budgets to those tendering for the business, made very well from it. And, to add insult to the process, those involved are suspended on full pay, whilst being investigated. Currently four different people are being paid to do one job, in on department. And this is not uncommon.

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban. 100% daylight.

A global example of this was the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The stadiums themselves – particularly those in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg that were built specifically for the tournament – are excellent: modern, well designed and easily accessible, etc.  But FIFA insisted that these were built, at great expense to the tax payer, as a condition of SA getting the gig. Again, on top of this, FIFA insisted that no tax is paid by them, from the profits that it makes through ticket sales, merchandise and broadcasting rights. A team of over a thousand lawyers were on the ground to close any operation that thought they could potentially capitalise on the circus coming to town – a man was arrested for trying to sell a disposable lighter with WC2012 on it, for instance. For pennies, FIFA pinched and penalised the local communities that had built the stadiums at very little cost, with the hope of enjoying the games (before ruining them with the plastic, hooting-bastard, arse-trumpet vuvuzela).

This is Sepp Blatter’s FIFA, that sits on a budget surplus in tax-free Switzerland of over $1bn., that rather than subsidising their showcase event, wishes to profiteer and exploit loopholes. It will come as no coincidence to those in the know that the reasons that none of Italy, England or USA were not awarded either of the next two tournaments, as they were unwilling to relinquish or suspend their governmental process involving taxation. They instead went to Qatar, and Russia. QED, Mr Blatter. His “legacy” in South Africa, rather than leaving an indelible print of the global game, is to near bankrupt the economy, by insisting on stadia that are as perceived as bigger white elephants than you will see on safari. Rant over.

Really, Durban was uneventful, sorry to say. However, as my Irish travelling companion and I prepared for a 5.30am car to the airport in the darkness, we knew that Cape Town would offer much more. Or hoped it would.

Part II, Cape Town, coming very soon.

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