2010 World Cup – Rainbow Palms, Fan Parks and a dazzling Golden Mile – How Durban has geared up for the World Cup

Your home city is never the same place you imagined it as a child. As you grow up you watch your urban environment transform, changing with the years, under new leaderships, buckling under internal pressures and expanding for future visions. Durban, circa 1990 is not the same as Durban the host city of 2010 for the FIFA World Cup. How Durban has geared up for this World Cup has been quite a journey.

I took a day to experience the massive infrastructural changes in Durban as part of the preparations for 2010. I rode in the people mover, I enjoyed the winter sunshine amongst the crowds at Ushaka Marine World, with the deck out to sea, the new addition of the Moyo African Concept restaurant first made famous in Johannesburg and then Cape Town and now in Durban, in a unique and dramatic setting, a restaurant offering a spectacular view of Durban’s skyline. This unique venue at the edge of a pier, set amidst the glittering Indian Ocean is more a Zulu tapas bar bedecked in pink ostrich feathers and outlandish, zebra-printed African décor. Imagine San Francisco in Africa, Barcelona waterfront but with a distinctly Eastern retro twist, vibrant and eclectic. Then there is the Durban weather in June a mild 25 degrees, the midwinter sun is beautiful, warm not harsh and the citizens and visitors alike basking contentedly, enjoying the wonderful climate and a superb ambiance.

After admiring the view from Ushaka pier, I was back on the people mover, the city’s effort to have a world class bus transport system reminiscent of Miami, Lisbon or London heading north to the FIFA fan park. Passing through a visible security screening process whilst not being too invasive and not costing a cent, I was in an arena filled with a homogenous mix of people, who strolling around and soaking up the wonderful vibe of this World Class event. Giant Screens transmitted the Slovakia vs. Paraguay match onto a crowd of spectators on a beach sun tanning and watching the beautiful game. Vuvuzela’s were being punted at every corner and international flags flying from every mast, round every abundant palm tree in Durban are wrapped rainbows flags, making the atmosphere festive, dazzling and inspiring. For the 2010 World Cup, like every event is a Festival of Football and the host country South Africa is proving an ever-grateful host proudly demonstrating its true colours. For Durban, proving the cynics wrong has beaten the odds and showed the world that it is capable of being an international city. Durban’s Beachfront or Golden Mile, an African Ipanema through turbulent changes and once suffering a bad reputation of crime and vagrancy has had a major facelift sporting a wide and expansive walkway stretching from Ushaka Marine World in the South to the new Moses Mabhida Stadium, a shimmering architectural masterpiece which looks spectacular nestled against the sparkling Indian Ocean.

The highways linking parts of the city have all been completed, with magnificent inner-city fly-overs, bus lanes and the beautiful Durban City Hall, an historic epicentre, celebrating its centenary emerging from a spectacular facelift displays all its Edwardian glamour and colonial history amidst a fast and bustling African city with a definitive Eastern charm. Security guards at every people mover bus stop reminded visitors that this is still South Africa, partial to crime and not Europe or Canada, and whilst the street names are still suffering from an identity crisis due to political interference and would wreak havoc with any tourist with a GPS Navigator on their blackberry. With a sense of direction thwarted, an instinct for any foreigner in an exotic city by the sea would be if lost always head towards the ocean, behold the view and get one’s bearings. For in Durban, East is the Indian Ocean, North is the road to King Shaka International Airport with direct flights to Dubai, New Dehli and Port Louis, West is the Valley of a Thousand Hills and South are gorges, Blue-Flag Beaches and a luscious palm laden coastline stretching to the Wild Coast. In Cape Town this advice does not hold well, with the Table Mountain looming majestically between two Oceans.

Durban has spent the past 10 years intensively planning all the changes it was implementing from a better traffic re-articulation system, to a more urbanized and developed public transport system the People Mover, to a inner city rejuvenation project with a sustainable goal of planning beyond just the specifics of the actual World Cup in 2010 and looking into the 21st century when it can become an international contender for hosting the Olympic games or other massive Conferences. With the World AIDS conference being hosted in 2000 at the city’s International Convention Centre (ICC), Durban is no stranger to international events. The ICC serves as the stable home of one of Africa’s largest Tourism Trade shows, the Indaba held annually in May. Returning to my hometown and recognizing its transformation, my impressions of Durban as one of the host cities for the 2010 FIFA World Cup has been remarkable, almost euphoric. Whilst Johannesburg and Cape Town have their reputations secure as international cities, let’s hope Durban with its weather, natural beauty and cultural diversity can transcend beyond the paradigm of attracting a purely domestic tourism market and become an international playground to rival Barcelona, Miami and Rio de Janeiro. May the citizens seize the potential, overcome their socio-economic differences, and represent all that a rainbow palm really signifies, a blaze of colour always reaching towards a warm, forgiving and enlightening sun.

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