CUL­TURE: A MA­TRIC FAREWELL AND A BURNOUT

go! Namibia - - CONTENTS - WORDS SOPHIA VAN TAAK PIC­TURES SAM REIN­DERS

The peo­ple of Swakop and Walvis en­joy a night on the town…

If you thought you’d only find sand, sausages and spring­bok in Namibia, you were wrong. Hang around Swakop­mund long enough and the nightlife in this desert town will sweep you off your feet…

It’s early evening in Swakop­mund. A girl is lean­ing against the rail­ing on the jetty, wist­fully star­ing at the sea. The train of her inkblue dress flut­ters in the breeze and a dark curl breaks free from her hairdo. Her bare arms are cov­ered in goose­flesh, but she holds her pose. Be­cause pretty never gets cold and your ma­tric dance photo is a once-in-a-life­time thing. When the pho­tog­ra­pher low­ers his cam­era, her date drapes his sil­ver jacket over her shoul­ders.

Sam and I came here to find a restau­rant for din­ner, but this scene has hi­jacked our plans. More Namib High School cou­ples show up to take pic­tures in one of the most ro­man­tic spots in Swakop­mund. Swanky cars with cus­tomised num­ber plates cruise the streets: Damion & Ja­nine, JP & Kylie, Talie & De-Ann…

Din­ner can wait. We fol­low the cars to a fenced-off street where the matrics, their par­ents and their teach­ers are sip­ping sun­down­ers at the far end of a red car­pet. (It’s clearly not the car­pet’s first dance…) From here, the kids will be taken to a se­cret lo­ca­tion by bus. This is se­ri­ous busi­ness.

As the cou­ples dis­em­bark from their bor­rowed rides, the crowd calls out their names. Younger girls take pa­parazzi shots of the ma­tric boys then hud­dle around their cell­phones, gig­gling.

A bulky se­cu­rity guard in khaki has trou­ble keep­ing a street dog off the red car­pet and he has to make sure no­body gets run over when the driv­ers of the cars spin their wheels. “Stand back! Out of the way, please!” he shouts over the roar of the en­gines.

School dy­nam­ics soon be­come clear: The colour of your dress and the colour of your ride should match. And the size of your en­tourage de­pends on how popular you are. Some guys ar­rive in their own car, fol­lowed by their date in an­other. If you’re re­ally cool, you’ll also have a crew of eighth graders in a third car to de­liver your golden watch or your girl­friend’s clutch to her on a black vel­vet cush­ion.

Some of the dresses are a lit­tle too dar­ing, some perfumes a lit­tle too over­pow­er­ing and some heels a lit­tle too high. Hours have been spent on hair and nails. Above the lace trim of a beet­root­pink gown, a swallow tat­too peeks out. The guys have cheeky ear­rings or match­ing bow ties and sneak­ers. I tease one boy about the lip­stick smudge on his cheek. “No, it was my cousin,” he says, blush­ing.

A teacher in a blue-green pantsuit sighs at the spec­ta­cle and lights a cig­a­rette. She’s seen this a hun­dred times be­fore. She swears un­der her breath when an­other car tears away, tyres scream­ing.

A pimped-out, pea­cock-blue BMW with “Coastal Spin­ning and Drift­ing” on the wind­screen at­tracts a lot of at­ten­tion. Some­one slips through the bar­rier to take a pic­ture and the se­cu­rity guard swoops. He pushes a Maglite torch un­der the boy’s nose: “Hei! Now you lis­ten to me. I’m done talk­ing.”

Ev­ery mem­ber of the Class of 2014 now has a glass of JC le Roux in their hands. Four buses rum­ble up, the sun­down­ers are quickly forgotten and ev­ery­one scram­bles for a seat.

I ask one of the teach­ers about the se­cret lo­ca­tion of the ac­tual dance so Sam and I can fol­low. “Take the B2 out of town and turn onto the Langer Hein­rich road to Walvis Bay,” she says. “You’ll see a white mar­quee tent in the desert.”

We’re go­ing to the dance!

Or not. Turns out it’s not so easy to find a white tent in the desert af­ter dark. Fi­nally, some­where on the out­skirts of Walvis Bay, we see it. The tent is big and white, but we don’t see any of the buses that de­parted Swakop ear­lier. And this tent is next to a race­track, where braai fires are flick­er­ing and more souped-up cars are revving. Sam, I think we’re in the wrong place…

What­ever. The evening has al­ready be­come weird, so we or­der two Wind­hoek lagers and go see what’s hap­pen­ing on the race­track, where of­fi­cials in re­flec­tive vests

car­ry­ing fire ex­tin­guish­ers and flags are wait­ing for the ac­tion to begin.

I lis­ten to the con­ver­sa­tions around me to try and un­der­stand where we are. Ap­par­ently this is a brand-new race­track: the Desert Race­way. Petrol­heads in Walvis Bay had to beg the mu­nic­i­pal­ity for per­mis­sion to build it here in the no­man’s land be­tween town and Rooikop Air­port. This is the of­fi­cial open­ing: a whole week­end of burnouts and oval­track rac­ing. The best driv­ers in Namibia are present – dare­dev­ils with big cars and big­ger egos who want to leave the first skid marks on the track.

The crowd rip­ples when a red BMW E30 ap­pears. The of­fi­cials lower their flags and he takes off, spin­ning into a se­ries of dough­nuts and hand­brake turns – the crowd screams louder than the tyres. With his fist pump­ing out the win­dow, the driver spins his BMW on the spot un­til the tread burns out and a shower of sparks shoots out from the tyres. One tyre bursts and the crowd goes berserk. Thick smoke hangs over the stands. The of­fi­cials raise their flags and the red BMW does a lap of hon­our. So this is a burnout.

The next car pulls up and a voice blares from sta­dium-sized speak­ers: “You prob­a­bly don’t know Oom Chris. He’s an old oval racer. He turned his old track car into a spin­ner. Lekker, Oom Chris! For an old man he’s not too bad. Kêrels, that’s a leg­end right there!” And, in the next breath: “Ouens, die sosaties lóóp! Buy some at the pink con­tainer.”

I look around for the man with the mi­cro­phone. His name is Leon Kühn, aka Bones, a sinewy guy with a John Deere cap pulled low over his eyes. Ac­cord­ing to a young man in the stands, Bones is “Namibia’s sec­ond-best oval-track racer”.

Bones talks non-stop: “Ronél, thank you for the sosaties. Jy’s ’n yster. Johnny, for the wa­ter truck… Oe jinne, here come Rudi and Dy­lan Roodt. They’ll be rac­ing to­mor­row in a car their dad fin­ished build­ing this week.”

On the heels of the Roodt broth­ers is a pur­ple Nis­san Champ with “Heel­tyd Speel­tyd” on the back. It twitches around the track like a bug that’s been sprayed with Doom.

To­mor­row we’ll blow this place up. Our mu­sic will be so loud, Dune 7 will dance.

An­other BMW takes cen­tre stage. It’s called Ninja and it has green head­lights. “That’s how a con­vert­ible BMW should look!” says Bones. “Ninja-a-a-a! Ons gaan lekker ka­beljou vang met hom.”

Five min­utes later Ninja limps off, its tyres in tat­ters and the mu­sic still pump­ing. “Kom, manne! I want to see smoke!” Bones takes a short break and “Gang­nam Style” as­saults the air­waves. Then he’s back: “Kêrels, I see you’re en­joy­ing your­selves on the stands. Take it easy, I want to see you all here to­mor­row.”

The next driver can barely see over the steer­ing wheel. “Ladies and gen­tle­man, here comes my all-time favourite. Terence is only 13 years old. Just look, he’s in his un­cle’s BMW. He wants to ride with the big boys. Tan­nie Sylvi, where are you? Look how ner­vous she is. Sylvi, don’t worry, he’ll just make a lit­tle smoke. His un­cle Brandt is with him – an­other pil­lar of mo­tor­sport. A-ta-ta-ta! Kyk hoe windgat is hy! Terence, did you just wink at your mom?”

Terence an­swers with a se­ries of hoots from the track. Some smaller boys watch in awe as Ter­rence does his thing. Bones ap­proaches one of them: “Do you also want to spin one day?” he asks. “Who’s your dad?”

“An­gelo,” the boy whis­pers into the mi­cro­phone.

“An­gelo!” Bones shouts. “Your lightie wants to spin! Build the kid a car, man. Next time some­one rolls a Golf, build him a lekker track car.”

Then Bones spots a familiar face in the crowd: “There’s my old pal Leon, from West Coast Tow­ing. Leon, thanks for al­ways be­ing there…”

I try one of Ronél’s cur­ried sosaties while more guys show the crowd their tricks: Stout­gat, Clin­ton, Jackie, the Roodt broth­ers and “Driver”.

Driver looks amped. When his BMW pulls up, ev­ery­one gets to their feet. The flags go down and Driver hits the pedal. “Lekker! Smoke ’em! Bring it, Driver! He’s the pres­i­dent of Swakop Mo­tor Spin­ning. He knows what he’s do­ing!” screams Bones.

One driver fries his en­gine and Leon from West Coast Tow­ing gets him off the track. Bones finds it strangely mov­ing: “Just look at that. Any­where in Namibia, West Coast Tow­ing will be there for you,” he says with emo­tion. “Look at that tow truck, a lekker Cruiser.”

While the of­fi­cials clear the shred­ded rub­ber off the track, Bones makes an­other an­nounce­ment: “Ladies and gen­tle­men, a man has just in­formed me that he will sup­ply proper speak­ers for to­mor­row’s pro­ceed­ings. Our sound sys­tem is ap­par­ently light­weight. He’ll pro­vide speak­ers, mix­ers and lights. To­mor­row we’ll blow this place up. Our mu­sic will be so loud, Dune 7 will dance. We’re go­ing to race and spin and eat braaivleis and talk non­sense and drink Jäger­meis­ter!”

“Come on, Terence, burn it!” the guy next to me shouts. The stands are go­ing crazy. Terence is the wun­derkind of the oval. This time he’s driv­ing a Nis­san and when a tyre bursts, the man throws his hands in the air: “Hold on to your hair!”

We ask around and even­tu­ally Dy­lan Roodt shows us into the pit gates – a VIP area. It looks like the scene of a plane crash: tat­tered tyres and de­bris ev­ery­where. A stack of new tyres, ready and wait­ing, stands to the side. When the gates swing open, we jog across the oval to the edge of the ce­ment slab where all the ac­tion takes place – now just 15 m away!

A gold bakkie with “Burn rub­ber, not your soul” em­bla­zoned on the sides is up next. And here’s the “Coastal Spin­ning and Drift­ing” BMW that I saw at the ma­tric dance in Swakop!

“Here comes Grant,” Bones says, re­sum­ing his com­men­tary. “He ripped up the streets of Nar­rav­ille. He was a traf­fic cop’s dream. Then he bought him­self that lit­tle thing… Wait, who’s that in the back? Ter­rence! Is that you? Ter­rence, your mom is go­ing to kill you! No de­odor­ant will hide the smell of so much smoke…”

Dy­lan asks if we want to ride in the next car, but I never get to an­swer him. A tyre bursts on the track and for the umpteenth time tonight, it’s rain­ing rub­ber.

WHITE HOT! Ja­nine Manuel and Damion van Wyk wow the crowds at the Namib High ma­tric farewell in Swakop­mund.

THE BMW BRAKE-DANCE. Jac­ques du Plessis of the Desert Spin­ners team rips up the track. Or rather, his tyres!

THE VOICE (top). Leon “Bones” Kühn is the heart and soul of the Desert Race­way races. He’s so slick on the mic he’d make a great auc­tion­eer.

DONE IN SIX SEC­ONDS (above). The pit at the Desert Race­way is not as well equipped as Hock­en­heim but you can’t teach th­ese guys a thing about chang­ing a tyre.

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