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Last Train to Nationbuilding

Last Train to Nationbuilding

by Roger Young, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 14.06.2010

It was the second to last train into town, around quarter past eight, the night before the soccer started. Cold, we huddled on the platform at Kenilworth; normal South African types, mostly male, as the trains at this hour have always had a bad reputation. The Cameroonians said “five minutes” into their cell phones, the Moslem dude scolded a Woodstock gangster type for hassling an obvious student for a skyf.

The train pulled in, we got on. A young drunken English football fan was trying to hang a string of flags from one end of the carriage to the other. Two scouse girls, in plaid and that dyed blonde-with-a-streak-of-colour hair that you see from punk clubs to hipster hangouts, were loudly wondering why football stars got paid more than paramedics, like her mother, who God knows struggled to save the money to pay for them to come to the World Cup. They smoke like people from Pinetown. The gangster dude sits close next to them, practically on the one girls bag. South African eyes are passed around to each other, that here-we-go look. The big scouse quickly whips her bag away and gives him a look, you know she’ll go head to head with him if he tries.

He gets up and wanders down the train, starts a conversation about football with the drunk flag dude. From the carriage next to us the sound of vuvus blast through. At Newlands, some more youngish, drunkish football fans get on. Brazilians. They sit opposite the gangster and the flag guy who are now working in unison to hang the banner. I notice for the first time that flag guy has a friend who sits quietly in the corner. A conversation starts up about Brazil vs England. Gangster is slowly pulling flags off the string and stuffing them in his pocket. The debate between the English and the Brazilians is getting louder, alcohol is being drunk from plastic bags. The Cameroonians leave at Rondebosh, somewhere between there and Rosebank, I see it happen, a lot of us see it happen, gangster dude hugs flag guy, and steals his wallet from his back pocket. It was going to happen, we all knew it, but there was a kind of hope that it wouldn’t. Gangster dude, “drunkenly” grapples with the door between compartments and takes flag guy with him, the other English and the Brazilians follow. The scouse girls complain about how full Long Street is going to be. I look out the window at the passing darkness, the Moslem dude looks at the floor shaking his head.

I get off the train in Salt River. The compartment after me spits out a few newly flush locals. On the train the soccer fans dance, happy, oblivious, as they head toward the city.

Image © Jason Bronkhorst.

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  1. brandon edmonds says:

    “They smoke like people from Pinetown” – could well be sentence of the month (so far).

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  2. creepy steve says:

    were they smoking sugars?

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  3. You don't know me anyways says:

    So why didn’t you do something?

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  4. Anonymous says:

    after all the warnings people still do not listen and then wonder why it happens!!

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  5. raymond says:

    ” got to pick a pocket or two ” if they can’t learn from that ………”oliver twist “. LEKKER ARTICLE AND STYLE

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  6. Classy says:

    May the writer of this article have all his shit stolen today!

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m afraid he posts all of that on this website…

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  8. Roger Young says:

    But Classy, ask yourself this, would you have done something?

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  9. […] twintig zwaar bewapende politieagenten. Dronken voetbalsupporters zijn een dankbaar doelwit voor zakkenrollers en journalisten worden met regelmaat overvallen. Er was voor aanvang van het WK veel aandacht voor […]

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  10. Theuns says:

    Great “slice of life”!

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  11. sleaze says:

    I think Die Antwoord would have done something about it! Glorify it in a rap song!

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  12. Morton says:

    Roger, nice article, but, in response to your response to Classy, I would have done something. At the risk of sounding all uppety about your pacifism (I’m not), why is that so odd? It just takes one person to say loudly what’s been done, and the perpetrator gets his come-uppance – whether it’s verbal , or a vet snot-klap, it’ll all be good for the gangster.

    How are people supposed to know that anti-social behaviour is unacceptable when people watch it happen and just accept it? Not that the gangster doesn’t know already, but it sure as hell needs to be reiterated. That’s how society keeps itself in check- constant feedback from itself to itself.

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  13. Moose says:

    nice writing. more please.

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  14. RiaanP says:

    You should have shouted “Infidel”.. check that Moslem oke klap the kak out of the scaley! 😀

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  15. Roger Young says:


    I used to be the guy that did something. Last time i intervened I got stabbed 3 times in the ass, once in the leg and once in the leg. It was about 4 years ago in Joburg. While the fucker stabbed me, the person he was trying to rob ran away. Everyone else just watched. Afterward while I waited for the ambulance, bleeding the fuck out onto the the pavement. Some dude offered me water and said “Well, that was bloody stupid of you, it had nothing to do with you”. That incident has left me shy of helping, because I’m no longer 100% convinced that the back up would be there. That’s what saddens me the most, not knowing if my fellow citizens have my back when it comes to doing the right thing.

    It’s a similar mindset to the whole traffic fine/bribe situation. Nine out of ten of us will pay a bribe to a traffic officer and then complain about the corruption at a dinner party that night.

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  16. Roger Young says:

    oh that should have read “once in the leg and once on the shoulder blade”

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  17. Morton says:


    Yeah, not engaging with these things out of fear for your safety is an entirely different matter. Clearly, there’s no rule as to which is the best route to take, but, for me, your comment definitely enriched your article.

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