Our reporter spent quality time in 5 cities and had remarkable adventures while covering the 29th Africa Cup of Nations.
In my own assessment, my trip to South Africa for the just concluded 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was 98 percent successful, judging by what I have been able to do as a reporter, and especially the victory of the Super Eagles at the tournament against all expectations.
I was able to criss-cross the South African cities of Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg to perform my duties unhindered.
My only disappointment was my failure to meet and shake hands with Dr. Nelson Mandela (Madiba). This is because, beside my primary assignment to cover the continent’s most glamorous soccer fiesta, I took it upon myself the possibility of meeting this great African.
While in South Africa, I visited Mandela’s residence in Johannesburg, and his birth place at Vilikazi Street, Orlando West Soweto, hoping to meet the living legend.
But apart from this disappointment, my trip was successful, because I stayed throughout the duration of the tournament, met the best brains in global sports journalism and learnt a lot from them.
I also took time, during the rest days to visit a couple of important places and historical sites.
I left Nigeria for the Nations Cup a day after the opening matches were played on board Ethiopia Airlines, and spent a day in Addis Ababa, before connecting another Ethiopia Airline the next day to Johannesburg.
In company of the Chairman of the House Committee on Sports Godfrey Gaiya, a colleague from AIT Calistus Ebare and NFF staff Shola, we took a cab at the airport to Nelspruit where Nigeria was billed to play her group C matches of the tournament.
We arrived Nelspruit less than two hours to Nigeria’s first group match against Burkina Faso and went straight to the NFF hotel at Stayeasy, where we got complimentary tickets to watch the match (remember I was yet to get my accreditation card).
After the match we returned to the hotel, spent a night there and moved to Omega Hotel the next day, where I remained till the Super Eagles moved to Rustenburg to play their last group match against Ethiopia.
It was on the second day of my stay in Nelspruit that I discovered CHIE CP Restaurant and Bar at Ekukhanyeni Centre, run by a Nigerian woman at Brown Street area where Nigerian meals are sold.
On the third day, precisely January 24, I in company of Tony Ubani of Vanguard, Alfred Okorigwe of AIT, Calistus Ebare also of AIT, Ishaku Kigbu of Leadership Newspaper and Timi Ebikagbo, attended the Super Eagles press briefing at their camp Igwenyama Conference and Sports Centre, and thereafter returned to our hotel.
The next day was Nigeria’s second group game against Zambia which ended 1-1 at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
After sending stories for the day, we went to NFF hotel at Stayeasy and from there took a bus to the match venue.
The next two days were match free days in Nigeria’s group, and I used the period to conduct interviews in reaction to Nigeria’s previous matches , and the last group game against Ethiopia in Rustenburg.
On January 28, I left Nelspruit in company of 14 other Nigerian journalists to Rustenburg, where Nigeria was to play Ethiopia in their last group C game.
We stopped-over at Pretoria where the driver handed us over to another driver who took us to Rustenburg. We arrived Rustenburg in the evening and lodged at the Travelers Inn.
He told us he could not go to Rustenburg because he did not have the papers that allow him to drive into Rustenburg. We were shocked a driver in his country would only be licensed to drive in certain routes.
I and Kigbu missed the day’s media briefing by the Nigerian team, as we spent the rest of the hours looking for a bank to exchange our dollars into rand.
Here we discovered that changing money from dollars into rand is not an easy task, as a movement from bank to bank did not yield any positive result.
The next day we continued the search, and were later directed to Waterfall Mall where we were able to make the exchange.
Rustenburg is believed to be a high crime area, as shops and cafeterias close early in the evening, and residents go to bed as early as 8:00 pm for fear of being attacked by criminals.
It was the same day we located CINO Takeaway, a restaurant owned by a Nigerian and where Nigerian foods are sold.
CINO Takeaway is owned by 45 year old Cino Okoye, an indigene of Anambra State. Okoye, who has been operating the restaurant for five years, has five female staff, two South Africans and three Zimbabweans.
On January 30, I was at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, where I successfully did my media accreditation for the Nations Cup, after several efforts to do the online accreditation failed. Later in the evening, I was at the Olympic Park Stadium for the Super Eagles training for the day, where I had an interview with Stephen Keshi, Vincent Enyeama, Victor Moses and a host of other players.
On January 31, I left Rustenburg alongside Ishaku Kigbu to Johannesburg, where we lodged at Courtyard Hotel at Rosebank, the same premises where NFF Board members were staying.
The next day, after getting some reactions from Nigerians on the Super Eagles next game, their quarter-final match against Cote d’Ivoire, I went to the African Craft Market at Rosebank Mall.
A market bustling with activities and products, the African Craft Market is dominated by West Africans. Here I met a Ghanaian, in his late 30s by the name Hassan Abubakar, who told me he lived in Abeokuta, Lagos, Kano and Bida in Niger State.
He actually told me he played for Niger Tornadoes Football Club of Minna, before he left Nigeria with his parents to Accra, Ghana.
Abubakar, who has been in the craft market business for years, said most of the people who patronize them are from West Africa.
He told me that he cannot forget the 2010 FIFA World Cup staged in South Africa, because of the huge sales he made during the World Cup period. He however said the impact of the Nations Cup fiesta is not felt in the craft market, as nobody comes up to make any purchase.
Later that evening, I in company of NFF board members, staff and other journalists were at the Victory Theatre on Louis Botha Avenue, Houghton Estate to watch the live performance by Umoja dance group.
It was a night to remember, as young girls and boys in their 20s treated the audience to two-hours of great dance steps and songs, leaving indelible memories in the minds of their guests.
Their first stage appearance was awesome, as young girls came out bare-chested, in a dancing show that left many spell-bound and breathless.
Umoja, a two-hour show, I was later made to understand is an explosion of song and dance performed by a company on a Broadway stage, a musical theatre at its exhilarating best.
Creators Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, who were part of IPI NTOMBI, have created a masterpiece from the dramatic drum solos at the start to the final chorus. It was a concept created by the duo to keep the underprivileged youths of South Africa off the streets, and give them a chance to live a dream and remember their heritage.
Umoja is a Swahili word, meaning spirit of togetherness. It is a story of South Africa, its people and their songs. It shows the beautifully designed costumes and internationally acclaimed choreography.
The next day, I was on another historical trip, visiting Nelson Mandela’s residence at Houghton Avenue in Johannesburg, as well as Pieterson Museum, and Nelson Mandela’s birth place in Soweto.
At Mandela’s Houghton house, we were not allowed to alight from our bus, but I took pictures of the house. While in Soweto, we alighted and took pictures. It is a stone’s throw from the Pieterson Museum, Bishop Desmond Tutu’s house and the Anglican Church owned by Tutu.
At the Pieterson Museum, I came face to face with the realities of the inhuman treatment suffered by blacks during the apartheid days. There were many horrific stories told in pictures and written press reports as to the ugly past, particularly the story of the school pupils killed on June 16, 1976 by the South African police for rioting.
On February 3, I left Rosebank by road to Rustenburg (a two-hour journey by road) for the quarter-final match between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, and returned to Courtyard Rosebank after the Super Eagles 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivoire. It was an all night party, as we sang to Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s songs that were played in the bus that took us to and from the match venue.
The next day was a match free day. I remained indoors to transcribe the interviews I had done the previous day and sent some and kept some, as the tournament was drawing nearer to the days of stories scarcity.
On February 5, I remained indoors again, that being another match free day.
The next day, we left to Durban for Nigeria’s semi-final match against Mali. It was a seven hours trip by road from Johannesburg. We slept in Durban after the match and returned to Johannesburg, where Nigeria booked a final meeting with Burkina Faso on February 10.
The rest of the days, I kept shuttling between the NFF hotel at Courtyard, and the Super Eagles camp for interviews.
The return journey started on the day of the Nations Cup final via Ethiopia Airlines through Addis Ababa, where I spent a night again before returning to Nigeria on February 11.
The South African government pays serious attention to security issues, as the police and other security agencies in the country mount surveillance all day and night to forestall any security breach.
Though the security operatives in South Africa are not as visible as those in Nigeria, they appear to have their eyes in every nook and cranny of the country.
I remember the day I arrived Johannesburg from Rustenburg with Ishaku Kigbu of Leadership Newspaper, after checking into our hotel, we went out to look for Nigerian food alongside Kunle Oyewusi of Ogun Radio and Television; and immediately we left our hotel, the policemen in a van accosted us and asked for our papers, which we provided before they allowed us to go.
We were shocked at the development, since we were not the only black people on the street. We were later made to understand that it is their daily routine to flush out illegal immigrants from the country.
I benefited from the well organized security network in South Africa, and the vibrancy of the security operatives in the country, when on the day Nigeria was to play her second group C match against Zambia, I and Mr Asuelimen Osasuyi of the National Pilot, went to the Riverside Mall to send our stories for the day, and while we were leaving the business centre, I lost my complimentary ticket for the match.
I immediately reported the matter to the security men at the Mall, who promised to use the CCTV to track down the person that picked it. The security personnel collected my phone number and promised to get back to me later. It did not take more than 15 minutes when he called me back to come and collect my ticket.
The crime wave in South Africa, I was told has reduced to a minimal level, at least this was so during the period of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations championship.
There was no major case of robbery or theft, but there were few minor cases.
Rustenburg, where Nigeria played her last group C match against Ethiopia is noted for criminal activities. The inhabitants go to bed early, as a result of this act, while the police patrol the streets all-day to arrest the satiation.
A Nigerian living in Rustenburg once said in the day time, you can walk the streets a freeman, but in the night, you can be attacked and your property taken away before onlookers.
Social life in South Africa is on the high, just as the level of moral decadence is equally on the high side. In all the cities visited, there are big posters on the streets, and these are from medical doctors advertising for abortions.
There are a good number of young girls, most of whom have children in their teens, who are ready for an outing with a man on a first meeting. In fact, I read in one of the South African newspapers while I was still there, that primary school girls under ten years in South Africa do get pregnant.
Therefore, it is not a surprising story or a crime to hear an unmarried lady tell you that she has two or more kids.
A South African driver taking us from Omega Guest House in Nelspruit to Stayeasy Hotel, told us that South African men are lazy and do not like working, while the women are cheap and prefer to look out for men to provide for their needs.
He said a South African lady would be ready to go out with a man she met for the first time in her life, just for the man to part with a fortune.
Worship in South Africa is at its lowest ebb, compared to what is obtained in Nigeria, as churches and mosques are not easily seen on the streets of Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg.
Also, throughout my stay in South Africa, I never heard any shout from any quarter in the name of a pastor preaching to his congregation; not even a shout from an Imam calling for prayers. I did not at any point see a poster announcing an upcoming miracle or healing crusade.
I was told that the few churches in South Africa were imported into the country by some Nigerians. Mr Chris, a Yoruba and owner of Omega Guest House where I lodged throughout my stay in Nelspruit, is a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God. But you would hardly notice this , except for a few restrictions placed in the hotel.
South Africa is a decent society, with clean environment and respect for laid down rules and regulations. The taxi drivers in South Africa have respect for the passengers and their co-drivers.
Poverty exists on large scale in the country, particularly outside the municipalities, as the down trodden live in shanties and make-shift houses built with zinc and woods.
In the Orlando area of Soweto, I saw family members living in a single room made from zinc and wood.