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open letter to world cup visitors

South Africa
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open letter to world cup visitors

Got this in my inbox today, in nice contrast to the negative hype that is swirling around in the media about South Africa:

Open letter to our Foreign Media friends

________________________________________

by Peter Davies 09/06/2010 09:09

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.

Somerset
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1. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Absolutely brilliant ! As a Brit who is subjected to all our tabloid "horror stories" on an almost daily basis but who has visited your beautiful country every year for the past 10 and knows the true picture I really find it so frustrating that they simply cannot give a balanced view - but then, as they say, only "bad news" sells newspapers.

My wife and I had just read about the tragic road accident near Nelspruit resulting in the deaths of 2 british people (our sympathies to their families) and of course the article made a big point of the "danger of driving on the terrible south African roads which are in such a bad state" - we both exploded with anger. These days I am extremely nervous driving in UK not only from the other drivers but the large potholes which have developed since a bad winter, yet when we visit SA I drive for thousands of Km's perfectly happily and relaxed, probably even more so on our next visit now that many of the main roads have been further improved for the WC.

Somerset
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2. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Sorry, that should be three (not 2) students who died in the tragic crash and of course best wishes to those injured as well.

London Ontario
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3. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

I, for one, will be coming to visit your beautiful country this coming August. We are coming full of excitement, anticipation and with no preconceived notion. We thoroughly expect to have an absolutely wonderful time and to meet amazing people.

Good wishes for South Africa to host a successful World Cup!!!

Greater Sydney...
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4. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Well written. Great stuff.

I will not be visiting until April/May next year, and we in Aus have also had those same horror projections pushed over here in the WC lead up. We have no concerns whatsoever, and cannot wait to get there.

Have a fantastic WC Sth Africa, and good luck to the Aussies.

Oh, and as an aside, I bet the fact that the South African men's compound archery team winning the World Cup 2nd stage 2 days ago, beating the USA, got no publicity at all. It was a great effort by your lads.

Edited: 11 June 2010, 14:25
Kent
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5. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

I visited S.Africa in 2008, loved it ,and will be returning next year to see it again. A beautiful and varied country. I've travelled all over the world and really nothing could beat that first view of Table Mountain on a clear morning, I hope many people will ignore the language of our infantile tabloids and visit this astounding country.

Capetown
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6. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Great letter. Bear in mind that the U.K. tabloids are written by reporters through the bottom of a glass and Sky News can only handle one subject at a time. Wrth the recent tragic shooting in Cumbria it was so heavily covered, one had to think that the rest of the newsroom was given a week off!!

Freehold, New Jersey
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7. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

great letter

Virginia
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8. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Thanks for the post. I've been looking forward to my visit in September, and I have to admit that some of the recent articles have given me pause, even though I know better. It's hard, though, to read articles like these day after day and not have some misgivings....but I finally realized that if I read my local (Washington DC) newspaper looking for reasons to fear for my safety I'd find plenty. I would expect that a visitor to South Africa, taking reasonable precautions, would be as safe there as they would in Washington....and I've lived here my whole life without incident.

London, United...
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9. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Thank you Peter!

As a proud South African who has lived in Sydney, and who is currently living in London, I can confirm all of these global reports of South Africa being the most dangerous place on earth are completely unfounded. What people forget is that any city is dangerous if you are going to go to the areas which are known to be less than savory. Taking a casual walk through Bethnal Green or Mile End in the middle of the day makes me feel far more unsafe than walking through the streets of Durban or Johannesburg. Even Durban's CBD which is supposed to be renowned for how dangerous it is is a far less threatening place than some of the streets of London.

I know of more people who have been the subject of attacks after walking alone through Redfern in Sydney than anywhere in South Africa. In fact, I don't personally know a single person that has been attacked on the streets in South Africa.

South Africa is a beautiful country brimming with a vibrant culture and friendly and hospitable people. The weather is superb, and one can't help but fall in love with it.

A word of advice to all of those who are not natives and plan on visiting: don't wonder around Hillbrow/Point Road/places that the rest of us wouldn't dream of setting foot in. Do your research and find out which areas you need to stay away from. They are few and far between, but it's worth finding out where they are.

In my opinion everyone should experience the wonder of the Drakensburg, the beauty of the Garden Route, the quaintness of Franshoek, the awe-inspiring nature in Knysna, the mangoes in Nelspruit, the animals in Magaliesburg, and the joy of the beaches in Umhlanga at least once in their lives.

No other country has as much to offer.

Newbury, United...
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10. Re: open letter to world cup visitors

Thank you for a great post, and as a regular visitor to South Africa I couldn't agree more. Already planning our next visit in 2011.