Have the games come to Joburg and not Cape Town?

Since I luckily live in both Joburg and Cape Town, a subject which has always interested me is the difference between South Africa’s two largest cities. Cape Town is where my heart and home is, while Johannesburg is where my business and passion resides.  To me, Cape Town is “Africa for Beginners” while Joburg is “the New York of Africa”. But nothing has quite marked the difference between the two metropoles than next week’s world cup soccer event.

Today as my GP registered car slipped into the late afternoon Gauteng traffic, I looked across the city’s multi-lane rush hour chaos to see thousands of cars bedecked with South African flags fluttering through windows, encased on side mirrors and reflecting on their roofs.

The streets of the golden city shout that the world’s greatest sports event has arrived in Africa and Johannesburg is now the continents official capital of soccer.

Throughout the inland city, from the townships of Soweto through to the gleaming Sandton CBD; Joeys is soccer city. The city is literally heaving with the anticipation of throngs of supporters who will be flocking to the continents wealthiest urban centre.  You can feel the pent-up energy and excitement for the much awaited event. It’s palpable wherever you go and whatever you do.

After spending five days in Joburg, I too have got a little caught up in sporting mania. Every intersection has street traders, from across the continent, selling soccer paraphernalia to willing motorists.

For a hundred South African bucks you can quickly negotiate a smorgasbord of nationalistic stuff before the traffic moves on. Roadways surge with sporting pride.

I have been buying flags, soccer balls, hats, caps, glasses, shirts and a vast array of soccer kitsch in a display of sudden nationalistic fervour. In fact our country’s multi-coloured flag has made its way into my daily expenditure list. The Waverley Auction Alliance offices look like a Christmas tree with flags fluttering through its open-plan environment. The irritating and shreiking vuvuzela has also made its way into our offices and every company car flies the national flag with pride.

Alliance Gees in Joburg

Despite soccer frenzy,  Joburg’s multi-billion infrastructural development is not complete.  This afternoon as I navigated through incomplete roads and bypassed traffic lights on the blink, I was amazed at how far from ready the city is for kick off next week.  How the city’s officials could not have been ready amazes me. They should be working days, nights and weekends but everybody just seems too busy with planning the big party rather than getting the house in order for the big event.

Cape Town in contrast is ready, steady and looking like a Germanic host city. As my car glided around the newly laid smooth surfaces of hospital bend I whistled past bright gleaming bridges, and attractive new street lamps I couldn’t see a South African flag in sight. While every second car in Joeys has flags attached to its bodywork, Capetonian vehicles seem to reflect their owner’s disdain of such nationalistic vulgarity.

The Mother City seems quite sedate, quite quiet; almost trying to ignore the drone of the vuvuzela and the hordes of visitors who will follow the world’s greatest sporting event. Whilst the airport entry road from OR Tambo International has thousands of flags along its borders, there is no such thing in Slaapstad. I saw a few street pole banners near the glinting new Cape Town stadium in Green Point.

And I suppose that sums up the two cities: one is African, passionate, messy, bursting with heart and soul but disorganised and not ready. The other is well managed, disciplined, organised, a little boring and devoid of African energy.

As I got to my Cape Town home, I thought how lucky I am to be able to experience both. South Africa is really a country of contrasts and divergent energies. May the game finally begin …

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