The roads of Johannesburg have been hard to ride on since Thursday night. The planet has been weeping, the tears falling on the place Nelson Mandela called home for the last years of his life, where he handed over trophies to rugby and football captains and where he took his last breath.
The roads around 12th Avenue and Fourth Streets have been packed since Thursday. I rode past the shrine that was put up for Madiba on Saturday. Then I rode past it again on Sunday.
I was going to ride past it on Monday, but the tearful weather that settled in for yesterday’s memorial service darkened the skies and made the roads of Johannesburg a fearful, uncomfortable and more dangerous place to be.
Yesterday was not a day for training for the Absa Cape Epic. It was a day for remembering Madiba, as though any of us could forget him.
It was a day of pain, particularly if you tuned in when Baleka Mbete started to sing and Cyril Ramaphosa spent half the day asking the crowd to behave themselves. The public came to the FNB Stadium expecting an African memorial service, but were forced to sit through a dirge of speeches from people whom protocol decreed should speak. Protocol made a muddled mess of the memorial, and that was incredibly sad. It was not a memorial for the people, but, save for Barack Obama, a diplomatic, governmental procession. Jacob Zuma perhaps wished he had not had to speak yesterday.
They booed him. At one stage he may have looked to the rain coming from the skies and wondered if he would win on Duckworth-Lewis.
Two riders from the Argos-Shimano’s women’s team were in South Africa this week. Kirsten Wild and Amy Pieters were working on their base training and were in the land when Madiba died. “As they are in South Africa they have experienced a change in the local inhabitants since the news hit the world that Nelson Mandela had died,” reported Argos-Shimano. “Of course everybody knew he was sick, but still the whole country is in shock,” said Wild.
“You can really notice that the people have come together out here. Next to almost every statue of Nelson Mandela you can see people together, talking, hugging and sharing memories. All the houses that we ride pass have the flags at half-mast.
“It is very special to be in this country at such an historic moment, you can truly see what a special and important man Mandela was to the people, not only in this country but for the whole world.”
In the next few months, riders from all over the world will arrive in South Africa to get in some training for the Absa Cape Epic. Next year will be the 11th running of the race. The Absa Cape Epic would not be the race it is had it not been for Madiba.
It may have not ever got off the ground. Kevin Vermaak may have |decided to stay in the United Kingdom had the great man not been released.
World and Olympic champions would not have come to South Africa to ride in the Epic had he not guided the land to a freedom as peaceful as you could have wished for.
The race would not have been recognised by the International Cycling Union and given HC status, the highest status the UCI can give.
There is so much to thank Madiba for, and while it may seem twee to thank him for the existence of a mountain bike race, that the race has become a global icon in the sport honours his name.
Jose Hermida said at the 2013 Absa Cape Epic that there was a “white ghost” called Burry Stander watching over the race.
There will be a white-haired ghost watching with Burry next year. Madiba and Burry will be in the hearts of every one of us as we prepare to take on this, the toughest of races.
Burry got to shine on the international stage as a South African because of the freedom Madiba earned for us. I will ride for the memory of both of them next year.
The traffic lights were out on Nasrec Road beside the FNB Stadium on Friday. It was there that Nelson Mandela made his last public appearance, driven along the pitch on the back of a golf cart in the cold of the World Cup in 2010, his wife, Graca Machel, sitting beside him.
We drove on, past the stadium where there will be a memorial service tomorrow, to the place where he once lived. There were four of us in the car, David O’Sullivan drove, Peter Delmar, Keri-Ann Stanton and I. We headed to Vilakazi Street, to the place Madiba once lived, to have a drink at the Sakhumzi restaurant, to celebrate as well as mourn, to try to feel that bit closer to the greatest South African. We parked at the bottom of the street, which had been closed off by the police. Three kids ran up to us and asked if they could sing us “Soweto songs”, and started to sing tourist songs in English, but stopped when we said, “Howzit”.
Unless you are specifically looking for it, it is easy to miss the entrance to the team room for the cricket side of India at the Sandton Sun. That is the way the security would prefer it to remain. This is the room India will use to escape the four walls of their hotel rooms, to have team meetings and the odd press conference, as they did on Monday when they arrived in South Africa.
It was at that press conference that MS Dhoni was asked what he might do if any of the South African fans, miffed at the BCCI for the manner in which they had treated Cricket South Africa and shortened this tour, threw things at them on the field. His answer was “pick it up and give it back”, and then pointed to the hulk of a large gentleman standing behind the rows of journalists and TV cameras.
Yesterday was the first day of e-tolls in Gauteng. It was also the first day of a nightmare for cyclists in the province, where the back roads became main roads, alternatives to residents tired of being lumped with yet more taxes and suspicious of just who was benefiting from the monies clipped from their bank accounts by disco gantries and Comical Alli.
For while the freeways and byways of Joburg have been smoothed and widened, the roads in the city and suburbs of the city are pitted and potholed, and will, inevitably, become worse.
On a day early in November, during the India tour of South Africa in 1992, Ravi Shastri had a net at the PAM Brink Stadium in Springs. His teammates were taking on the Combined Bowl XI, a team made up from players of the smaller unions of the then United Cricket Board.
A former school friend of mine, David Mills, then with Eastern Transvaal, and a few other youngsters were asked to bowl to Shastri.