Sparkling Water, ridden by S’manga Khumalo, won this year’s race. Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
Cars swarm in front of the Greyville Racecourse. Whimsical German cars growl menacingly as drivers step on the accelerator. Durbanites caught in the commotion outside the main hall clench their jaws in frustration as my Uber turns into the main entrance to Greyville…
A sea of cars stands between us and the entrance, and it takes us a while to make our way inside. It’s also difficult to make a stylish entrance out of a broken down VW, but what can be done?
The rays of the sun are welcoming but not overwhelming, and the radiant light catches the sparkle of all the diamonds and sequins the crowds are wearing.
After seeing people’s complicated outfits trip them up – dressy trains stuck in high heels and dressy shoes offering next to no grip in some areas, not to mention inclines that beat those who didn’t know the ramps in the walls of the place should not be negligible with – we come to our marquees.
A tasteless air hangs above; influencers influence and create content, strut or sail the 360° installing the camera just outside.
Behind the small table where the media are hidden, some celebrities are at a booth, including some of the cast of The Real Housewives of Cape Town, which has yet to debut.
The main race was won by a horse – who cares to remember his name? Sport is cruel. Horses zoomed past where I was stationed, mighty beasts speeding past. It’s all over in seconds, and any horse that doesn’t place will likely end up in the glue factory.
Just before the main race starts on the map, Ladysmith Black Mambazo gives a performance and rendition of the National Anthem, which was great to see and had the place roaring.
The vibe inside the marquees starts out sophisticated, with soft jazz played by a live band and people adhering to the expected decorum when dressing. Once that stopped, the debauchery began. People took off their trains of clothes and kicked off their stilettos; the ties have been loosened to allow the throats to be fully opened; and groove mode was fully on.
All of the women in attendance dressed amazingly, although some of the outfits were perilous. As I descend a ramp in the Greyville complex, I’m flanked by three women in ballgowns who need my arm to maneuver the steep incline. The whole trip made me feel like a black Bond, although twisting my ankle would ruin anyone’s day.
The gentlemen, however, need to step up their fashion game. Not much beyond the costumes and very little added to their looks. Maybe shades, weird loafers and very short pants. I don’t know if that will be enough.
The party has slowly overflowed from the marquees set up by various brands that are subtly trying to outdo each other. Like Hollywood Bets, which took over the Durban July of Vodacom as title sponsor, and the boomtown of Heineken, which was apparently a party from start to finish. There was also a marquee that seemed to have mostly Indians, separated from the others, which was kind of weird.
There were a few other issues other than the slightly breakaway nature of the day.
I happened to be browsing with a colleague who is part of the LGBTIQ+ community. He decided to use his outfit as a form of subtle protest and so he donned a pleated skirt and the gloves one would wear with a ball gown and pearl crown.
The looks he received from certain convinced Zulus were sickening. A gentleman looked like he was attacking my friend just for wearing a skirt. This made me wonder how safe this space is for people like my colleague.
In fact, I worry about the ideals that are housed in this event. Grown men with demented looks on their faces and shadows around the finger that would normally sport a wedding ring prowl the aisles looking for younger women.
I see a young woman accepting a drink from one of those big-bellied BEE-type cats, and then he walks over to her. She explains that she’s focused on finding her friends and I hear her say, “Well, I gave you this drink. Nothing in life is free, so you have to think about coming home with me.
This made the young woman completely uncomfortable and caused her to question her choice to accept what was offered to her as a drink of friendship.
Listen, I failed that part of the experiment because I ended up on Florida Road – famous for being a party strip, kind of like Long Street in Cape Town or Melville in Joburg but safer – eating wings of KFC with a friend. There were many official afterparties, but getting in after drinking expensive booze all day might have been a challenge.
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Instead, I had to deal with a parasite that fell into fast food.
He bothered people for money and food and disrespected some women who were trying to enjoy a late night meal.
I had to stand up and really be Joburg with him: “I’m not beach brothers and you’re not going to keep insulting everyone here, let alone these sisters who are just sitting here enjoying their meal .”
Horse racing comes a long way after the parties that take place in Durban July. From pre-parties hosted by promoters like Kgolo Mthembu and Junior Lavie to the various afterparties, everyone is in their element and overall the experience is definitely one I recommend you to see for yourself.