It Was 20 Years Ago Today


I don’t often keep newspapers. Like sushi, they’re meant to be consumed on day of purchase. You flip through them while they’re hot off the presses, turning back the pages, double-creasing the folds, scanning the massive broadsheet pages, alighting every now and again on an item of fleeting interest.

Then, having had your fill, you re-fold them in any old way and toss them in the nearest bin, or benevolently leave them for the next passenger. Newspapers, as we all know, are the first draft of history. Who wants to hang on to a first draft?

But for some reason, a sense of once-in-a-lifetime occasion, perhaps, a feeling that maybe one day my first-born daughter, then just a few months old, waiting in my arms in the queue, might want to take a look at what this day was all about, I held on to this edition of The Star, the Late Afternoon edition of Wednesday, April 27, 1994.

As you can see, it has not weathered the years terribly well. It has a great rift down the middle, it is fraying at the edges, it is yellowing from exposure to the light.

I probably wouldn’t get more than 50 cents for it at my local antique shop, and since it cost me R1,10 on the day, that wouldn’t be much of a dividend.

Still, as I turn the pages now, and I hear the snap of ruffling newsprint, like thunder rolling across the plains, I am pleased I held onto this, not for the sake of memory, but for the sake of tomorrow. This is where the whole thing started. Come, let’s flip through the pages.

Page One Lead

“Apartheid dies today.” Just three words, as stark as a telegram from the warzone, introduce the main story, beneath the splash headline, “Vote, the beloved country”.

The headline, a spin on the title of Alan Paton’s famous book, was re-echoed on the front page of the Saturday Star of April 26, 2014: “Fly, the beloved country”.

I thought at first that this was a story about some new low-cost airline, but it turned out to an overview and a celebration of the altitude we have attained after two decades of democracy.

Page One Comment

An Editor’s Comment on Page One is a very rare thing, reserved for occasions of great historical import, when the Editor (in this case, actually, the Editor-in-Chief) emerges from the wings of the Op Ed page to say a few words in the dazzling glare.

“Today, the birthday of the new South Africa, our country changes profoundly for the better,” it begins. Then there is some reflection on “the majority taking their rightful places on the ship of state, while the old crew stays on as willing co-pilots.”

But 20 years down the line, the line that leaps out is this: “Burdened by the close-up view of worries ranging from poverty to crime rates and shortages of tomato sauce.” We still have a long way to go, and those big worries are with us still, but at least we can safely say that we have all the tomato sauce we need.

Page One Quote

“It’s an incredible feeling, like falling in love.” Thus sayeth the Arch, after casting his vote. This is in a foot-of-the-page section called “The People Say”, which today, of course,  would be “The People Tweet”.

Page Two

This has traditionally been one of the best-read pages of The Star, because it contains the Weather Report.

In the Transvaal, the forecast said, it would be partly cloudy in the north with fog along the escarpment. In the Orange Free State: Fine and mild. But the winds of change were blowing throughout the land, and soon the Transvaal would be consigned to history, and the Orange would be dropped from the Free State.

A short item on this page, headlined “Poison in water rumour denied” assured the public that there was no truth to the rumour that poisons had been introduced into supply lines serving the Reef from the Vaal Dam.

Page Three

“Shares soar on relieved JSE”. Undeterred by a nationwide blitz of at least 16 explosions in the three days leading up to  ballot day, the overall index of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange gained 172 points to finish at 5240.

“Even paper and pulp company Sappi, which reported depressed profits yesterday, gained 300c to R45.” So if you had invested in some Sappi shares back then, today you could sell them for – let’s quickly Google – R33,90. Sorry. Paper just isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anymore.

Also interesting on this page is a big advert for Rembrandt van Rijn cigarettes, in which we see a rainbow shining gloriously over a field of tobacco – “The Cream of the Crop”. Today, of course, cigarette adverts are not allowed in South African media, although they still do go on and on about rainbows.

Page Four

An advert for 702 Talk Radio, capitalising on the Big Story of the day, boasts of “an unbiased team who’ve always believed the opinions of the man on the street are as important as those of the politician on his soapbox”.

How times have changed. These days, copy like that, suggesting that there are no women on the streets and no female politicians on soapboxes, wouldn’t even make it beyond the first round of reverts.

Not that it would really matter, because we would all be getting our election news from Twitter anyway.

Page Six

In a round-up of election news from across the country and across the globe, in eighth position on the far left-hand column of a left-hand page, we find this item from the South African Press Association:


Just to be clear, this happened on Tuesday, April 26, 1994. But you have to admit, it really puts that whole “fire pool” business into perspective.

Page Seven

Three-quarters of the page is devoted to this election ad from the DP (Democratic Party), a beta version of the DA. The ad takes aim at the Nats, for their suggestion that the party is “too small to be a strong opposition to the ANC”.

To back their claim that they’re plenty big enough, they reproduce the mastheads of seven English-language publications that advised their readers to vote DP.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to the great newspaper tradition of unashamedly advising readers which party to vote for? It’s a really tough thing, having to make up your own mind.

photo 2

Page 8

A full-page ad for the National Party, “the only party big enough to stop the ANC picking your pocket. Don’t waste your vote on other parties”.

This rather ambiguous command is accompanied by a little picture of FW de Klerk, and the slogan “We’ve made the change”, which is surely, given the circumstances, the biggest example of chutzpah in the history of electoral politics.

Page 9

Letters to the Editor. Yes, people wrote Letters to the Editor back then. In fact, the Letters Page even had an Editor of its own. It was a much sought-after job. Who wouldn’t want to spend their whole workday tossing letters into the bin?

The standout letter here is “Decision clearly politically inspired”, referring to the decision by the SABC to withhold the scheduled screening of a satirical election special by Pieter-Dirk Uys, entitled One Man, One Volt.

What’s really shocking, in retrospect, is that nobody even makes satirical election specials for the SABC to ban anymore.

Page 10

The Op Ed page, with its familiar tone of editorial harrumph. The main editorial is a complaint about the proposed new name of the Star’s home province, Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging, or PWV for short.

“We do not want to be called by three initials, and if we Transvalers make our case loudly enough, we do not need to be,” harrumphs the editorial we.

Of course, in the end, we became Gauteng, and the Star probably complained about that too.

Pages 14 to 19

The Classifieds. Yes, the Star had classified ads back then too. There was even a section for “Arms/Ammunition” – CASH FOR YOUR UNWANTED FIREARMS URGENT – but really, the main thrust here was on Escort Services, and calls for responses to Municipal Tenders.

Page 22

What was on at the movies. Once you had had finished standing in the long, snaking queue, and making your mark on history, you could choose from an interesting selection of new releases, including  “Fearless”, “On Deadly Ground”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Boiling Point”, and “Much Ado About Nothing”.

Page 26

“English tour may bomb”. We tend to forget, from the distance of headlines and public holidays, what a perilous, precarious state South Africa was in, in the brisk autumn days of 1994.

So much so, that there was talk that England might be forced to cancel their upcoming rugby tour of the country, in light of the spate of pre-election bomb blasts.

As it turned out, the English came, and they won the First Test at Loftus, and lost the Second at Newlands. And in the winter of the following year, the Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa, and we all know what happened then.

Happy Freedom Day, everyone!





The Top 20 British Pathé Newsreel Clips About South Africa


Before there was an Internet, before there was YouTube, before there was the breaking-news tweet, there was the British Pathé newsreel film clip.

You would watch these at the movies, between the trailers and the cartoons and the main attraction, and they would tell you, in a minute or two, what was happening in the world that week. Politics, lifestyle, culture, sport, events big and small, curiosities and oddities from near and afar.

Almost always, they were set to a soundtrack of sweeping strings and brass, rousing or solemn as the news demanded, and over this would be heard the voice, always male, of the narrator, enunciating in clipped consonants and rounded vowels the latest from the world of Pathé.

Now, in a generous gift to humanity, Pathé have uploaded an astonishing array of 85,000 newsreel clips to YouTube, spanning the years from 1896 to 1976. That’s 3,500 hours of footage, or just over 145 days, if you watch it all in one sitting.

The collection is a joy to browse and behold, and it is an exceedingly fascinating and useful resource for cultural anthropologists, students of history, and anyone who is looking for a good excuse not to get down to work.

Be warned, it is a real time-vampire, so the best way to use it, perhaps, is to search for something specific, and take it from there. I searched for “South Africa”. Here are 20 of the most interesting clips I found. I hope you find them interesting too.

This is silent out-take footage of what was once the biggest event of the year on the highveld. The Rand Easter Show. It was held at Milner Park, which is now the West Campus of Wits. If you’re a Witsie, you may recognise some of the landmarks.

A Children’s Day sports festival, open to all races, albeit not at the same time. “Among the many Non-European events is the wheelbarrow race,” enthuses our narrator. “This is one race where the winner definitely wins hands-down.”

In 1960, a referendum was held to determine, democratically, whether South Africa should become a republic, or remain a colony of the Great British Empire. Well, not quite democratically – only whites were allowed to cast their vote for Yes or No. “Women polled in strength while the men were at work.” These days, of course, voting days are public holidays, so we all get a chance to stand in a queue, make our mark, and enjoy the rest of the day off.

A massive tornado swept through the mining-town of Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, in 1948. I grew up in this dorp, so it grates my ear to hear the narrator mispronounce it as “Rooden-port”. The only real legacy of this natural disaster, which left seven people dead and thousands homeless, is a street in Roodepoort named Tornado Cresent.

Christmas, 1936. The Wanderers, Johannesburg. In their dazzling whites, the Boks go out to bat against the Aussies for the Second test. The “hero of the match” is Dudley North, the “young South African bat”, with his smashing innings of 231. “But the match ends, as most good matches do, in a draw.”

Long before ANN7’s memorable mispronounciation, the motor-racing Grand Prix was a regular event in South Africa. This was the first such event to be held in the country, on the Marine Drive circuit in East London in 1934. The race was won by the wonderfully-named American, Whitney Straight, who was also a much-decorated Air Commodore. “He tore through the field in his Maserati, like a black bullet.”

As Stukas and Spitfires blitzed into battle over the green fields of England, a boatload of happy-faced young Britons dropped anchor at Table Bay. “Their first thought on landing, a cable to Mother. Arrived safely, love and kisses.”

I like the elegant rhythm of the envy-riddled voiceover: “Is it right that while the chilblain has its way over here, the children have their play over there?” The English, as we know, have a curious view of Spring. It is the cruellest month, complained TS Eliot. In South Africa, as this clip confirms, it is the mooiste, mooiste maand. Although I must say I’ve never seen this sort of Pagan welcoming of the season on our shores.

At the Wanderers, as war-clouds rumble over Europe, a very Catholic gathering on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Prayer Days in times of crisis are still a South African tradition, even in our nominally secular state. My favourite image here is the mass of nuns in procession. You don’t see that on the streets of Joburg every day.

That ancient rivalry at play and at war, this time at the SCG in Sydney. A day of mud, sweat, and possibly, tears, with the ground “sticking to the boys closer than a mother-in-law”. The Springboks, out to avenge a crushing defeat, won the test by nine points to five.

Father Trevor Huddleston stands tall as a man of grace and goodness in the story of South African politics and culture. This is a recollection of his works and  humanity on the eve of his recall from St Peter’s Church in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, back to the headquarters of the Anglican Church in England. “His slogan,” the narrator tells us, “is ‘black and white are both entitled to a full life’. Not a popular view with South Africa’s rulers.” This clip includes a quick glimpse of Father Huddleston walking with Alan Paton, author of Cry, the beloved Country.

“The girls of Durban, South Africa, in the land of perpetual sunshine, believe in beauty culture too.” A mass exercise on a school playing field. Nowadays, of course, they would just head for the nearest Virgin Active.

Sitting at a drawing-table in the shade of a garden in Cape Town, the Princess Elizabeth, who would go on to be crowned Queen within six years, delivers a message to the people of the Great British Commonwealth on the occasion of her 21st birthday. It is 1947, and the “terrible and glorious” years of the Second World War are still fresh in memory. In her wondrous accent, through the marvel of radio, she dedicates herself to a life of service, “whether my life be long or short”. She is still Queen today.

A rare colour travellogue, taking us from the untamed Umfolozi, on a donkey-safari led by a young Ian Player (he would go on to became a world-renowned conservationist) to the “Land of the Red-Blanket People”, or the Wild Coast of the Transkei, as we know it today. The narration here has a tinge of pith-helmeted paternalism – “here’s a happy-go-lucky village community” – that brings Monty Python sketches to mind. And we learn too, that even back then, the white rhino was in danger of dying out.

The Royals of the House of Windsor, all dressed in white, sit with umbrellas close to hand and watch as the “sons of Shaka” perform their traditional Zulu war-dance, in this dispatch from the Royal Visit of 1947. Not everyone was in favour of this expedition, and Die Transvaler, a newspaper edited by one HF Verwoerd, who would later become Prime Minister, would only let its readers know that there would be traffic congestion in the streets of Johannesburg on the day of the visit. Today, of course, Afrikaans newspapers and magazines devote hectares of space to the Royals, whether or not they are on a visit to South Africa.

A delirious celebration, in full colour, of the wonders of Durban, “the gayest holiday resort in Southern Africa”.

In 1962, in a symbolic shift from the customs and traditions of the Commonwealth, South Africa introduced a new system of coinage, personified by the bouncy rock ‘n roll jingle of “Decimal Dan, the Rand-Cent Man, gets his cents for pennies wherever he can”. This colour clip includes some fascinating footage of early 60s fashions and the busy interiors of South African banks and supermarkets. Boy, handbags were really cheap back then.

The title says “Race Problem, 1955”, but the concluding footage here seems to show the famous Women’s March of 1956, when thousands of women arrived at the Union Buildings to protest against Apartheid. The narrator tells us that HF Verwoerd, then Minister of Native Affairs, refused to meet with the deputation, because it was racially mixed. The cold, mad logic of Apartheid bureaucracy.

In April 1960, while observing a parade of cattle at the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, Prime Minister HF Verwoerd was shot twice in the head by a man armed with a .22 pistol. Verwoerd survived the assassination attempt, and the country was plunged into fear and tension. “Where it is calm, outwardly,” says the narrator, over footage of people crossing the road in Cape Town, “the news is all of race hatred.” This was just a year before the massacre at Sharpeville, and six years before Verwoerd was stabbed to death in Parliament by Tsafendas.

Johannesburg traffic was just as crazy and intense in the pre-war era. Maybe even more so, because there were trams and horse-carts to compete with the motor-cars. This clip is silent, alas, but if you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the roars and screeches and hootings in your head. And just look at those outfits. People really went to town when they went to town. These days, no-one will blink twice if you wear a tee-shirt and shorts to Hyde Park Mall. As long as it’s a Giorgio Armani tee-shirt and shorts, of course.


Home Invasion: A Tale of Two Takeaways

We had just come back from the Saturday evening takeaway run – Chicken Nuggets and fries from McDonalds, lunchbox combo, no prawns, from Sakura Sushi – and I had pressed the button on the blue remote to Open Sesame the gate. I drove in. The garage door opened. I parked and cut the engine.

I could hear that familiar, comforting sound of the suburbs: the gate rattling shut on its rails, the filaments of the electric fence quivering. Then, another sound. Footfalls on facebrick. Loud, heavy.

I half-turned to see a solid force charging towards me, backlit by the glow of the security lamps, and the man was standing by my side, in the combat position, feet planted like an oak tree, both hands outstretched on the grip of a gun. A 9mm, pointed at my head.

For pretty much all of my life, I have been a Johannesburger. Often, waiting for the robots to change, I have fantasised about what I would do in these scenarios. I would turn in the driver’s seat, slowly, as advised. I would put my hands in the air. I would make no sudden, rash movements.

Then – blam – I would elbow the car door against my attacker, knocking him off balance, and I would catch his flying gun and stand over him, because I would not let him rob me of my property. Then the lights always blink to green and I blend in with the traffic.

“Get out, get out, get out,” the man was saying. Stockily built, round face, smart casual. “Phones. Where are your phones? Lie down. Get up. Don’t look at me.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw a white SUV pulling up outside my house, and waiting. Then the other guy, leaner, skinny blue denims, black sneakers, holding a sawn-off shotgun and aiming it at my midsection.

The weapon looked almost too clean to me, its barrels lovingly polished, and I wondered for a moment if it was real, or something picked up off the shelf at China City. I’m going to fast-forward through the next part. The men pushed us down the corridor and into the bedroom, and they made us lie down and they robbed us.

Over and over, between the threats and the swearing and the feet pushed down on heads: “We’re not going to hurt you.” So here we are, a few days later, unhurt. Survivors.

The men who stormed our house that night robbed us of things, and private space, and minutes that seemed like hours, and a quiet Saturday night at home, dining on sushi and McDonalds. They robbed us of peace of mind and comfort and security.

But I will not let them rob me of the way I feel about this place. I will not let this be my metaphor.

At some point in the evening, I found myself stumbling down a side-street in the township of Alex, barefoot, my neighbour’s iPhone in my hand, tracking a little green dot to the possible location of my stolen goods. Then the signal disappeared, like a flame strangled on a wick.

A policeman with an assault rifle, standing in a doorway, called me over and asked if I recognised anyone. I strolled into someone’s home, into their private space. But all I saw was people sitting in their lounge, calmly, watching television and having supper.

I felt more than ever the duality of our society, the two worlds we live in, and the things in those worlds that we have in common. For one thing, our destiny.

I have learned, over the last few days, that we are a circle, a community, a constellation of individuals who in some way depend on and care about each other. A social network.

The other day, a guy named Wayne, who I have never even met, sent his mother around – his mother – to drop off a backpack containing a MacBook Pro for me to use.

“What can you do?” she said, throwing her hands in the air. “What can you do?” And then: “You’re alive. Baruch HaShem.” Thank the Lord.

Later in the day, Louise, from the PTA, came around with butternut soup and a chicken supper. Patty popped by on her way to yoga, with Lebanese bread and a big tub of hummus. Her car stood idling in exactly the same spot where the getaway driver had idled his SUV a couple of nights before.

The police, uniformed and plainclothes, have been uniformly professional and courteous and determined, fighting the good fight with their heavy caseloads and their sheafs of paperwork.

The volunteer counsellor, Michelle, in her reflective yellow vest, came over late at night to comfort my daughters, and then came back the next day to find out if they felt okay to go and see Justin Bieber.

On Twitter, I have been overwhelmed with wishes for our safety and security, and offers of iPhones and iPads and iMacs for me to loan, just because I tweeted on the night that all my Apple goods were gone. I have heard stories. War stories.

Stories of other home invasions, and break-ins, and muggings, and violations. They all say the same thing: “You are not alone.”

A journalist asked me, “What thoughts went through your mind, when you saw the guy pointing the gun at your head?” I laughed at the question, because I have asked it so often as a journalist myself. Finally, I know the answer. Nothing goes through your mind.

Between fight and flight there lies another response: numb, unblinking incomprehension. Oddly, I didn’t feel fear when I saw the gun, which is not to say I felt fearless. I just felt, for a frozen moment…nothing.

I have felt and thought a lot of things since then, and one thing that keeps going through my mind is something my friend Denis Beckett once wrote, in one of those pieces we need every now and again to remind us of our reasons for being here.

“For every guy who holds up a gun,” wrote Denis, “there are 99 who hold out a hand of friendship.” So this now is my mantra. This is my takeaway. I think it has to be. Otherwise, the man with the gun has won.

*This piece appeared in the Review section of the Sunday Times on May 19, 2013

On Gareth Cliff, the Aromat of Opinion-Makers

An opinion, when you think about it, is really nothing more than an invitation to an argument. You don’t even need to RSVP: you just roll up your sleeves and join in.
It’s always opinion-party-time somewhere in South Africa, be it around the dinner table, around the braai, in the queue at Home Affairs, in the stands at Loftus, in the festering cauldron of the footnotes on, or in the fast lane of the N1 when someone is driving in front of you.

We are fortunate enough to live in a society where anyone can say what they want, without fear of contradiction, because why should you be afraid of being contradicted when that’s the very point of having an opinion?
So whatever I personally may believe about Julius Malema, the rugby, Libertarianism or the new Coldplay album, you are very welcome and expected to believe the opposite and say so, out loud. That’s what makes our society so noisy and interesting.
Now let’s adjust the volume a little to the left, as we move on to a topic of conversation on which we can all wholeheartedly agree. Gareth Cliff.
I remember well the first time I heard Gareth on the radio. He was just a young whippersnapper, or at least a slightly younger whippersnapper than he is today, and he was trying to make a name for himself as a daytime talkshow host on 702.
He expressed his opinion on a matter, I forget which, and some bloke took up his invitation and dialled in to argue with him.
It was a heated debate, at least on the part of the caller, whose temperature and voice rose to the point where he ran out of rhetorical devices and called Gareth a rude word beginning with a C, and I don’t mean Cliff.
My jaw dropped, and I drove along in a mixture of perverse glee – swearing on South African radio is still uncommon enough to feel like a cosmic event – and cringing empathy for the host, who had just been subjected to the ultimate professional test at so early a stage in his career.
But he handled it with aplomb, not by sheepishly cutting to commercial, but by calmly giving the caller a lesson in etiquette and linguistics that ended with a C-word of Gareth’s own choosing. Capice. Ca-peesh?
There was something about the way he said the word, nerdy and mock-gangster, enough so to make Joe Pesci whip out a pistol and shoot him in the foot, that made me laugh out loud, and I stayed tuned even after I reached my destination.
Nowadays, of course, Gareth Cliff is amultimedia personality, famous for being heard and seen and having an opinion on, well, everything.
In fact, he has just launched a book called Gareth Cliff On Everything, the title of which makes him sound a bit like a condiment, like Aromat, the artificially-flavoured seasoning that you sprinkle on everything to make it taste like something.
So Gareth, we learn, has opinions on organised religion (he doesn’t like it), fat people in aeroplanes (he doesn’t like them), cooking reality shows (he doesn’t like them), Julius Malema (he doesn’t like him), celebrities (he doesn’t like them), hospitals (he doesn’t like them), vegetarians (he doesn’t like them), His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (he really doesn’t like him), and opinions (he likes them, his own especially).
Given the premise of the book, which is designed to “engage, enrage, and derange you”, I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with many of Gareth’s opinions, which isn’t too hard, since so many of them now swim comfortably in the mainstream of contemporary thinking.
Everyone hates politicians and celebrities and Reality TV, for instance, and honestly, speaking as a vegetarian, I can confirm that even vegetarians have a hard time tolerating other vegetarians, particularly at a braai.
These days, if you really want to enrage and derange your constituency, you would be better off saying that you believe in an omnipotent supernatural being, because blind faith has become a form of stubborn heresy in this age of secular reason.
What Gareth’s book does reveal, though, is just how far we’ve come as a society, and how disc-jockeys are now among the least edgy and contentious commentators on the quirks, foibles, and evils of that society.
In the 80s and early 90s, before democracy and the Internet opened the dam-walls of public opinion, it took a lot of courage and madness and, possibly, drugs, for a deejay to declare what they privately believed or didn’t believe on air.
Sometimes, they didn’t even need to declare; Stan Katz of 702 once got into big trouble just for deviating from the playlist to suffix a pronouncement by PW Botha with a recording of the Talking Heads singing Road to Nowhere.
But now Gareth can pretty much say anything he wants, capeesh, and we accept it as part of the price we pay for being free to say what we want in return.
The point is, Gareth is as much a part of the landscape of South African social and political discourse as anyone with a Twitter account and a News24 log-in, the only meaningful difference being that when he complains about the Government, a Government spokesperson takes him out to lunch. Well, all right, just that once.
This book is an easy and diverting read, and the only thing I actively didn’t like about it is that Gareth spends too much time reminding us that he is a cynic and that he is opinionated, which is something no opinionated cynic should ever feel the need to do.
Worse than that, Gareth takes a page and a half to apologise for some of his previously-held opinions, such as the opinion that Blade Nzimande is ugly and that Cindy Nel…who is Cindy Nel again?
Please, Gareth, don’t apologise. There are more than enough opinions to go round, and you are fully entitled to hold two diametrically opposing opinions in your head at the same time. Just swap the one for the other as circumstances and company demand, and you’ll be fine.
For now, one thing I do actively like about this book is its cover, which shows Gareth with his arms folded, wearing a tasteful shirt and a Gareth Cliff expression.
It is an expression, thin-lipped, with a hint of an upward curve, steely-eyed, with a hint of a downward gaze, that has become Gareth’s trademark, more even than the GC logotype that defines his Personal Brand.
It is an expression that says “I am Gareth Cliff, and you are not”, which, in my opinion, is  a better title for this book, reminding us that in a world of clones, carbon copies, and wannabes, Gareth Cliff is one of a kind, and for that we should all be grateful.
*Gareth Cliff On Everything is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, and is available now wherever books are sold. Aromat is manufactured by Knorr, and is available on the bottom shelf in the top right-hand kitchen cupboard.

They don’t take credit cards in Ladismith: a Klein Karoo story

I had always known there was a little town called Ladismith, which I had naturally assumed to be an incorrect spelling of Ladysmith.

The town with the proper spelling, of course, is in north-west KwaZulu-Natal.

The town with the slight mistake, I can now reveal, is in the Klein Karoo region of the Western Cape province, just off the R62 between Montagu and Calitzdorp. It is a long way, and at some point you have to stop to fill up and get something to eat. So we stopped in Ladismith.

There is a petrol station in the main street, which appears to be the main attraction in Ladismith, judging from the number of cars and bakkies that were there. A storm was about to break, the sun forcing its way through barrages of rolling cloud to paint the light in a silvery glow.

There were three flags flying on tall masts, their lanyards clinking in the gusts, a French and a British and a South African. The rainbow flag was threadbare and serrated at the edges, as if it had been rescued from a battle.

I strolled across the road, waiting for the schoolchildren on their bicycles to pass, and I walked into a shop called Karoo Vine, which had a giant green bottle of wine as its monument, and a chalkboard advertising Wyn Wine Port Olywe Olives Cheese Kaas Nuts Biltong. I wasn’t really looking to buy. I just wanted to stretch my legs a little.

The lady behind the counter looked up and greeted me with a tra-la-la of the purest Afrikaans I had heard in a long time. “Vriendelike welkom, Meneer,” she said, sticking prices on goods with slim, elegant fingers, “en hoe gaan dit met U vandag?”

I was taken aback for a moment, because the default in-store greeting in the city where I come from is an icy glare and a thin-lipped nod that lets you know you’ve just been profiled as a potential shoplifter. Then I regained my composure and answered the lady in the purest Afrikaans I could muster.

“Nee, dit gaan baie goed, dankie, Mevrou, en met U?”

We had a brief conversation about where I had travelled from and what I was doing in Ladismith, and then she gestured at the shelves and invited me to make myself at home. I felt like buying something after all.

I picked a packet of droë perskes and a dried peach roll and some Karoo biltong, and I took them to the counter and put them down.

The lady smiled her thanks and added up the tally, which was R54 exactly. I handed her my credit card. Her shoulders sank, and she sadly shook her head.

“O, ek is jammer, Meneer, maar ons neem nie kaartjies nie.” She pointed at a small sign saying Jammer Geen Kaarte No Cards Accepted on the side of the cash register.

I did not have any cash on me, so I smiled my apologies and turned around to put the goods back on the shelves. Then she quickly added: “Maar U is baie welkom om met ‘n EFT te betaal, Meneer.”

I suddenly forgot the Afrikaans for “really”, and I said, “really?” She laughed and said people who came to her shop from afar often paid her by Electronic Funds Transfer, and in all the time she had been running the shop, she had never once had someone not pay her after promising that they would. “Really?” I said.

And she wrote down her bank details on a small piece of paper, with R54 and her name, which was Elsa, and her cellphone number below.

She wrapped up the perskes and the peaches and the biltong and wished me ‘n wonderlike dag en ‘n veilige reis verder.

I walked out into the main street of Ladismith, in the Klein Karoo, between Montagu and Calitzdorp, and I saw the rainbow flag flying, and the clouds passing overhead. And I thought to myself, this is a good place, with good people. And I wasn’t just thinking about Ladismith.

*In case you’re wondering, yes, I did EFT Elsa the R54 when I got back to Johannesburg.

The Green, Green Grass of Home. Gracias, Honduras.

The last lingering car-flags may be faded and fraying at the edges, but here at the home-ground of the Randburg Assocation Football Club, the legacy of the 2010 World Cup is bright, vibrant, and a heck of  a lot greener than the grass on the other side of the fence.
Because this pitch, once dry and scrappy, was appropriated, dug up, resurfaced, re-goal-netted and boldly white-lined for the exclusive use of the Honduran National Squad, who trained here in the run-up to the Cup, making fine and noble use of the pristine battleground.
Alas, it didn’t them too much good, because they went home with only a single point out of three games, thanks to a pride-salvaging draw against Switzerland.
Now the turf has been returned to its rightful tenants, a tribe of blue-kitted warriors who are only too happy to play their Sunday games on a pitch of World Cup quality.
This picture is from Randburg U12B vs the log-leaders, Disapora Academy U12A.
They’re still the log-leaders, having beaten my son’s tream by 4 goals to 1. As my son pointed out, that’s the same ratio by which Germany beat England. But hey, at least Randburg can be proud that they held the home-ground advantage.
*Technical note: I took this pic with my iPhone, using an app called Tiltshift Generator, which allows you to manipulate the depth-of-field to allow certain areas to stand out in pin-sharp focus, and others not. So the burring here is arty and deliberate. Thank you for noticing!

“Their Only Crime Was Orange”

I wrote this little song in support of the poor Dutch ambush marketeers, who dared to attend Netherlands versus Denmark at Soccer City while wearing bright orange mini-dresses.
If you’d like to write some music for this song, feel free.
If you’d like to sing this song, go for it.
If you’d like to play this song on your guitar and record it and put it on YouTube, you’re very welcome.
But whatever you do…don’t even think of wearing orange to a World Cup football match.


Their Only Crime Was Orange


They came to a land of Goodwill and “Cheers!”

To watch a few games and drink a few beers

They flew to the shores of a Rainbow Nation

That once served as Holland’s Refreshment Station


They came and they saw and because they were Dutch

In the cold chill of winter, they didn’t wear much

Just a skirt and a scarf and below, in the area

A little black label that said, “From Bavaria”


Three cheers, three cheers, for the Dutch marketeers

Oh bring us a round of Budweiser

Three cheers, three cheers, for their hopes and their fears

For now they’re in the scheizer



Their only crime was Orange

And nothing rhymes with orange

Borange, Corange, Dorange, Forange,

Their only crime was Orange!


They came to be proud and to sing for their country

Their voices were loud and they had the effrontery

To dress in the tone of their national banner

And behave in a shameful, provocative manner


They came to a land of a New Revolution

Of freedoms enshrined in a strong Constitution

They came to a land where all that doesn’t matter

For the laws of the land are proclaimed by Sepp Blatter


Three cheers, three cheers, for the Free Marketeers

Let’s drink to the cause they believe in

Three cheers, three cheers, for their hopes and their fears

Good Lord, they must be freezing



Their only crime was Orange

And nothing rhymes with orange

Gorange, Horange, Jorange, Korange

Lorange, Morange, Norange, Porange

Quorange, Rorange, Sorange, Torange

Vorange, Worange, Yorange, Zorange

Their only crime was Orange!



The World Cup Fever-Tree. A New Species. Just in Time for Tomorrow.

The streets in my neighbourhood of Northcliff are named after trees: Acacia, Ebony, Mimosa, Maple, Cedar, Beech, and so on.
That’s because there are more trees in Johannesburg than in any other city in the world, and more World Cup fever too.
The proof: these splendidly-dressed specimens at the corner of Acacia and Shaka. (Okay, not every street is named after a tree.)
I salute the good neighbour who went to all this trouble, and I hope those beagles do their job, and keep watch over the trees and their beautiful bark.