Apart from our daily fare of crime and no punishment, the international visitors were treated to footage of war-dancing, knobkierrie-wielding taxi drivers demanding to be the transport of choice to the games.
“I’d like to ride with him,” they must have ooh’d.
Most of the taxi drivers were doing it for effect and no more, but this is where South Africa gets really confusing for visitors as they have no idea when South Africans mean business and when they are putting on a show.
I witnessed this firsthand at a Shaka Day celebration in KwaZulu Natal a year or two ago when thousands of Zulus dressed in traditional battle dress gathered to celebrate their legendary leader.
On this occasion a group of French tourists had asked if I would take them along. I said they were most welcome and that we should get there early because quite a crowd would be gathering round noon.
They asked me to tell them about Shaka, which I did. I told them how he had trained his warriors into a fearsome fighting force and how he had introduced the short stabbing spear called ‘iklwa’ for close combat. “Iklwa is the sucking sound it made on withdrawal from the enemy’s ribcage,” I explained.
“Mon dieu!” they exclaimed, frantically pointing down the road where a wave of Zulus was surging towards us, high-kicking, lunging and thrusting the air with shields and short stabbing spears.
The French tourists did not stay for more. Convinced the Zulus were coming to get them they bolted up the road.
Many a 2010 World Cup visitor must have experienced similar confusion while here because it is often hard to distinguish when we are celebrating from when we are at war. The line might be distinct for us but not so for the foreign eye who does not know the codes.
Sometimes we don’t know the codes ourselves – like when our national PRO JuJu pronounces that a song about killing is simply a good SA tune. Now that he’s changed this to kissing we are not sure which is worse, but we certainly commend the visitors for venturing here to find out.
Either they are very brave, very foolish or they do not read newspapers or watch the news. For if they had, even the most seasoned of soccer hooligans would have been more than a little concerned that bypassing passport control was the least of their concerns.
Primed about the hazards of South Africa by their travel agents, consulates and the many sites on the net, they were warned about the malevolent eyes that would be watching them every time they stepped onto the streets. Then reassured that this should not inhibit their visit because South Africa is such a beautiful country with a vibrant culture of course.
It got me wondering if any of the French tourists I met in KZN came out this time. The high-kicking, knobkierrie-wielding taxi drivers would surely have triggered a flashback to Shaka Day. Perhaps on second take they realised the high-kicks and knobkierries were not the danger; that the real danger has “one hand on horn, one hand greeting, one ear on cellphone, one ear listening to loud music, foot on accelerator, eyes on female pedestrian, conversation with someone driving vehicle alongside”. The real danger (as described by author Derryn Campbell in ‘Awesome South Africa’) is when a Joburg taxi driver gets behind the wheel.
Cape Town is no safer than Joburg it must swiftly be added, though visitors like to think the mountain makes it so. The truth is the biggest killer in the country – widely known as ‘the Gatsby’ – is in Cape Town. Some say the Gatsby is making an appearance in Joburg too now, god forbid.
Described by Campbell as “cardiac arrest” this is the ultimate smorgasbord of horror: an ultra-long roll cut lengthwise and stuffed with curried meat, mutton, steak, polony, vienna sausage, calamari, fish, chips, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and gravy. Surely not all together, many a visitor might gasp. Surely yes! The more you can stuff in the better, just like our taxis and our psyches. More is more in every possible confusing way, be it crime, culture or cholesterol in the good S of A.