David Moseley

Survival in the city

2013-08-14 08:58

David Moseley

When the Springboks come to town the action is sometimes better off the field than on. Such was the case in 2010 when they made their debut at FNB Stadium (then still called Soccer City). The Boks were in front against the All Blacks that day, John Smit's 100th Test, right up until the 78th minute.

Over 94 000 people were there that day, but when the national anthem was being sung, it sounded like the entire population of Johannesburg had arrived for the rugby party. The crowd was in full voice for most of the game too, until becoming eerily silent when Richie McCaw went over to level the scores.

New Zealand scored twice in the last two minutes to snatch the victory, and a crowd that was expecting something magical from a stadium still alive and humming with the joyful fever of the 2010 Soccer World Cup was left deflated.

Little did I know that the real fun would only start after the final whistle. The omens suggesting that something was bound to go amiss on the day were all present.

On our white-people-tour of Soweto prior to kick-off ("Look! Look! The blacks braai too! They're just like us!") the insistence of our tour guide to highlight all the street's in which he'd been shot (bloody lucky fella he was, surviving at least 17 shootings) and the many alleys where he'd fortuitously crossed paths with a young Madiba and other struggle luminaries, suggested that our post-match exit from FNB Stadium would not run as smoothly as we anticipated.

Looking back, it all seems so ominous. But in the moment it was simply a jolly good jaunt ("Walls! Can you believe it! They have walls around their houses!").

Later, driving towards FNB Stadium, the sight of a double-decker bus being pulled from a lake, while picnickers casually munched on sarmies, hinted at a more sinister transport delay to come.

And so it was with giddy expectations of a pleasant evening of braai in mind when we sauntered out of the stadium and on to the train that had been prepared by the city to ferry fans to more convenient parking areas.

We sat down, commenting on how empty the train was and surprised that more people hadn't utilised the opportunity, only for the carriage to fill like water rushing from the opened gates of flooded dam. After an hour or so of uncomfortable waiting, the train lurched into life.

After 20 minutes our Joburg-resident gasped desperately into the beery crowd, "here's our stop". Excited passengers jumped to attention, only to realise the sweet nothings being whispered into their ears were not intended for them.

But it wasn't. It wasn't our stop. It was a stop that looked like our stop thanks to the lights of the Nelson Mandela Bridge and the curve of the train tracks tricking us into thinking we were at our stop.

Instead, this was a stop quite literally on the wrong side of town which, much to our group's dismay, we only discovered when six passengers disembarked in confusion alongside us while the rest of the train looked on in terror at our folly.

"Now what?" asked the uncle of the Joburg resident. "Uh, no. It's fine. We just walk from here. There's the bridge. The car's just there."

Yes, I noted, that is the bridge. But what is the large dark void between us and the car, I asked to general mutters of discontent and worry amongst the group.

"No, it's fine," said the Joburg resident as a police van crawled past, two officers pulling down their peaks, pretending not to see us lest we cry for help. "We're close."

And so it was that the midnight sprint through downtown Joburg set-off, four frazzled Capetonians and two sweating locals charging past dark alleys, side-street domino games and sideways glances from grimy shop fronts.

An entire cow's head floated past in the gutter at one stage, while Joburg-resident's uncle loudly proclaimed, "I have a wad of hundreds in my hands. If anyone comes near us, I'll just chuck them into the air." Good plan, we all agreed.

Eventually, after 30 minutes of silence and wide-eyed stares at every scrap of noise encountered, we reached the car. With breathless relief that only comes from surviving moments of terror, the group declared with macho bravado, "ah, that wasn't so bad. Good game, hey. Great day. We should do it again. Joburg's really coming along..."

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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