Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bafana splits?

With Bafana Bafana's World Cup life hanging by a thread, many South Africans face a tricky choice - throw away their yellow jerseys and watch the World Cup as they would the Olympics - with interest but without fervour, or adopt another team to try to get excited about.

Yesterday was 'Football Friday', when the country was encouraged to dress up for the Cup, and even my middle-aged hosts were sporting yellow Bafana gear accordingly. But unlike on Cape Town's tourist-friendly Waterfront, where I enjoyed the opening game amidst multiracial hordes of happiness, the crowd, if you can call it that, watching South Africa's defeat against Mexico in a local bar here in the Guateng province, were less than thrilled by their nation's first eleven.

The Johannesburg hinterland where I am staying has businesses dominated by Afrikaans-speaking whites, whose preferred sport is rugby, and barely a third of the bar that night was wearing yellow. As Uruguay began to rack up the score and it became evident that the hosts would finish up on the losing side, the interest levels waned, eyes drifted from the TV screens and conversations turned to other matters.

The next day the airwaves were full of voices urging the nation not to give up on the World Cup, but probably many will. Unless South Africa win by a cricket score against France and Uruguay beat Mexico, the host nation will be out for the first time in the first round.

While blacks are by far the majority here and love football, they are not visible to many tourists who steer clear of the inner-city areas or townships/shanty towns they live in for fear of crime.
So what visitors are left with are semi-interested Afrikaaners who, if the radio phone-ins are anything to go by, have little experience of the Beautiful Game.

The nation as a whole has come together with car flags, shirts and football fridays, but as their team makes its early but not unexpected exit from the tournament, the separate communities of the Rainbow Nation will shuffle back to their townships and gated communities, the dream of a soccer-Invictus a fond memory of 2010.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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