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Postcard from South Africa
Suitcase, check. Laptop bag, check. Passport, safely located in the back pocket. After four days in Cape Town, it’s time to move on to Port Elizabeth.
Capital of the Eastern Cape, and located approximately 600km east of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth is known as ‘The Friendly City’. Let’s just hope there’s nothing too accommodating in England’s approach here on Wednesday night.
Whereas Johannesburg bustled with commerce and modern technology, and Cape Town wowed the senses with its incredible backdrop and waterfront, an early assessment of Port Elizabeth suggests it has rather less to commend it.
It is, as its name suggests, a working port and it boasts the biggest ore loading capacity of any harbour in the southern hemisphere. It is also the hub of South African heavy industry and the centre of the nation’s car manufacturing business. As a result, it hardly tops the list for aesthetic appeal.
The drive along the city’s main N2 motorway takes you past a succession of huge chimney stacks which, even on a Sunday, were pumping out great plumes of goodness knows what.
Factories dominate the skyline for miles around and the centre of the city contains numerous warehouses and small manufacturing industries that service the huge car plants that call Port Elizabeth home.
It feels very functional, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is a bit of a shock to the system compared to the vibrancy of both Jo’Burg and Cape Town.
I wandered around for an hour or so yesterday afternoon, looking for somewhere to watch the Italy vs New Zealand game, and apart from a bar or two down by the waterfront, activity was pretty much non-existent.
I imagine that will change once thousands of England supporters begin to descend ahead of Wednesday’s game with Slovenia but at the moment, this doesn’t appear to be a city brimming with World Cup fever.
But while the city itself might not be the most attractive, Port Elizabeth does boast some fantastic beaches. Indeed, for all its industrial trappings, the city remains the holiday resort of choice for many middle-class Johannesburgers.
Jeffrey’s Bay, to the west of the city, is rated one of the best five surfing beaches in the world, while much of the coastline to Port Elizabeth’s east is untouched and untamed.
FOLLOWING on from Saturday’s column, I made it across to Robben Island on the morning of my final day in Cape Town.
It was every bit as inspirational as I hoped it would be, with the guided tour delivered by ‘Sparks’ – a former political prisoner who served time on the island – a particular highlight.
Having talked about the island’s history on Saturday, I won’t go into too much detail here, but two things really stood out.
The first is that for every Nelson Mandela, a figure the whole of the world knows about, there are hundreds of other activists who played equally significant roles in bringing about the end of apartheid. Sadly, many perished at the hands of the security forces.
Second, given the level of institutionalised brutality that existed in prisons like Robben Island, it is staggering that the end of apartheid did not bring about a wave of recriminations and retribution that would surely have set the black and white population against each other once again.
Surviving more than two decades on Robben Island, as the likes of Mandela and hundreds of other prisoners did, was a remarkable feat. Not wanting to extract revenge upon their release, however, was an equally incredible act.
THE bafflement at England’s ineptitude in South Africa does not begin and end with the travelling fans. South Africans are also nonplussed at the collective failings of the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
The Premier League is exceptionally popular over here – up to five live matches are screened every weekend – and most native South Africans profess their support for an English team. Unsurprisingly, that team tends to be either Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool.
Derrick, who drove my taxi to the airport yesterday, was fairly typical of their view. He said: “I’m a Chelsea fan but I don’t know what’s wrong with Lampard.
“Stick him in a Chelsea shirt and he can’t do anything wrong. Play him for England though and he falls to pieces.”
I told him everyone in England was thinking the same but he came up with a piece of sage advice, saying: “It could be worse. You could be supporting Bafana Bafana. Our players couldn’t even play for a rubbish Premier League team.”
I asked him what sort of team he was thinking of. Let’s just say the answer wouldn’t go down very well at the Stadium of Light.
In this section
- I’m a mine of information on the Big Hole
- Phew, made it to Kimberley – but what about that baboon?
- Soaps promote racial harmony... oh, and the World Cup
- Stay sensible and you will stay safe
- It's not all a World Cup wonderland
- Hope springs eternal for trip to Robben Island
- Hello Cape Town – a mishmash of styles
- Apartheid Museum was a real eye-opener
- Upson is best bet to partner Terry
- World Cup on the way to changing South African stereotypes