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First impressions

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Ros Atkins Ros Atkins | 22:20 UK time, Sunday, 6 June 2010

SOW.jpgMy first few photos are here.

We got to Soweto this afternoon and haven't had more than a couple of hours to get settled in our B&B, to check the ISDN lines (one out of three worked...) and to quickly drive over to Soccer City. If you'd like to follow how we're getting on, I'm tweeting, will be on WHYS' feed as well, Mark's here tomorrow, and I'm updating my facebook page and WHYS' (not to mention the blog).

My head's so full of things, I thought I'd just tap out some observations in no particular order...

soweto.jpgNew roads. There are a lot of them. They're big, smooth and in some cases not finished. All the surfaces are complete, but some of the markings and crash-barriers aren't done. But the difference to the infrastructure strikes you straight away. Getting into Soweto was faster and easier than I've ever known it.

New airport. I'd like to see the bill for this one. I know Joburg airport quite well and several times today I totally lost my bearings. It's changed a great deal, is new, clean, bright, calm and as pleasant as airports can get (and there is a limit, I think we'd all agree).

Showing the world. I've already heard several mentions of this being the time for the 'world to respect us'. 'This will show afro-pessimists they are wrong,' said another guy on the radio. There's clearly a point to prove.

Soccer City. The four of us audibly gasped as we got our first glimpse of the new stadium. It is vast, beautiful and, with the smoky red light of sunset reflecting off it, not a little magical as well. Around it are car parks, a few tents for the media, and a lot of dusty scrub land. SOW2.jpg

All of which makes it feel a spaceship which has landed and blown away everything below. I'm sure with 100,000 people swarming around, it'll feel much more connected. I saw Bafana Bafana qualify for France 98 in the old FNB on this site. Not for the first time today, I couldn't get my bearings from what I remembered. The transformation is incredible.

Drink-driving. I remember from when lived here in 98 that people were, shall I say, relaxed about having a drink and then driving home. But I never saw someone just getting behind the wheel with a drink in their hand. Have already seen two guys do that in Orlando and we've only been here a few hours. That by any measure is pretty lax.

Smoke. You can see the grey-layer of pollution when you fly into Joburg. And as the sun was setting here in Soweto, the light and smoke from the evening's fires create a surreal almost apocalyptic scene on the highway. So many people are cooking over an open fire, that you can taste the smoke, and visibility goes down noticeable.

Change, change, change. Nowhere I know changes faster than South Africa. You can be away a year or two, and the people and the places have visibly moved on.

So it is in Orlando where Vilakazi Street has new heritage signs, a fully-refurbished and re-opened Mandela House, one jumping new bar / restaurant and pretty new road signs. Not to mention more tourists than I've ever seen in Soweto, and the trendy locals whose sunglasses, cars and handbags seem to get more expensive every year.

Paraphernalia. When I was in Ghana there so many flags, hats etc you wondered if there was one factory in Chins just churning it all out. I was surprised driving around Soweto today that there were no more flags than I've seen back in London. That said quite a few keys have wing-mirror covers in the SA flag which look natty, and every single ad on the tele, radio and billboards is mentioning the WC.

It's hugely exciting to be here. Friday is arguably this country's biggest day since that first election back in 94. Every part of its experience is gripping to watch.
We'll be live from Orlando at the normal time on Monday.


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