Friday, June 11, 2010

Johannesburg Hosts World Cup; Scared Me In 2002

You may have seen news coverage of the opening today of the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I went to "Jo'burg" on business in 2002. As a result, I was astounded when I first heard a few years back that it would be the host city of the 2010 World Cup.  While it was an unbelievably beautiful place (like Denver or Madrid, it's high up in the mountains and so the skies above were this unbelievably vivid blue), it was also plagued by violent crime, which the undermanned police seemed powerless to stop because it was everywhere simultaneously. All of the housing developments I saw in the nicer areas of town were ringed with high fences topped with barbed wire. And when we drove anywhere, the cars never stopped until our final destination.  Not even at stop signs or traffic lights, for fear that stopping would provoke car-jacking at gunpoint we were told. When executives left the office at night, I watched as they phoned each other every five minutes or so to be sure they were getting home safely.

One night we were taken to a group business dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Jo'burg.  Despite being beautifully appointed inside, the front of the place had been barricaded like a speakeasy. When we pulled up to the front, we were told initially to stay in the van (engine running) while the driver went up to the solid metal front door and knocked hard on it repeatedly.  After a few moments, a slit in the door opened (just like a speakeasy), some words were exchanged, and the driver beckoned us all in as the door was thrust open part way.  We were asked to step quickly from the van into the restaurant, which we did. As soon as we were all inside, the door was slammed shut behind us. At the end of our fantastic three hour meal we were asked to gather at the door again until the van pulled right up to the front; at which point the maitre'd thrust open the front door again and hustled us quickly back into the van like it was pouring down rain or something.  As soon as the last person in our group crossed the threshold outside, the door was pulled shut again with a decisive "slam." 

Three years or so later our host that night was gunned down, gangland style, and killed.

Welcome to the World Cup!

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