CULTURE: A MATRIC FAREWELL AND A BURNOUT
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.