Biltong for Africa

2011-09-17 00:00

SOUTH Africans are a wild breed: we thrive in the lawlessness of Africa, and we love beer, biltong, braais, bakkies and rrrugby.

An example is the pack of Vleis Visagies whose table I serendipitously chose to join — completely alone and sober — in the slightly grungy Cambridge Hotel, in downtown Wellington ahead of a Springbok Rugby World Cup game.

A group of eight Pietermaritzburg and Durban-born South Africans — cousins, brothers and army mates — all of whom live in different parts of the world from Australia to America had reunited in New Zealand especially for the Rugby World Cup.

Durban-born Nantes Robberts shifted to Australia with his wife and kids soon after the murder of his mother, grandmother and aunt in South Africa.

“We thought: ‘Time to move on’.”

Robberts hasn’t been back in six years, but says it is about time he and his wife visited again as much of their respective families are still there.

Unlike the majority of his friends drinking in the loud bar, Robberts does not plan to return to live in South Africa.

“Aussie has been good to us,” he declares.

But once a Bokke supporter, always one.

“My dream final would be South Africa versus the All Blacks. Although I am an Australian citizen I really battle to support the Wallabies. I find them arrogant in all sports, including soccer, rugby, and cricket.

“Something tells me the All Blacks are not going to win it. There’s too much pressure — they are chokers.”

Pietermaritzburg-born Shane Gandy and Gavin Duckham are old army mates of Robberts. Both found South Africa a difficult place to live and sought work in Australia and southern California, respectively.

The rapturous applause that echoed­ around the dark corner of the Wellington bar when I told them I was working for The Witness rivalled the excitement of Francois Hougaard’s late try against Wales in South Africa’s opening game of the tournament.

“That’s all you can read in Pietermaritzburg … have a beer!” Duckham cheered.

Another Durbanite, Bruce Coad, who lives in Perth was one of the first South Africans to get to the Cambridge Hotel before the bar “became chock-a-block with South Africans” ahead of their first Test.

In typical South African style he proudly announced that the group from KwaZulu-Natal won two meat hampers in two consecutive raffles in one night.

“The Kiwis kept shouting, ‘That’s the only thing you are going to win during the Rugby World Cup’. We don’t believe that.”

Evan Summers, also from Durbs, says the meat packs included three kilograms of rump steak, pork chops, lamb chops, burgers, sausages ... you name it.

“Call us Vleis Visagie — we’ve already had two braais,” he smiles.

Bruce’s brother, Greg Coad, says South Africans’ love of meat will be the nation’s enduring legacy during the tournament.

“At the airport, on all the flights coming in from Australia, every second person flying from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney was wearing a Springbok jersey and the customs guys said they confiscated so much biltong they wanted to know if every South African coming into the country had it in their bags. Customs has biltong for Africa,” he laughs.

The only female in the group, Rosalie­ Clarke, was born in Eshowe and moved to Sydney two years ago.

Bruce and Greg are her cousins.

Clarke was in South Africa during the Fifa World Cup and says nothing compares to the “whole South African vibe — there won’t be the same kind of noise as the Football World Cup, but I think that is largely because of the different [sporting] codes”.

She adds, there is less chanting in rugby, and, of course, vuvuzelas are banned.

Like most of the South Africans she is travelling with, Clarke plans to move back home within 10 years.

“It’s one of those things, wherever you were born your roots are always there and that is always home.”

Clarke’s cousin, Bruce Coad, agrees saying, “There are always issues — that’s Africa. But you realise how good things actually are there.

It’s the people — they are fantastic — and there are not too many rules. If you want to go somewhere you chuck everything in the back of the bakkie and go. Here you always have to wear seat belts. In South Africa you break the law,” he says with shining eyes.

“In South Africa you can be a bit naughty.”

This band of banana boys and girls will meet up at the same place ahead of the South Africa versus Fiji game today.

Another meat hamper with your beer, perhaps?

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