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Picture: 123RF/ALESSANDRO0770
Picture: 123RF/ALESSANDRO0770

As I tip-toe through my 50s with much foreboding, some forewarning and very little foresight, I find myself writing more and more about memories. It’s no sighing look back and a wonder about what might have been, but what has been and what I have been privileged to see and be part of. 

It happens every time there is an event that I am not at, whether that be the Olympics, a Rugby World Cup or, in this week, the Commonwealth Games.

For the return on medals, SA media groups have not treated the Commonwealth Games with the respect they deserve. At my first, in Melbourne in 2006, there were about half a dozen SA writers on the ground.

In New Delhi in 2010, I was one of two, and I barely saw the other writer most days. In Glasgow, my last in 2014, I was also just one of two from a major SA group, save for the two writers, both men with fine pedigrees, who were embedded with the team and filled up the official Team SA page with great story telling.

On all three occasions, I had to organise my accommodation and flights at the last minute. Independent News and Media were the worst when it came to booking in advance, and it always ended up costing them more.

I found a room in a hotel in the centre of Melbourne when their travel agent couldn’t. I finished my first book one late night in that hotel. I also finished the mini bar as I watched SA beat Australia in the 438 match on television.  

In New Delhi, I was with the hordes at The Imperial, a five-star hotel that was giving rooms away at a bargain price, cheaper than the official media hotel 500m down the road. I lived like a lord there. One of the doormen found I was from Africa and would sing “Hakuna Matata” at me every night when I returned home from a long day of work. 

It was at The Imperial that Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten met to “discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan”.  

It was in the 1911 bar I would retire to most evenings to neck a Kingfisher in the same room as the only framed Victoria Cross in the city, which did not make the beer taste better, but the sense of history made the drinking of it there a little grander.

In Glasgow, a room in a media hotel was found at the last moment, but only because the organisers thought I was with the British Daily Star paper. It was an awful hotel and I spent little time in it, but I fell in love with a city that was a beauty and a people that were my people.

I have never heard the words “f***ing c**t” said with such power, nonchalance and nuance, nor have I seen a people as proud of themselves and their city. 

And then the athletes. Always the athletes. They made the games. I saw the teenage Chad le Clos take his first steps to Commonwealth history, the Awesome Foursome of Athens in 2004 hungover in Melbourne, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio resplendent in Glasgow and the luckless SA hockey team in tears in New Delhi. 

The latter sits with me as I write this and watch a hockey match from Birmingham. The image of Jennifer Wilson slumped against a wall after they had lost their bronze medal match to England at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium comes back every time I watch a hockey game involving SA.

Wilson was crying, her head down. This mattered. It mattered too much. They should have won. It was their chance. She eventually came to talk to me and said: “It’s so hard ... [It hurts] badly, really badly.” 

Four years later, I went to watch the SA women play in Glasgow. The first person I saw at the stadium was Wilson. She was living in the UK by then and would go on to coach Scotland’s hockey team.

We chatted and laughed about me writing that she had cried that day in 2010. We spoke about the past, the present, about days in the sun, about where we found ourselves. We spoke about days that mattered and that didn’t. We spoke about foreboding, forewarning and foresight. We spoke about memories.


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