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Pole to Pole

Day 123: Soutpansberg Mountains to Johannesburg

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe players all nod as if they understand. I ask him how much difference he thinks his chat makes. He shrugs and shrinks even lower into his shoulders.

'It's like talking to children. You just don't know how they'll play on the big occasion.'

His team, nine blacks and two whites, run out onto a pitch respectably green considering the shortage of water. A concrete ramp surrounds the pitch. On it graffiti slogans like 'Viva Joe Slovo', 'ANC Lives', 'ANC Leads', 'Smash Capitalists', coexist with ads for Caltex, Shell and Philips. Under 'Socialism Never' someone has added 'Failed'.

The first half is a bit of a plod. Half-time comes as a relief, in more ways than one. The top row of the cantilevered terracing becomes an impromptu urinal from which a gentle curtain of golden rain descends forty feet to the ground.

There are few police in evidence and despite losing to a soft goal from Ray Matthews's team, the local crowd behaviour is good. Everyone, including the players, seems quite free of the surly posturing that was once so common in English football.

Thirty-five miles away down swift, modern highways is Johannesburg - capital city of the Transvaal with 1.6 million souls. Tall unblinking tower-blocks of glass and steel climb up into the sky. As we wait in the muzak-sodden lobby of the Johannesburg Sun Hotel, Nigel looks helplessly round at the chrome and the preserved plants and the water-effects and asks: 'What happened to Africa?'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 123
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Johannesburg
  • Book page no: 276

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