This is a city that likes tucking in early. Or so it seemed over the past five days. Cold, windy evenings don't encourage nocturnal outdoor activity and safety and security can't be taken for granted.
Tourists are willing to pay 4000 rand (Rs 24500) daily for bodyguards but are not getting them. Jenny de Klerk, a newspaper columnist, says only half in jest that people have eyes at the back of their heads here. Maybe these factors combined to make the average Joe an early-to-bed man here. Driving from Soccer City to my lodgings in Kensington near Ellis Park, the city's other World Cup stadium, has so far been through deserted streets and establishments with downed shutters.
My hotel on Roberts Avenue is locked from inside with Tshwandi, the friendly Man Friday-cum-security guard, opening only after giving everyone a thorough once-over. Even Jumbo Liquor Store, opposite the hotel and buzzing during the day, closes at 7.30pm. Ditto Gem the departmental store, also across the street.
Only Sandton seemed different. Illuminated figurines replicating football action dot part of the area and restaurants seemed full.
It all changed on Friday. Hours after South Africa drew 1-1 against Mexico to kick off the World Cup, Kensington rocked. On what was said to be the year's coldest day, cars blared horns, the racket of the vuvuzelas didn't stop after sunset and, near midnight, people were dancing and drinking on Appolonia, down the road.
In Soweto too they partied. English fans had reached to get a feel of the neighbourhood where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once stayed — in Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world which housed two Nobel Peace Prize winners. They even braved a powercut at Sakhumzi's, one of Soweto's most famous restaurants.
And at the fan park at Sandton, they ran out of beer at half-time. Newspaper reports said three people were injured at a fan park. Four years ago with a time to make friends as the theme, Germany partied for a month. Trains ran through the night, fast food joints and beer halls stayed open till the sun came out. Loyalties divided during the match, fans shared meat and drink afterwards. South Africa has a tough act to follow but at least, a beginning's been made. They've started staying up late.