The Running Commentary


Open letter to visitors to South Africa – Peter Davies

(Sent to me by a colleague – written by Peter Davies)

Dear World Cup visitors,

Now that you are safely in our country you are no doubt happily realising you are not in a war zone. This may be in stark contrast to what you have been bracing yourself for should you have listened to Uli Hoeness or are an avid reader of English tabloids, which as we all know are only good for wrapping fish ‘n chips and advancing the careers of large-chested teens on page three.

As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues. And you know what journos are like, what with their earnest two thousand word opuses on the op-ed pages designed to fix this country’s ills in a heartbeat. Based on exhaustive research over a three-day visit.

Funnily enough, we are well aware of the challenges we face as a nation and you will find that 95% of the population is singing from the same song-sheet in order to ensure we can live up to our own exacting expectations.

We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.

For instance, you will find precious few rhinos loitering on street corners, we don’t know a guy in Cairo named Dave just because we live in Johannesburg, and our stadiums are magnificent, world-class works of art.

Which is obviously news to the Sky TV sports anchor who this week remarked that Soccer City looked ‘ a bit of a mess’. She didn’t realize the gaps in the calabash exterior are to allow in natural light and for illumination at night, and not the result of vandalism or negligence.

The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.

If it’s not man-eating snakes lurking in Rooney’s closet at the team’s (allegedly half-built) Royal Bafokeng training base, then it’s machete-wielding gangs roaming the suburbs in search of tattooed, overweight Dagenham dole-queuers to ransack and leave gurgling on the pavement.

In fact what you are entering is the world’s most fascinating country, in my opinion. I’m pretty sure you will find that it functions far more smoothly, is heaps more friendly and offers plenty more diversions than you could possibly have imagined.

In addition to which, the population actually acts like human beings, and not like they are being controlled by sinister forces from above which turns them into bureaucratically-manipulated robots.

Plus we have world’s most beautiful women. The best weather. Eight channels of SuperSport. Food and wine from the gods themselves. Wildlife galore. (Love the Dutch team’s bus slogan: “Don’t fear the Big 5; fear the Orange 11”).

Having said all that, Jo’burg is undoubtedly one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Just ask those Taiwanese tourists who got out of their hire car to take close-up snaps of tawny beasts at the Lion Park a few years back. Actually, ask what’s left of them. And did you know the chances of being felled by cardiac arrest from devouring a mountain of meat at one of our world class restaurants has been statistically proven to be 33.3% higher in Jozi than in any other major urban centre not built upon a significant waterway? It’s true. I swear. I read it in a British tabloid.

Having recently spent two years comfortably cocooned in small town America, I’m only too aware of how little much of the outside world knows about this country. The American channel I used to work for has a massive battalion of employees descending on World Cup country. It has also apparently issued a recommendation to its staff to stay in their hotels when not working.

Given that said corporation is headquartered in a small town which many say is “best viewed through the rear-view mirror”, I find the recommendation, if it’s true, to be utterly astounding. In fact I don’t believe it is true. Contrary to the global stereotype, the best Americans are some of the sharpest people in the world. The fact they have bought most tickets in this World Cup proves the point.

Of course I have only lived in Johannesburg, city of terror and dread, virtually all my life, so don’t have the in-depth knowledge of say, an English broadsheet journalist who has been in the country for the weekend, but nevertheless I will share some of my observations gleaned over the years.

Any foreign tourist or media representative who is worried about his safety in South Africa should have a word with the Lions rugby fans from last year, or the Barmy Army cricket supporters (lilywhite hecklers by day, slurring, lager-fuelled lobsters by night). They managed just fine, just like the hundreds of thousands of fans who have streamed into the country over the past fifteen years for various World Cups, Super 14 matches, TriNations tests and other international events. Negligible crime incidents involving said fans over said period of time.

Trivia question: which country has hosted the most global sporting events over the past decade and a half? You don’t need me to answer that, do you?

In addition. Don’t fret when you see a gaggle of freelance salesmen converge on your car at the traffic lights (or robots as we like to call them) festooned with products. You are not about to be hijacked. Here in Mzansi (nickname for SA) we do a lot of our purchasing at robots. Here you can stock up on flags, coat hangers, batteries, roses for the wife you forgot to kiss goodbye this morning and a whole host of useful merchandise.

Similarly, that guy who runs up as you park the rental car outside the pub intends no malice. He’s your car guard. Give him a buck or two and your vehicle will be safe while you refuel for hours on our cheap, splendid beer. Unless someone breaks into it, of course.

We drive on the left in this country. Exercise caution when crossing the road at a jog-trot with 15 kilograms of camera gear on your back. Exercise common sense full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to leave wads of cash in your hotel room like our Colombian friends, don’t be surprised if it grows wings.

Bottomline. Get out there and breathe in great lusty lungfuls of this amazing nation. Tuck into our world-class food and wines. Disprove the adage that white men can’t dance at our throbbing, vibrant night-clubs. Learn to say hello in all eleven official languages. Watch at least one game in a township. You will not be robbed and shot. You will be welcomed like a lost family member and looked after as if you are royalty. Ask those Bulls rugby fans who journeyed to Soweto recently.

With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life.

It’s Africa’s time. Vacate your hotel room. Join the party.

Waka waka eh eh.

EnglishletterPeter DaviesSkynewsSoccerSouth AfricanWorld Cup

Mike • June 11, 2010

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  4. Kate Malcomess June 14, 2010 - 2:21 pm

    Dear Mr Davies,

    As an ex-South Afican, Jo-burger, I am writing to ask you if you really think your open-letter to the World’s media left any non-South Afican of any persuasion, journalist or not, feelng better disposed to South Africa/ns? Your unnecessarily patronising and aggressive tone was completely over the top and, whilst I probably agree with 90% of your sentiment, I would like to suggest the bile and derision with which you express it does not help your cause.

    Most of the white South Africans I have to deal with (most of my extended family still lives there) seem to share your need to belitte, ridicule and dismiss when faced with ignorance and fear. It does not do any of you any good whatsoever. All is does is convince people of your violence and aggression. Your overt message appears to be “welcome to our beautiful country and please see it for what it is” but the tone it is written in means that I believe many people will read: “if you bloody ignorant, yellow-bellied, arseholes come to our country you are going to have to run the gauntlette of defensive white South Africans proving you wrong before you even open your mouth.”

    Your accusation of prejudice on the part of the Brits and the Americans is rich given that your entire letter is the expression of prejudice on your part. I have read as many articles in British broadsheets expressing a balanced view of South Africa’s competence as potential hosts as you clearly have tabloid articles expressing ignorance and prejudice. News flash, not all Brits read the tabloids or always believe what they say!!!!

    Clearly your intention was not to set the record straight or welcome people so they could make up their own minds, but rather to entrench yourself and your fellow, mainly white, South Africans, in the extreme rhetoric that any overseas visitor to South Africa is exposed to the minute they step off a plane. They don’t even have to suggest that there may be some truth in the statistics around rape, gun crime, car-jacking and HIV, You will all automatically assume that they hold the views you so elloquently trotted out (Rhino’s in Eloof Street are getting very hackneyed by the way!!) and attack them long before they have had a chance to form an clear opinion!

    I have been trying to counter prejudice about South Africa’s inability to host a first class World Cup ever since it was awarded that honour. Your letter hasn’t helped my endeavour in any way. Thanks for nothing!

  5. Mike June 14, 2010 - 3:39 pm

    Hi Kate,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I must confess to being a little bemused by your commentary. I posted this letter from Peter because I thought that it at least provided a little light relief, while at the same time endeavouring to set the record straight. His intention is clearly jibing at the reporters out there and I would say he hit the mark!

    A number of poorly written articles and even misleading reporting have done nothing but cause a great deal of anger to be felt by all South Africans as far as getting the “facts” correct. I do want to say All South Africans, because living in this great country we have got to field the questions all of the time. When folk arrive on a daily basis and say to me “WOW, this is nothing like they are reporting back home” you have to wonder about the reporting. I, along with my gaggle of friends, experience this on a daily basis now.

    I must say that I think your stance is strange. I am not sure how this letter would harm your cause as far as telling the truth as an “ex South African”. If anything it should strengthen the cause. I am left wondering if you starting your reponse “As an ex-South African” may have something to do with this.

    Maybe one should be left asking the question why it is that we feel the need to try and set the record straight. Clearly a letter of this nature would have been started out of the need for something. Are you also not wondering why your extended family respond in the same way?

    We simply get frustrated by the fact that many people have no first hand experience, yet fell the need to take pot shots at us. If anything you should be asking the question why it is that, you agree with 90% of the content, yet feel that this letter has not helped your cause.

    Oh wait this is not your cause, this is simply a past time for you. For the rest of us, living in South Africa, it has become our mission. We want the whole world to see that this country, with all of it’s crime and violence, still is a hugely postive place. A place that has huge potential and welcomes everybody regardless of race, colour or creed.

    Thank you for taking the time to defend your ex country, my tone has grown increasingly arrogant and forthright as I have gone through this response to you. I have not done this on purpose but more out of the growing frustration that people still get a lot of the facts around this great country wrong!

    I will try to get your commentary through to Peter.

  6. Kate Malcomess June 15, 2010 - 11:20 am

    Hi Mike

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me – especially as I hadn’t realised I was writing to you! Doh!

    I am really sad that all I managed to do was cause you more frustration and bitterness. I don’t think there is any point continuing the dialogue much further but I think your response probably illustrates my point exactly. Good luck in your mission. For what it is worth (clearly not much coming from an “ex”) I really do wish you much success in your endeavours. I had only hoped that you could consider the possibility that agression begets aggression, not curiosty or acceptance.

    Best wishes

  7. Mike June 19, 2010 - 7:07 am

    I wish you well and after reading my response again apologies for homing in on the “ex” factor! I might be as bold to suggest that maybe you could continue with your attempts to bolster the South African cause? Please I understand that my response was more directed at the poor press than you. Cheers and once again thank you for taking the time to comment. I do believe that robust debate makes us all a little stronger

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