Expatica news

In South Africa, Charlene’s wedding drowned out by rugby

Locals in Charlene Wittstock’s childhood home wished her well in her marriage to Monaco’s Prince Albert II, but many seemed just as interested in watching coverage of the local rugby.

Much of Charlene’s family still lives in Benoni. But no viewing parties were planned here.

And on the streets, the only sign of the Monaco spectacular was the occasional poster for the local newspaper proclaiming “Benoni’s royal wedding”.

Shoppers at the supermarket in the still very white neighbourhood where she grew up had the same refrain: It’s a fairy tale. No one mentioned the rumours that she had almost walked out on the ceremony.

“I think it’s fantastic for her,” said Wendy Liebenbarg, whose son was one class above Charlene in high school.

“My family will definitely watch it on TV, while having a cup of tea.”

But at the Bunny Park, a bucolic expanse loved by rabbits, where the new princess of Monaco used to spend time, Carl de Villiers did not seem quite so enthused.

“We are very happy for her. We’ll probably switch on the TV,” he said, tossing carrots to the rabbits to the delight of his children. “But, there’s rugby too.”

Born in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo in 1978, her family moved to South Africa when she was 10, settling in the town of Benoni in the outer reaches of Johannesburg’s suburban sprawl.

Seven years later she moved to Durban on the east coast to pursue her swimming career full-time.

South Africa’s public broadcaster SABC has devoted hours of commercial-free airtime to show the wedding live, but Princess Charlene faced stiff competition Saturday.

Many televisions in restaurants and pubs were following Wimbledon or the Durban July, South Africa’s biggest horse race of the year.

And just as the bride began walking down the red carpet, came the kick-off of the Super 15 Southern Hemisphere semi-final between the Western Stormers and Canterbury Crusaders in Cape Town.

Among the few wedding watchers was Karyn Themistocleous, manager of the Portuguese restaurant Trinchado’s.

“We usually have rugby on a Saturday, but not today. We have the wedding,” she said.

She kept her TV defiantly on the red carpet — but her restaurant was nearly empty.

Not far away, the much busier McGinty’s was ignoring the wedding.

“They are pretty much here for the rugby,” said Chris Michailov, the manager.

“But the excitement is maybe down because she’s already princess of Monaco since the civil wedding took place yesterday.

“And this is a pub here, it’s not a coffeeshop for old ladies.”

But most coffeeshops for old ladies close early on Saturdays in Benoni.

The Grid and Grill, a pub favoured by Charlene’s father, had announced in the Citizen that her friends and acquaintances would gather to watch the wedding over a pint.

But all its screens were tuned to rugby.

“We don’t broadcast the wedding,” said co-owner Don Milligan. “There were only one or two people who were interested actually. There were more people who booked for the rugby.”

Two older women, who declined to be named, walked out of the pub toward their car.

“It’s only rugby inside. We’re going home to watch the end” of the wedding on TV, one said.

Not far away, a group of black street vendors was busy selling South Africa’s ubiquitous souvenir crafts made of wire.

“Yeah, we would like to watch, but we have to work,” one said. “It’s white stuff anyway.”