Wilderness feels impact of the World Cup
Wilderness: Even in the Wilderness there is no escaping the blare of vuvuzelas, the World Cup buzz and a nation’s hope that the beautiful game can help rewrite an ugly chapter in South African history.
This Wilderness is the heart of South Africa’s tourism industry, a World Cup watering hole for the migrating herds of foreign visitors making their way along the spectacular “Garden Route” that runs between soccer venues in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Like the expensive cars that whizz along this breathtaking stretch of coast, the World Cup has largely bypassed Wilderness, where former South African president P.W. Botha had his summer home and spent his retirement until his 2006 death.
While there has been a slight tick upwards in tourist traffic during the traditionally quiet winter season there will be no World Cup riches.
On the surface the world’s biggest sporting event has had little impact on this tiny hamlet but the residents of Wilderness expect to profit as much as everyone else in South Africa from staging the World Cup.
“Here we’re not fussed about what we are getting personally out of the World Cup,” Gerhard Groenewald, the owner of a Western Cape bed and breakfast said.
“What we’re getting out of the World Cup is something much deeper, much more profound.
“We live in a society where you hardly even have time to know your neighbour so how the hell are we going to get to know someone over this racial divide? What the World Cup has done is given us a profound opportunity to cross that divide.
“More white people are visiting black neighbourhoods, sitting in bars watching games getting to know each other,” he added. “That is a huge boost in the right direction. Without the World Cup we would have remained on the same gentle slope for years, this has jumped us forward.”
In Wilderness it seems little has changed since the days when Botha -- a long-time leader of South Africa’s National Party and an advocate of the apartheid system -- spent summers here, keeping the area as pristine as the white sand beaches.
On sunny afternoons, particularly when South Africa were in action, the terraces of local restaurants and pubs have been as lively as any in Johannesburg or Cape Town, but the day when whites and blacks stand shoulder-to-shoulder here cheering their team on still seems a long way off.
At one pub an all-white crowd is crammed into every inch of a terrace drinking imported beers and watching the games on flat screen televisions.
Directly across the street at the petrol station black attendants gather around a small grainy TV watching between fill-ups while children jump and down outside another restaurant to get a glimpse of the action.
Groenewald said Botha was responsible for the fact there were no black townships in the area.
“Before apartheid this area was pristinely white, not a home of a black person was in sight,” he said. “The split between races was emphasised here. I can tell you he (Botha) would not think very much of this (World Cup).”
Despite what Botha would have thought, those who live along the Garden Route have been intrigued by the World Cup.
Japan, Denmark and France all set up training bases on the Western Cape giving residents from Knysna to George teams to support aside from the Bafana Bafana.
Les Girls, a funky African-Asian fusion restaurant attached to the Wilderness petrol station, scrambled to get satellite television hooked up after they realised customers were racing through their meals then running across the street for desert and a drink to watch the games.
“We are seeing a lot of foreign visitors, particularly in between the games in Cape Town and PE,” said Roxanne, one of the Les Girls owners and chef. “We get the people coming to ‘Chill out in the Wilderness’ in between the games.
“We are a bit busier than we would have been but not as busy as we thought we would be.”
When the World Cup has gone, South Africa’s stunning scenery and beaches will once again be the star attractions.
The battle for survival will move from the pitch back to the game farms, where real lions and not the Indomitable ones from Cameroon will take the spotlight.
Life will return to normal in the Wilderness but when it does Groenewald will be watching for signs that things are just a little bit different.
“We have magnificent long wide beaches here and even in high season they are rarely crowded,” said Groenewald, watching the blue surf pound against a sunny beach outside his window.
“But on New Year’s Day the beach was packed with whites and blacks all having a good time together. Every now and then you get a glimpse like that of what this country can be and the World Cup has provided us with another one.”