Football: Durban surfing World Cup wave

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It may be winter in South Africa, with Arctic temperatures swirling around Johannesburg for evening World Cup games, but the Indian Ocean city of Durban is thriving in its sub-tropical climate.

"The warmest place to be," boast the posters promoting the 2010 World Cup of Durban, host to seven matches including a semi-final.

Well, they weren't lying, and bar a couple of monsoon-like downpours, it is winter in name only.

Surfers ride the waves, football and cricket games dot the wide sandy beach, and others merely content themselves with a gentle stroll in temperatures that can surpass 25 degrees C (77F) in the day.

Sunday saw thousands of people, dressed in shorts, congregating on Marine Parade, recently renamed O.R.Tambo Drive after the late ANC activist.

On offer were beach volleyball, cricket and football, rock climbing and abseiling, a skate park and indigenous games, while Indian dancers and troupes of gumboot dancers performed for passing crowds.

"It's great for us to be doing this every day in front of so many people," said gumboot maestro Isaac, a Zulu from the impoverished Kwa-Mashu township north of Durban.

His Wellington boots embellished with bells, Isaac's troupe go through an intricate set of choreographed moves that involve stamping the ground and lots of clapping in a dance that originates from the communication methods used by South African gold miners under ground.

Just behind the gumboot dancers, South Korean football fan Lee Chang-Su scored two goals in an impromptu beach football match with his friends against a makeshift side made up of locals and England fans wearing the red shirt of 1966.

"We've travelled around following the South Korean team. We've been cold, but not anymore," he beamed. "We're staying for our country's game against Nigeria on Tuesday and leave on Thursday.

"I scored two great goals and now we must go and cool off."

The official FIFA Fan Fest is located at South Beach, which prior to the World Cup was a no-go zone as darkness fell because of security concerns.

But a major revamp of the beachfront, including the addition of 2.6 kilometres of walkway, has seen it tidied up, although police presence remains incredibly high, especially at night.

The challenge will be to keep it as safe as it is now, said a white local resident who only wanted to be identified as Yvonne.

"Firstly, what has happened here makes me proud to be a South African," she said. "Before, everything shut down at 5.30pm and no one went out.

"It's still a little hairy in the streets behind the parade, but at least people are seeing what it could and should be like if everyone behaves themselves.

"Let's hope the municipality and police work together with civic leaders to keep it as it is, and should be."

The only sour notes were sounded by some market traders, who have been relocated for the duration of the World Cup to allow other activities to go ahead in their former pitches, and taxi drivers.

Jenny, a jewelry trader fresh back in her native Durban after 10 years working in London, bemoaned the lack of tourists as her stall was fielded in a cooperative marquee tent off the main drag.

"We agreed to move, but then nothing's been done to encourage people to come and visit us," she told AFP.

"Business has not been great, and certainly has not been aided by the fact that many tourists are coming just for match days and disappearing the morning after."

The main gripe of the taxi drivers is the sleek new range of buses that now ply their trade not only around the city but also out to the new King Shaka airport, a potentially profitable 40 kilometre run worth 350 rand (47 dollars).

"With the shuttle bus, it costs 50 rand, it's air-conditioned, it stops at all the main hotels and the city is encouraging people to take it," said Anil, reclining in the back seat of his taxi waiting for custom.

"What we thought five years ago would be a real economic boost has not at all panned out."

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