Power outages, no running water and below freezing temperatures are all part of a winter’s day in Witbank.
Thankfully Witbank isn’t hosting any World Cup fixtures or teams, because the people or municipality wouldn’t be able to use the catch phrase ‘We are ready’. Monday started off reasonably enough, apart from dodging the numerous pot-holes that scar Witbanks’ roads, but the weather was relatively warm and the Boks were in town for the first ever Test in Mpumalanga.
From that evening, power outages have been a regular feature, which makes just eating a meal an experience. The reasons for the electrical cuts have been rumoured to be a mouse that caused the sub-station to explode (as reported in the local newspaper) or that some angry individual purposefully sabotaged Eskom. Why anyone would do that with freezing temperatures is beyond me.
On Wednesday the local municipality decided the best Youth Day present for the locals would be providing no running water for the day. Hence the customary ‘whore’s bath’ (spraying deodorant instead of a shower) had to suffice, but I doubt any of the locals noticed or frankly gave a damn. The local population have welcome the Boks with open arms and have loved meeting their heroes and getting their signatures at training sessions on Monday and Tuesday. Despite the frosty conditions and the wind chill, which makes staying outside for extended periods unbearable, many of the hardened locals prefer to go out in shorts and a T-shirt.
Where to start with the Witbank nightlife. The Dros is a decent place to grab a few beers and watch the soccer, but that wasn’t an option on Thursday, as – you guessed it – the power was out. Spur was pumping, with queues outside the door and the local celebrities such as Pumas and Lions hooker Hannes Franklin in attendance. The local promo girl selling Gringo’s Tequila also made me realise life isn’t so bad in Witbank, but once that wore off after five minutes, reality struck once again.
The local casino and hotel where the Boks are staying seems to be the only other place of interest. The News Cafe is also nice and intimate as it’s dimensions rank about 5m by 6m. This also probably makes life easier for the Bok management to keep an eye on rowdy players (no names will be mentioned) as there aren’t too many places to cut loose in the town.
Witbank’s people have been hospitable and the city will only really take off when festivities for the rugby begin on Saturday. But I won’t be sad to leave, and what puts it into perspective is when you’re longing for the Slum Town of East London.
By Grant Ball, in Witbank