Johannesburg

Film-going is a total experience, so, when I went to see Claire Denis’s White Material in San Francisco this week, I had to sit through an advertisement for visiting South Africa and having a marvelous time. I’ve seen the ad before, and it gets increasingly depressing. There is lovely scenery and a complacent couple who can’t wait to get back there to regain the best Thai cooking of their lives and the rapturous experience of seeing elephants come to drink in the evening. Go if you must. I only know that my daughter—a world traveler—says South Africa is the scariest place she’s ever been.

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This story was brought to the world by Benjamin Pogrund who for years was a writer and ultimately deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, a fiercely anti-apartheid newspaper in South Africa. After I acquired The New Republic, Pogrund wrote for us during the seventies and eighties, bringing our readers a white liberal's view of the rotten apartheid government and a wise view of the predicaments that would face the black movements that were arrayed against it. After the R.D.M.

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Historical Fiction

The argument that Israel is a colonialist entity is often marshaled to undermine the Jewish state’s legitimacy. The theme has certainly permeated Western academia, almost uncritically. For decades, it has been employed against Israel in one international forum after another. In 1973, the U.N.

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Football for All

On the way home from Johannesburg, I picked up a copy of the Mail & Guardian, which calls itself “Africa’s Best Read.” Here’s the headline on the lead story that day: “Danny Jordaan’s brother cashes in on 2010.” The newspaper reported that a company controlled by Andrew Jordaan, brother of the head of the local organizing committee, is being paid around $15,000 a month by the World Cup’s official “hospitality-services” provider to serve as a “liaison” in one of the host cities. He also happened to own a share of a consortium that built one of the World Cup stadiums.

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I'm sitting in a solid block of Americans at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria watching Team USA play in the sandbox with the Algerians, and the one thing I notice is the total absence of "Yes We Can" chants. This time last year, even the South Africans were chanting Obama's campaign motto. In the teeming Johannesburg bar in which I watched Bafana Bafana take on Brazil in last June's Confederations Cup semis, "Yes We Can" was the favorite refrain, not to mention at the US-Brazil final. I haven't heard it once this year. My companion and I tried getting a round going in the stands here, but no dice.

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In the third row of the upper deck at Ellis Park Stadium -- site of the post-apartheid, racially unifying World Cup rugby game in Invictus (and in life); yesterday I saw the jersey Nelson Mandela wore that day on display at the fabulous Apartheid Museum here -- we were already in a state of high freak-out when it looked and sounded as if the U.S. had scored the go-ahead goal against Slovenia. That delicious, sudden eruption that happens best at sporting events happened. A deafening roar (and not of you-know-whats). A tasty shower of beer.

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DPRK

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- I watched Brazil’s 2-1 win over North Korea in a bar in the hipsterish neighborhood of Melville, where my brother, nephew and I are renting a small house for two weeks. Brazil shirts abounded, as they always do. The run a distant second to South Africa’s ubiquitous shirt, but the two kits combined make yellow the dominant street color of this World Cup.  I like Brazil for all of the usual reasons -- grace, possession, elan, the inevitable jaw-dropping ball-on-a-string move or physics-defying shot.

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The Healer

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA—It was as clear as the film’s most famous scene: The work of reconciliation in South Africa is not done yet. In February 2008, a video appeared online showing four white students from South Africa’s University of the Free State (UFS) hazing their black janitors as if they were new freshmen. There’s a beer-drinking contest, a footrace to “Chariots of Fire.” Near the end, the boys appear to pee into bowls of stew and urge the janitors to eat up. It was supposed to be an in-house joke, a protest against a plan to integrate their dorm, a student residence called Reitz.

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The Healer

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA—It was as clear as the film’s most famous scene: The work of reconciliation in South Africa is not done yet. In February 2008, a video appeared online showing four white students from South Africa’s University of the Free State (UFS) hazing their black janitors as if they were new freshmen. There’s a beer-drinking contest, a footrace to “Chariots of Fire.” Near the end, the boys appear to pee into bowls of stew and urge the janitors to eat up. It was supposed to be an in-house joke, a protest against a plan to integrate their dorm, a student residence called Reitz.

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JOHANNESBURG -- The U.S., of course, gets set to kick off its World Cup campaign tonight against England in Rustenburg. But Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, which runs American soccer, was already in town last week, promoting the U.S. bid to host the tournament in either 2018 or 2022. My friend Jonty Mark, a soccer reporter for The Star, a Johannesburg daily, interviewed Gulati, a Columbia University economics professor, in his well-appointed hotel suite, and let me tag along. We asked him about the bid, but also about how far he thinks U.S.

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