Punters escape their troubles with a day at the Durban July: John Carlin in Durban takes a critical look at fashionable racegoers in South Africa and asks why Boipatong seems a long, long, way away

IT IS a peculiar fact of white South African life that, outside of sports, there are no heroes, no stars. No home-grown Terry Wogans, Kylie Minogues, Sylvester Stallones. No Lenny Henrys.

But on those rare occasions when overseas celebrities, however obscure, visit South Africa they are received with the acclaim of kings. Take Perry Stevens, better known as Jack Forbes, one of the blue-eyed heart-throbs in the hugely popular American soap series, Loving.

Mr Stevens stole the show on Saturday at 'the Durban July'. South Africa's attempt to emulate Royal Ascot, 'the July' is the biggest, most fashionable horse-racing event on the calendar, complete with a pounds 200,000 race and a competition for the woman with the most outrageous hat.

Mobbed by female fans upon his arrival in a helicopter, Mr Stevens judged the hat and best- dressed-lady contests, posed with Miss South Africa and did an interview with the Durban Sunday Tribune. 'Hunky Perry', as the Tribune described him yesterday, did not fail in his duty. 'It's been a once in a lifetime experience,' he said. 'I love the warmth of the people here. I didn't expect South Africa to have such a European feel to it. It's a nice plus.'

Mr Stevens' inanity uncannily hit the spot. The charm of 'the Durban July' is that, more than any other event in the South African social calendar, it reinforces the abiding apartheid myth that the whites are still living in Europe, that this is not Africa at all.

Which is not to say that there were no brown or black faces at the race track. There were plenty on the grandstand, serious race- goers of the type you find all over the world, wizened chain-smokers studying their form cards with the single-mindedness of dogs chewing bones.

But across the way from the grandstand, on the sunny side of the track, that was where the real - in other words, the mythical - Durban July was going on. This was where Mr Stevens did his turn, where 'dramatic, daring, lavish and over-the-top styles' were the order of the day. It could have been Royal Ascot, it could have been the Derby, it could have been the VIP 'tent city' at Wimbledon.

For this was not only white South Africa, it was Durban, bastion of the white tribe's 'English' clan. Here a string quartet, there a piano, made mild the breeze as middle-aged men in Panama hats, checked grey suits and brown Hush Puppies ambled on the lawns beside blondes in red velvet stiletto-heels, pale girls in conical 'Madonna' bras and bow-tied youths with Brylcreemed hair.

Making the point of the rejection of Africa more forcibly than any white person, a black mother and daughter popped across for the fashion show dressed like Edwardian nobility in cream-coloured satin and lace. Two young black women, funny hats their cultural weapons, portrayed their visions of the new South Africa in red chiffon and black leather.

An attempt was nevertheless made to inject an indigenous note. To the beating of drums, and starts all around, a troupe of Zulus dressed in leopard skins stomped on to the course. It was a piece of pageantry so wackily out of place that a vision arose of the kind of treatment Mel Brooks might mete out to Gilbert and Sullivan. But no one saw the funny side. No one, indeed, saw anything at all, after the immediate surprise had passed. As the warriors filed out, their routine completed, a young white couple in morning coat and flowing dress literally brushed past the spear- wielders and walked on without even turning to look, without acknowledging the existence of the Zulus, as if they were not really there.

For the fashion show beckoned. Here was reality in all its European glory in the shape of the compere, a genuine English import (the accent gave him away) of the Butlins variety - loud jacket, loud tie, tinted blond hair and jokes along the lines of, 'That's a nice mini-skirt you're almost wearing, dear.'

The winner of the hat competition was Vee Kasimov, from Cape Town, but, between races, debate raged over lobster and champagne as to whether Gail Carruthers deserved to win the best-dressed-lady title. The evening chatter centred on the man who lost pounds 40,000 in bets, but would have won pounds 160,000 had his horse come first, and not second, in the last race.

All of which was some way removed from what was concerning Nelson Mandela, 400 miles away in Johannesburg. Even as the Durban July's hallowed last ritual was getting under way - drunken young men doing a 100-yard streak to the finishing line - the president of the African National Conference was rejecting an offer of peace talks by President F W de Klerk who, he said, had 'chosen to drive South Africa on a collision course'.

Mr Mandela referred to the dangerous deterioration in relations between the government and the black majority the ANC represents after the massacre at Boipatong, saying: 'I see no reason to mislead the public and the international community about the gravity of the crisis facing our country.'

In a frenzy of forgetting, the public at the Durban July would have wondered what planet Mr Mandela was from. One drunken shirtless young man in a green jacket, bow tie and white shorts, asked what he made of events at Boipatong, replied: 'Boipatong? That's the name of a horse isn't it?'

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£19200 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Physics Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Physics Teacher January 201...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: General Cover Teachers required ...

Maths Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Maths Teacher Required This Catholi...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?