The place is the North Gauteng High Court. The event is the trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius.
“People always ask about Oscar,” says Jaco, a local friend who is showing me around Pretoria, one of three cities that South Africa calls a capital.
He points at a mobile cafe opposite the court. “That used to be full of the world’s media. The owner had struck gold.”
Gold — the real rather than the metaphorical stuff — is the blessing and the bane of South Africa.
It’s blamed for the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War, the fallout from which swept away geographical boundaries and culminated in apartheid.
Efforts to undo the damage from decades of division shape the Pretoria of today, where a conscious effort is underway to combine the black and white heritage of the city.
The restoration of the area’s ties to pre-imperialist leaders like Tshwane, an 18th-century chief who gives his name to the surrounding region, is a prime example of that effort.
A statue of Tshwane, erected in 2006, stands in front of the city’s town hall, behind monuments of Andries Pretorius and his son Marthinus, the two leaders of Dutch descent who founded the city and bequeathed it their name.
The mix of statues underlines the city’s current attempt in blending of black and white history. Previously the city was closely associated only with the Afrikaners who descended from European settlers.
The next day, Jaco takes me to a party at Pretoria’s old vegetable market, a venue that combines street food, entertainment and art installations.
It’s one of many projects by the Capital Collective, a private initiative that aims to rejuvenate the city center.
Here, people mix casually to eat and dance, regardless of skin color — something that’s still lacking in many corners of modern South Africa despite post-apartheid aspirations.
There are more signs of the new socially mobile South Africa when I later have dinner at Hemingway’s — arguably the top restaurant in the capital.
The pizza chef isn’t Italian: “Small” Thekgo has been kneading dough for seven years and loving it.
The sommelier is Isaac Kubheka, a Zulu who left his homeland as a child and was raised by his aunt in the township of Mamelodi outside Pretoria.
In 1989, he started work in the Pretoria suburb of Faerie Glen as a gardener to an Afrikaner whose passion for wine he soon shared.
Kubheka saved up enough money to take a wine course among the vineyards of Stellenbosch, learning about viniculture, vinification and etiquette.
Now he’s one of the top sommeliers in the country and a symbol, perhaps, of a changing city.
Pretoria is served by the O. R. Tambo International Airport that also serves Johannesburg. South African Airways
has direct flights to New York, Washington DC, London, Frankfurt and other international hubs. Your hotel will usually organize a pick up for you (about $30-35).
offers tours of Pretoria and other activities in the area including safaris.