2010: an event that means so much to so many

2009-01-30 00:00

HE sits on the grassy kerb, quietly passing time in the shadow of the vast structure, watching the construction workers pass by as they go to work. Morning after morning for the past 18 months, he has sat in this very same place, watching intently as the concrete blocks and metal supports are put in place.

This has become his favourite time of the day, an hour or so of joy in a tough life. His grandmother says he should not complain because at least he has a job, and he listens to her, but even so he can’t help wondering whether his job, working from 11 am to 11 pm as a waiter in a restaurant in Cape Town, is worth having. After deductions, he takes home R481 per month.

In fact, this month, he won’t take home anything. Four men came in at the weekend and sat at one of his tables. They ordered drinks and starters and steaks,and desserts and seemed to be having a good time until, out of the blue, they just stood up and walked out. The manager stormed across.

“What the hell’s going on,” he asked.

“They just left without paying their bill.”

“Didn’t they like your service? How much is the bill?”

“It’s R512.”

“Well, I’m sorry. You know the rule.”

Everybody working at the restaurant knows the rule: when a customer leaves without paying, it’s the waiter who must pay the bill. So the money will be deducted from his salary. It was not his fault and it was not fair, but there was nothing he could do.

If he stated his case or protested, if he said anything at all, he would be sacked and, as his grandmother said, he should not complain because at least he had a job.

He accepted his fate without a word but, deep down inside, in a place that his manager could not see nor scarcely imagine, he felt a kind of creeping desperation. He was living a life without hope.

No matter how long he worked, no matter how hard he tried, he never seemed to make progress. He had planned to continue his studies, but had to stop so he could start earning. He had planned to learn to drive, but he could not afford the lessons.

Perpetually poor, perpetually exhausted because he always got home well after midnight, he felt stuck on a treadmill in the dark.

Never mind, he told himself, nobody could stop him getting up a little earlier than necessary, taking the taxi into town and making his way to his place on the grassy kerb, where every day he would spend an hour or so just sitting and watching the cranes and heavy machinery grind into action.

There had not been much to see in the early months — the site looked like a wasteland of mess and rubble — but the workers kept grafting and, week by week, the curved stands started to rise from the ground, slowly combining to form the shape of something as striking, as graceful, as beautiful as any lady.

When they began installing seats in the lower tier, just visible above the perimeter fence, he had been able to start blurring his eyes, and letting his mind run wild, and imagining the scene in 2010, when hordes of smiling, flag-bearing supporters from all around the world would appear, walking across his grassy verge, making their way towards the new stadium.

In such moments, spent sitting and watching, his problems seemed to clear and he would feel enthused and inspired, buzzing with excitement and anticipation, pumped full of personal pride that his city, his country and his continent would soon be ready to stage a tournament of such scale and prestige.

His daydream was suddenly interrupted.

“It’s looking impressive,” said a passer-by. “You think it will be ready on time?”

“Of course, it’s going to be ready,” he replied. “The stadium is going to be fantastic, and 2010 is going to be incredible.”

With those words, he smiled … just another smile of hope and excitement in just another tough life. Never before has a major sporting event meant so much to so many people.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SABC sport and is involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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