Sound your Vuvuzela!

Over the past year there has been no shortage of articles, commentaries, or news reports covering South Africa’s apparent lack of readiness for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup.  Despite these reports, the tournament, now only 12 days away, will be host to nearly half a million international visitors who will be settling in across the country whether the country is ready or not.

Two nights ago I had the privilege of attending a pre-World Cup friendly match between South Africa’s Bafana Bafana and Columbia’s Los Cafeteros at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium, where many important World Cup matches, including July 11th’s final, will be played.  While most of the stadiums 75,000 attendees for this match were South African, I feel I can now, with some accuracy, offer insights based off of experience that may be of use for those of you who plan on attending a match at Soccer City.

1. Take everything with somewhere between a grain, and a cup of salt.

2. Leave extremely early if you want to avoid traffic (although you may not want to avoid it):   Two  nights ago after a quick stop at the bottle store I was picked up at the Glen Mall by a private minibus taxi, along with some 19 other excited male soccer fans donning yellow Bafana Bafana jerseys and sounding deafening blows on their vuvuzelas.  While the minibus had apparently left early to meet myself and 3 others at the mall, I had managed to finish most of my 6 drinks before they arrived (citing two traffic accidents and poor directions for their delay).  Regardless of this, The Glen was only a few km from the stadium and we had roughly two hours before the start of the game.  As we left the parking lot and merged onto the highway it was clear that we would likely need the full two hours to travel the distance as traffic was literally at a standstill as far as the eye could see.  Again, this was not an issue as the energy on the highway was buzzing, with people blaring music, walking alongside their cars with drinks, and reveling in the far off site of a glowing new stadium.  We too took time to walk alongside our bus and work away at two well prepared coolers. After a good hour we managed to make some progress.  This brings me to my 3rd point:

3. Traffic in Johannesburg can put Toronto and New York to shame:  Like I said, after an hour or so we started moving.  This, however, did not simplify our attempt at getting closer to the stadium.  What it did do was make for a very amusing drive.  If you come to South Africa for the cup, do not be surprised to see:

  • Cars choosing to leave the road to drive along the sidewalks and in the roadside storm gutters; this tactic allowed us to gain at least 500 meters.
  • Cars attempting to drive on the wrong side of the road in hopes of making it back toward a less congested road
  • An intersection that somehow has cars facing 10 different directions simply at a standstill unable to fix the conundrum they clearly created
  • Police that are not trained to deal with the traffic deciding to stop their cars and further block the lanes
  • Police responsible to direct traffic taking a few minutes to stop, answer his cell phone, and have a chat, much to the dismay of those driving their cars
  • And, finally, that just about anything counts as a parking lot.

4.  Bring GOOD walking shoes: After navigating the traffic jam (mostly by walking alongside our bus), we managed to find a gas station some 2 km from the stadium that had been overrun by people eager to leave their car somewhere. Recognizing that given the situation we were facing it was unlikely to find better parking, we too chose to leave the bus on the grass near the station.  From this point on we joined the exodus of people walking down the highway toward Soccer City.  This is a walk we repeated after the game with very tired and swore feet.

5.  Tickets seem readily available from scalpers: Of course a lack of foresight on behalf of a number of our group meant that only three quarters of those in the bus actually had tickets to attend the match.  It was apparent, however, as we neared the stadium that this was not an issue.  I myself was solicited on 4 or 5 occasions for tickets.  This might only have occurred because the game was a friendly match.  I will have to wait and see if anyone wants to sell me tickets to the World Cup.

6. Don’t be surprised if it seems as though part of the area around the stadium is still under construction: Because it likely is.  At night time Soccer City is a thing of pure beauty from the inside and out.  During the day however it is not uncommon to see a pile of bricks near an unfinished sidewalk, or an entire neighbourhood of half finished high-end condos; these are all sights on my morning commute past the stadium (which is oddly painted to blend into the red sand hillsides surrounding it).  Only time will tell if a push is made to finish the surrounding infrastructure in time for the opening ceremonies.

7.  If you are an organized and timely individual from anywhere in the North America on your first trip to Johannesburg, refer back to my first point every 15 to 20 minutes and remember to take deep breaths.  It might help for you to simply break your watch upon arrival at OR Tambo International Airport.

If everyone heeds these few points (along with the basics involving safety and minimizing carry-on valuables) I would predict a very successful and pleasant (albeit crazy) World Cup.  All of the experiences I listed above did not hinder my evenings plans, but enhanced them and gave them an unbeatable, and uniquely South African vibe.  Honestly, who needs a nice parking lot or finished sidewalks when you are attending what will invariably be one of the best parties in the world this June/July.

Oogy wawa!

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Categories: Editorials and Reports

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2 Comments on “Sound your Vuvuzela!”

  1. May 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    holy moly sounds like everything is alive and buzzing for the world cup, I am ever so jealous. Great photos of the birthday party, who was it for?

    • May 30, 2010 at 7:04 am #

      There is a local donor who makes sure that every month the Village can throw a birthday party for whichever children had a birthday that month. There were 6 kids whose party that was. They get gifts and individual cakes and all kinds of fun stuff. Definitely a highlight of working there so far! You work for an airline, get some cheap tickets and come visit!

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