Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Soweto spinners thrill motor fans.
By Barnaby Phillips BBC News, Soweto.

Soweto's spinning craze began on the streets several years ago. It's long after midnight, but more and more people are streaming into a dark and dingy hall on the edge of Soweto. The hot-dog salesmen are doing a roaring trade, and so are the women selling bottles of beer and spirits, which they pull out of a large dustbin full of crushed ice. The crowd is young, and mainly black, although there a few coloured people. There are lots of couples, as well as large groups of men and women who have come on their own.
A huge sound system is pumping out "kwaito" tunes - the dance music of the black townships. People are excited, and many are dancing. Suddenly the music stops, and everyone rushes towards an arena, a circular pit, surrounded by a safety wall and rows of concrete seating.
A white BMW emerges. The driver, Siphiwe Mdluli, is better-known to his fans as "bhubesi", Zulu for lion. "Bhu-Bess-iii! I love you!" screams a large girl besides me, jumping up and down.
Siphiwe MdluliBut Siphiwe cannot hear her. He is sending his BMW into a series of tight spins.
The scream of his tyres is deafening. And the faster he spins, the crazier the crowd becomes.
Great clouds of smoke are coming from his back tyres; within seconds the air is thick with the acrid smell of burning rubber. But Siphiwe is not finished. He leaps out of his spinning car, and walks calmly away from it.
Now the girls cannot control themselves. Some run down to the safety wall, screaming, groaning and waving frantically. Siphiwe smiles, and waves back. The crowds go wild for the spinners and their tricksBehind him, the empty car is still spinning. Siphiwe turns, and timing his leap with perfection, dives back into the car, before driving away in triumph. "Amazing, better than drugs," one man says, pulling hard on his cigarette.
Welcome to the world of spinning, a Soweto craze, fuelled by adrenalin, alcohol, and sex appeal.
Spinning is not about racing, but it is competitive. Not because there is any formal scoring system, but because different drivers are trying to win the approval of their peers and the excitable crowd.
Its protagonists are all men, and their skill in the arena gives them hero status in the townships.
Spinning started illegally, on the streets, several years ago. Public highways were blocked as crowds, several hundred strong, tried to get as close to the action as possible. It was also popular at weddings and funerals. But accidents were common, and the police started to crack down on spinning meetings.
Floyd Malevu, who spins his own black BMW, says: "We decided to organise things a little bit, and that's when we moved into this hall. Now we spin here every Saturday, and hundreds of people come to watch."
Siphiwe's tricks have won him a large number of fansFloyd and his friends charge a small entrance fee to cover some of their expenses. But they have also have to dig deep into their own pockets to fund their expensive hobby, paying for new tyres and frequent repairs to their vehicles. By day Siphiwe makes a living by driving a tow truck round Soweto. He says that his family, and cars, are his whole life. "Michael Schumacher and the others are all white, they had advantages," Siphiwe says, "but we grew up poor- we couldn't get near a car until we were 25. For us spinning is a sport. We are not thugs." But how does Siphiwe do it? How does he make sure his car carries on spinning on the spot, even after he has leaped out of it? I wondered whether he somehow locks the accelerator and the steering wheel, to ensure that the car does not go careering into a wall.
"I can't tell you my secrets," Siphiwe says with a smile. "You just have to watch how I do it".


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