It’s near freezing and outside Ellis Park a group of bedraggled men huddle together rubbing their hands over the flames of a makeshift bonfire, trying to keep warm, the long night stretching before them.
Across town, as morning breaks, Johannesburg’s Lamborghini concessionaire is rubbing his own hands as he surveys his gleaming stock and contemplates the dawn of another day’s business.
These two images are part of a parallel universe that is life in this sprawling metropolis that in under a year will greet US President Barack Obama and other heads of state for the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.
The tens of thousands of fans descending on Johannesburg next year will find a city that in many areas is barricaded up like some of the world’s most notorious no-go zones.
Security against gun-touting street muggers and car hijackers is a constant threat in a country where violent crime is an all too present feature of daily life.
They say there are beautiful houses in Joburg but you can barely see them behind the brick walls, barbed wire, security guards and electric fences.
Every house seemingly in the more genteel neighbourhoods like Craighall and Rivonia have signs warning of an ‘Armed Response’.
Journalists attending this month’s World Cup warm-up, the Confederations Cup, were given an alarming array of dos and donts – more donts than dos.
These included ‘never look your hijacker in the eye’, ‘always wait with your car parallel to the kerb while the gate opens to prevent you getting blocked in’, ‘don’t under any account walk around with your laptop over your shoulder at night’, the list was endless.
Beggars at every ‘robot’ (traffic light) at least have a sense of humour.
One holds a sign reading: “Please help me, my dog’s been arrested”.
South Africa has been keen to stress its more positive sides, its various natural attractions for tourists as well as its love of soccer.
Fears that staging a World Cup have been dispelled once and for all by the successful hosting of the Confed Cup which Brazil won on Sunday.
FIFA gave South Africa’s organisation the thumbs up, and players and coaches were equally enthusiastic.
Nathalie Mary, who runs one of the city’s many guest lodges, commented: “Security is an issue, but you shouldn’t get paranoid. You have to be prudent and aware, but when I came here I drew a line down a page with negatives and positives – the positives far outnumbered the negatives.”
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