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I was in South Africa

By Paul Bassey

So what? Yes, so what? A friend in Jo’burg saw me battling with this column and said “ So what is special about being in South Africa?”, aware that I have passed this way a couple of times.

I explained to him that this time was obviously different. Let me start this way. As host of the official World Cup countdown programme in Nigeria, it would have been terrible to see me on the streets of Abuja or Lagos when the world, South Africa especially was counting down to the World Cup.

It was therefore the view of the programme owners and consultants that I proceed to South Africa.
On Sunday night, I quickly packed a bag, jumped into a plane and after five hours of smooth flight, found myself alighting at the impressive Oliver. R. Thambo International Airport in Jo’burg by nine O’clock in the morning. My host and the show producer in Nigeria Lilian Williams (A South African) was waiting. Remind me to tell you about Lilian later because the person who invented the phrase “Dynamites come in little packages” must have met Lilian.

I was shepherded to this beautiful guest house called Flame Lily Inn in a serene and heavenly environment in Jo’ burg. (Also remind me to contact the NFF and suggest how they can use this place for their guests and board members who may not want to distract the Eagles!). Lilian drops me off, suggests I catch some sleep and that she will be back in five hours to brief me about my mission to South Africa and so on.

I get into the room, jump into the shower and was about to start dreaming when I heard a knock on my door. Lilian. She said it was five hours already. Was I fine? I said “yes” a lie. Do I mind driving out with her to town to purchase a World Cup ball and other World Cup bits that will enhance our shoot? I said I did not mind (a lie)

We drive out, and I come alive. Savour  Joburg, exciting and busy shops, as she fills me in on the four days ahead of me. We pick what we want. I nearly emptied my purse on some very interesting Christian literature…… At about six pm, as we drive back she suggests dinner and goes on about baked potatoes and whatever….. ( I lack the courage to ask her whether there was anything near pounded yam and vegetable soup). Something is brought, we eat, pay and as I was getting ready for a night’s rest, a call comes through. Lilian is excited, and goes on and on….then I hear  “ ….fine by me, but I will have to clear with him…..”

She hangs up, faces me and says. “Paul, Stephan (our cameraman) wants to know whether we can shoot on the famous Nelson Mandela Bridge this night! “I say it is ok (true ) by now I was ready for anything. When Lilian briefed me, she had said I needed to sleep early so that we could leave Jo’burg by 6am , four hours drive by car, to be able to meet the countdown ceremony in Bloomfontein, where Nigeria will play Greece on June 17 …now they want to do a shoot on the Mandela bridge by 8pm. Was I expected to say no?

We get to the bridge, with the stories of crime and robbery  ringing in my ears. We set up, do some shoots and drive back. No crime, nothing. I do not know whether I slept….. because about thirty minutes later, Lilian was knocking on my door, saying it was 6am and that she was set for Bloom.

On our way we stop to take some shots, tell Nigerians how convenient it could be to drive down, after the match against Argentina. Then the mistake….as I mention that I saw some “beautiful cows” dotting the magnificent country side. Lilian then goes looking for cows. Those we shoot, she is not too impressed…finally we see “beautiful cows” and Stephan jumps down, rolling away, only for Lilian to try and persuade the cows to kick the World Cup Ball (Jabulani) we were using!

Boomfontein is fun. The countdown at the Mimosa Mall ends with the Diski dance. Celtics player Prince Olomu is our guest. Very popular here as he takes us round the field and the dressing room. You can feel the excitement in my voice as I sit where perhaps, Osaze will sit at the impressive renovated Gauteng where I first cut my teeth as a CAF media officer in 1996.

We run into the Switzerland ambassador in South Africa, His Excellency Rudolf Baerfuss, come to inspect the stadium and I tell him on camera that I wish for a rematch to avenge the U-17 defeat. He says it will not be as sweet as beating us at home!

At the zoo we go looking for the mascot, Zakumi, who incidentally is a leopard. Could not find him, but we find a group of excited Nigerians in downtown Bloomfontein, they cannot wait for the arrival of fellow Nigerians. I talk to them even as Ngozi says whatever food Nigerians  need will be available.

Before we know it, it is 7.30pm, time to grab something to eat and face the four hour journey back home. Then the rain…..heavy rain that slows us down…we practically crawl into Jo’burg, minutes after midnight.

I was supposed to sleep, yet another knock on my door. Lilian. Our flight to Durban is for 8am and we must be at the airport by 6.30. I manage to wake, grab a cup of coffee and off we go. The one hour flight to Durban is smooth, traffic slows our journey to the stadium. We arrive as finishing touches are being put, ready to host the South Africa-Namibia friendly match. The South African Vice President and the FIFA President are in town, including 100 journalists from all over the world, brought in to symbolically count down the World Cup.

Our guide is very uncomfortable. She says we are late. We should shoot quick, we should not step on the grass and that since the police and security agents have swept the stadium people were not supposed to be allowed in. Lilian and Stephan are not impressed. They take their time, guaranteeing exclusive pictures of  the 70,000 seater Moses Mabhida Stadium,where Nigeria will play her last group match against South Korea, 20:30 hrs on June 22.

We then walk round the stadium, run into a South African lady with a Nigerian jersey. I talk to her, only for Lilian to get this crazy idea of me doing a link in the sky car 160 metres above the stadium. I told her I had no head for heights. That I avoid buildings over five storeys high…..they will not hear.

The arch incidentally is the most important feature of the stadium.Then the disgrace. A 22-year-old girl manning the car tells me “….it is fine don’t be afraid”. I said I was not, jumped in and with my head spinning and my legs wobbling, the car plies the famous arch of the Wembley like stadium taking me to my death in the hands of South Africans……I survived it and have pictures to show.

We then realize  we had a date with the Deputy Mayor at the City Hall, we needed to visit the much talked about Ushaka Marine World to see dolphins, seals, crocodiles……and the beautiful beach, only to discover that we were running late for our flight back by 6pm. Lilian then made frantic calls, trying to reschedule our flight in case we missed, just as Stephan desperately guided the rented car through traffic with the expert use of the GPS.

We make the flight, thank God for it as we stop for burgers for dinner (God I am famished) before boarding the flight. After landing and wading through traffic, we get in some minutes after 10pm as Lilian announces that there will be no rush for the Jo’burg shoot the next day and that call time was 9am. I thought I was grateful. 8am, Stephan was in my Guest house, 8:30 Lilian came in and asked whether we were ready. I struggle into my pants and join them as we take off to Ellis Park where Eagles first and most important match against Greece will hold on June 12.

My guest is Idah Peterside, a good copy. We run through the stadium, relive his playing days and emotions even as we pray for a decent result against the Argies. We get someone to tell us the history of the popular surface that hosted the opening and closing final matches of the Confederation Cup.

We then proceed to town, the art related Mary Fitzerald Square, to  talk to fans, sample their opinion on the match, shoot popular landmarks, had a wonderful experience at  Museum Africa and the flea market,as rain, again tampered with our progress. Regretably, we miss the appointment with the Nigerian Ambassador General Buba Marwa.

If I thought shooting in Jo’burg  was going to be easy, I was mistaken.  Idah Peterside invites me for Football Africa programme by 9pm.

I will take time out to document my experience on this World Cup that has taken Africa by storm. Everywhere you go to, flags, balls, colour, pomp, countdown signs, sponsors and partners struggling to outdo each other especially at the airports and stadium vicinity.You can cut the fever with a knife.

South Africans count on Nigeria and other African countries to do well at the World Cup. They want to know how good the new coach is. We are condemned to win. All about my experience and adventure you can catch on my countdown programme on NTA, AIT and other network stations. Am I glad to be back?

…Still on Finbarrs
Permit me acknowledge a text by Fenibo Jacks (class of ’71) who said my list of Finbarrs greats was not complete without Emilio John, Gerald Ibe, Bernard Senaya, and Godwin Odiye. He also put in a word for late principal Tony Omera. Up School.

See you next week.


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