Open letter to our foreign media friends by Peter Davies 09/06/2010
Dear World Cup visitors,
Now that you are safely in our country you are no doubt happily realising you are not in a war zone. This may be in stark contrast to what you have been bracing yourself for should you have listened to Uli Hoeness or are an avid reader of English tabloids, which as we all know are only good for wrapping fish ‘n chips and advancing the careers of large-chested teens on page three.
As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues. And you know what journos are like, what with their earnest two thousand word opuses on the op-ed pages designed to fix this country’s ills in a heartbeat. Based on exhaustive research over a three-day visit.
Funnily enough, we are well aware of the challenges we face as a nation and you will find that 95% of the population is singing from the same song-sheet in order to ensure we can live up to our own exacting expectations. We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.
For instance, you will find precious few rhinos loitering on street corners, we don’t know a guy in Cairo named Dave just because we live in Johannesburg, and our stadiums are magnificent, world-class works of art.Which is obviously news to the Sky TV sports anchor who this week remarked that Soccer City looked ‘ a bit of a mess’. She didn’t realize the gaps in the calabash exterior are to allow in natural light and for illumination at night, and not the result of vandalism or negligence. The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.
If it’s not man-eating snakes lurking in Rooney’s closet at the team’s (allegedly half-built) Royal Bafokeng training base, then it’s machete-wielding gangs roaming the suburbs in search of tattooed, overweight Dagenham dole-queuers to ransack and leave gurgling on the pavement.
In fact what you are entering is the world’s most fascinating country, in my opinion. I’m pretty sure you will find that it functions far more smoothly, is heaps more friendly and offers plenty more diversions than you could possibly have imagined. In addition to which, the population actually acts like human beings, and not like they are being controlled by sinister forces from above which turns them into bureaucratically-manipulated robots. Plus we have world’s most beautiful women. The best weather. Eight channels of SuperSport. Food and wine from the gods themselves. Wildlife galore. (Love the Dutch team’s bus slogan: “Don’t fear the Big 5; fear the Orange 11”).
Having said all that, Jo’burg is undoubtedly one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Just ask those Taiwanese tourists who got out of their hire car to take close-up snaps of tawny beasts at the Lion Park a few years back. Actually, ask what’s left of them. And did you know the chances of being felled by cardiac arrest from devouring a mountain of meat at one of our world class restaurants has been statistically proven to be 33.3% higher in Jozi than in any other major urban centre not built upon a significant waterway? It’s true. I swear. I read it in a British tabloid.
Having recently spent two years comfortably cocooned in small town America, I’m only too aware of how little much of the outside world knows about this country. The American channel I used to work for has a massive battalion of employees descending on World Cup country. It has also apparently issued a recommendation to its staff to stay in their hotels when not working. Given that said corporation is headquartered in a small town which many say is “best viewed through the rear-view mirror”, I find the recommendation, if it’s true, to be utterly astounding. In fact I don’t believe it is true. Contrary to the global stereotype, the best Americans are some of the sharpest people in the world. The fact they have bought most tickets in this World Cup proves the point.
Of course I have only lived in Johannesburg, city of terror and dread, virtually all my life, so don’t have the in-depth knowledge of say, an English broadsheet journalist who has been in the country for the weekend, but nevertheless I will share some of my observations gleaned over the years.
Any foreign tourist or media representative who is worried about his safety in South Africa should have a word with the Lions rugby fans from last year, or the Barmy Army cricket supporters (lilywhite hecklers by day, slurring, lager-fuelled lobsters by night). They managed just fine, just like the hundreds of thousands of fans who have streamed into the country over the past fifteen years for various World Cups, Super 14 matches, TriNations tests and other international events. Negligible crime incidents involving said fans over said period of time. Trivia question: which country has hosted the most global sporting events over the past decade and a half? You don’t need me to answer that, do you?
In addition. Don’t fret when you see a gaggle of freelance salesmen converge on your car at the traffic lights (or robots as we like to call them) festooned with products. You are not about to be hijacked. Here in Mzansi (nickname for SA) we do a lot of our purchasing at robots. Here you can stock up on flags, coat hangers, batteries, roses for the wife you forgot to kiss goodbye this morning and a whole host of useful merchandise. Similarly, that guy who runs up as you park the rental car outside the pub intends no malice. He’s your car guard. Give him a buck or two and your vehicle will be safe while you refuel for hours on our cheap, splendid beer. Unless someone breaks into it, of course.
We drive on the left in this country. Exercise caution when crossing the road at a jog-trot with 15 kilograms of camera gear on your back. Exercise common sense full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to leave wads of cash in your hotel room like our Colombian friends, don’t be surprised if it grows wings.
Bottomline. Get out there and breathe in great lusty lungfuls of this amazing nation. Tuck into our world-class food and wines. Disprove the adage that white men can’t dance at our throbbing, vibrant night-clubs. Learn to say hello in all eleven official languages. Watch at least one game in a township. You will not be robbed and shot. You will be welcomed like a lost family member and looked after as if you are royalty. Ask those Bulls rugby fans who journeyed to Soweto recently.
With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life. It’s Africa’s time. Vacate your hotel room. Join the party.
Waka waka eh eh.