This should have been an entirely different story altogether as the intention for the weekend had been for Jen and I to go to Mozambique and take in their national team’s African Cup of Nations Qualifier against Tanzania. It was all going to plan until we reached the airport check-in desk and were informed that American nationals now need a visa issued in advance rather than obtaining one on arrival.
I’ve seen enough airport programmes on the telly to know that arguing never works and my attempts at charming the check-in staff weren’t anywhere near good enough to circumvent the new rules. Fortunately we were able to re-book the flights for a month later and so the only real loss was the cost of the Maputo hotel.
So, what to do? Well, we’d recently acquired a Land Rover from a bloke at work and so I thought we might as well head over to Pilanesburg National Park and take advantage of its 4×4 capabilities to see what we could spot in the way of wildlife.
Despite hotels in Pilanesburg being even more expensive than the one we were missing out on in Maputo, they tend to fill up early. That meant that we ended up staying about an hours drive away on a small game farm. It worked out fine though, as I got the opportunity to go into a cage with a couple of caracals. You might know them better as lynx, those cats with the big ears. Big teeth and big claws too.
The owner let me feed one of the caracals with a chicken and encouraged me to tease him a bit. That’s pretty much my default position with cats anyway and so I made him work a bit before I released my grip on his dinner.
The next day we spent a few hours driving around Pilanesburg. We didn’t encounter any bigger cats, but we did see some rhinos and a few elephants. There are rules about not feeding them chickens though.
On the way back home we passed through Rustenburg and as we reached the Olympia Stadium I noticed a couple of games taking place next to each other on the pitches nearby. As you might have expected I pulled off the road and went and had a look.
The pitches weren’t in the best of condition, with the goalmouths in particular being more solid earth than grass, but there were a couple of hundred people watching. That size of crowd seems de rigueur for lower league football, no matter where in the world it takes place but in this case it was a more than decent turnout for games that were taking place on pitches that most English Sunday League teams would refuse to play on.
There are certain circumstances in South Africa where an Englishman wandering around taking photos attracts a fair bit of attention. This was one of those times. I tend to try to keep a low profile when I’m out and about but everyone wanted to know what I was up to.
It turns out that I’d wandered into a tournament that had been running for a few weeks and was now at the last sixteen stage. Whilst it seems plausible to me that someone could just like watching football, the people who I spoke to all seemed convinced that I was there to assess the suitability of their competition for sponsorship.
I was quickly introduced to someone’s boss and then to the bosses boss. They were all keen to assure me that they could produce presentations and plans detailing all the equipment and funding that they would need.
Rustenburg is a poor area. It’s predominantly a mining community that has recently been through a five month strike and I was told that whilst some of the players were miners, most were unemployed.
Whilst I’d have loved to have helped, I’m just a bloke who watches a bit of football now and again, not some corporation with a charity budget to dispense. I made my excuses and we headed off further down the road.