Some observations before the games

So it’s the day before the games begin and we’ve been in South Africa for a few days now. Here are a few observations so far:

  1. Not everyone is excited. Case in point: as we were checking into a hostel in Hermanus, a beach town just 90k from Cape Town (and whale watching mecca), the lodge owner Jan was filling out his ledger and said, “is it 2010 already?” Obviously not a football fan. But if you were in Hermanus it would be easy to miss that the world’s biggest sporting event was going to be taking place just a few hours down the road.
  2. But most people are. Seeing fans from all over the world and hearing that vuvezela are definite signs that something special is going to happen.
  3. They call it soccer in South Africa. Weird.
  4. Immediate impact: winter tourism spending. While the long-term impact of the games will need some time before an assessment can be made, one immediate impact, which I hadn’t really thought about, will be the boost to tourism during the country’s off season. Perhaps the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months are when tourists typically travel to South Africa, but right now, it’s winter here and the weather isn’t all that friendly. So with the games, the hostels, B&B’s, and restaurants that are typically empty or slow, are doing quite good business.
  5. Adidas is doing some interesting branding. Adidas, major World Cup Sponsors, have branded many of the kombis (mini bus taxis) in town. Wouldn’t be remarkable in most cases, but these taxis generally transport folks from the city centers to the surrounding townships. Perhaps this is one subtle way Adidas is trying to make some branding in-roads in the much heavier populated (and growing in purchasing power) township communities?
  6. Even in Capetown, things are not that crazy. I asked a taxi driver if things were getting busy for him or if traffic was getting horrendous and he just shrugged and said “no, but maybe it’s the calm before the storm.” I’m assuming it’s the calm, but he’ll surely want the storm (and lots of fares) that will come with it.
  7. This country is still bizarre and I still love it. It’s been seven years since I’ve last been here. Then, I was working and spending a lot of time in the townships surrounding Capetown: Khayalitsha, Langa, etc. These areas were dominated by dirt roads and overcrowded tin-roof shack homes. And seven years later (16 years after the official end of Apartheid), and an estimated $52 billion spent on World Cup preparations, they still are. And just 20 K down the road is Capetown, a jewel of a city with an Aston Martin dealership on the water front and other signs of excess. All in a country where the overwhelming majority are NOT white and still living in poverty. This seems like this country shouldn’t work; these conditions of inequality, perpetrated by Apartheid, shouldn’t still be acceptable; there should be a revolution! But this patience, resilience, and optimism that “things will improve” are perhaps some of the reasons why this country DOES seem to work and why I love this place. It shouldn’t work and in many cases it doesn’t (e.g. crime), but the fact that it hasn’t been reduced to bloodshed over the years and that it’s now playing host to the world are testaments to the spirit of the country and the hopeful path that people are plowing ahead.

In Jozie (Johannesburg) starting tomorrow. More to come soon!


2 Responses

  1. AWESOME!!!! HAVE A GREAT TIME! Excited for ya!

  2. It’s fantastic country. If I have a chance I would go to South Africa once in my life

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