The event has brought pride to the country as the first African nation to host the event. We have confounded the inevitable critics who predicted that we would not be ready. Even within the country there were many people (mainly Whites who can’t imagine a Black government doing anything right) who were constantly predicting a disaster. The feelings of many South Africans have been captured in this wonderful letter sent to the foreign media – particularly the English ones (http://www.oleole.com/blogs/oleole/posts/fifa-world-cup-south-africa---an-open-letter-to-our-foreign-media-friends).
Of course, football at this level needs stadia. Some of ours are works of art – by intent. Soccer City in Johannesburg, seating 90,000, was designed to look like a calabash (a pot made from a gourd – in common use throughout Africa). Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit has its roof supported by towers shaped like giraffe and its seats painted, zebra-like, in stripes of black and white. Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, named after a giant of the freedom movement and later general-secretary of the South African Communist Party, takes its design inspiration from the South African flag, with its grand arch representing the unity of a sport-loving nation. The two legs of the arch on the southern side come together to form a single footing on the northern side, symbolizing the uniting of our once-divided nation.
Then, of course, there is the vuvuzela. Not only are there mirror socks, but there also socks for vuvuzelas, called sockzelas – not to keep them warm in the cold Highveld winter, but to dress them up with the team’s colors. It is a boon for people like me whose allegiance changes as teams get eliminated. My pecking order is Bafana Bafana first, the USA second, then any African team. Talking of vuvuzelas, one composer got into the act and composed a concerto for vuvuzela (music shown). It is played everywhere, and very morning I wake up to its mellifluous tones emanating from houses at the bottom of the hill. As we say in South Africa, ‘lekker!’ (nice).
People have emerged as great entrepreneurs for the World Cup – for example, the makarapa, a hard hat, was first used in the early 1970’s to protect football fans from bottles. Today the inventor, a poor Black guy from near Johannesburg, has teamed with a businessman to make hundreds of them – individual works of art. And fans and tourists love them. I’m sure you’ll soon see them in a shop near you.
I’ve always been a sportsman – football, cricket, field hockey, rugby, tennis, squash, golf, and so on. I particularly love team sports because success only happens when everyone pulls together. Team sports teach interdependence and unselfishness. And there are few highs as high as being in a team that is successful because of its teamwork. Teamwork is, of course, a metaphor for life. And that is one of the attractions of tournaments like the World Cup. They give ordinary people the opportunity to observe great teamwork. They inspire kids in particular to play team sports and to play cooperatively.
And that brings me to the only major disappointment of the tournament to date – not the abysmal performance of the French team, but their behavior. The French were staying at the luxurious Pezula Hotel up the road from me, and we were all excited, sports lovers that we are. We liked the South African and French flags alternating on the lampposts throughout the suburb. And the Danish team was staying at the other side of town. And the Danish flag was fluttering too. Our little town of 60,000 was hosting two teams! Amazing.
But then the difference between the two teams started to appear. The security for the French team was draconian. Residents like me were subject to police roadblocks to get to our homes. We had to get security clearances to go to our golf clubhouse and get similar clearances for guests. There were dozens of police everywhere. Security around the Danes was relaxed and minimal.
The French were secretive and not social at all. We never saw them in person, except for a couple of times when we were invited to watch them practise. And when the team went to practise, they drove the kilometre or two in a bus with darkened windows, escorted by (and I’m not exaggerating) eight or nine police cars, blue lights flashing. I was appalled to hear that he staff in the clubhouse was instructed not to look directly at the faces of the French players, but to look down as they passed. The Danes, on the other hand, joined the locals for drinks when they had a chance.
It was its behavior that lost the French team our support – the aloofness, the acrimony, the squabbling, the mutiny, the French coach’s refusal to shake the South African coach’s hand after the French lost to Bafana Bafana. We wanted the team to set an example to the kids of our town, to play with them, to inspire them, But what we got was a bunch of men, earning in a week more than many Knysna residents would earn in a lifetime, who demanded to be treated like royalty.
And so our exuberance about the World Cup has been saddened by what we saw here. Saddened because most of us have great affection for France and the French; saddened because, with little effort, the French team could have had such a positive impact and won our hearts.
‘Ayoba’ is an expression of pleasure or amazement, like ‘cool’. We would like to have used it about our French guests. Instead we think they should learn about ubuntu – an African philosophy about which I will write soon – which teaches that a person is a person through other persons.
The French have now left. Ayoba! We can get back to our enjoyment.
Now I am waving my Stars and Stripes for Saturday’s game, unfortunately against an African team – Ghana. But then again, either way I win!
Stan - Thursday