Bafana! Bafana! Bafaaana! This was the sound of thousands of ordinary South Africans who heeded the call of a local radio station and some corporate sponsors to come out and show their support for the national team. Now, it is pretty much accepted that our boys are not going to hold the solid gold symbol of the ultimate sporting accolade up high, but that was not on the point on Wednesday last week.
The Sandton Bafana Bafana parade.
There were no police cordons, no high-budget marketing campaigns to “mobilise the nation”, no detailed itinerary and route map circulated to all and sundry. No, someone had an idea, the media sent out the message for two days, and the crowds arrived in their droves. I was on my way back from a meeting and took a detour, parked my car in a nearby shopping centre, and walked five blocks to the hotel to see my team and be inspired by what was going on, only a few blocks from my office. All colours, creeds and cultures stood cheek and jowl in the hot winter sun and waited . . . and waited.
Finally the bus appeared and the crowd was rapturous. The 2010 FIFA World Cup had arrived, at last.
Strangely, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee had not issued a tender for advertising or PR support for the single biggest sporting event ever to reach our shores. Two months ago you could have been forgiven for wondering if South Africa was in fact, the host nation. The only real noise was through the sponsors and editorially via the media. A campaign to UNITE the nation and market our fantastic country was a major opportunity missed, in my opinion.
That aside, what Wednesday proved was that sport is a major unifier and that ordinary South Africans WANT to be united as a nation behind a common goal. In a country beleaguered by negative publicity and poor leadership, the power of the people was evident for all to see.
Less than two weeks earlier, one of the icons of rugby, the “Blue Bulls” played in the final of the Super 14, not at their hallowed Loftus Versfeld, but at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. While rugby still remains the province of a predominantly white fan base and the Blue Bulls the poster child of conservative Pretoria, they nevertheless arrived en masse, to be greeted with warmth and enthusiasm by the people of Orlando. Whether this was a clever marketing idea in the build up to the World Cup or a practical solution to a “stadium availability” problem is not important. What is important is the indomitable spirit of South Africans of all walks of life and the often surprising contradictions that occur in this complex society.
Blue Bulls fans enjoy Orlando hospitality.
The excitement of the street parade on Wednesday, was soon forgotten when Friday arrived and the opening game of the tournament, between South Africa and Mexico loomed large. Productivity was low, very low on Friday, and even Business Unity South Africa called on companies to allow employees the opportunity to leave early. And “leave”, they did.
Sandton, at the heart of Johannesburg, was literally “gridlocked” with an unprecedented exodus of people trying to get home to their TVs for the opening ceremony, to fan parks, or to the game itself. Even in the slow-moving snake of traffic heading south from Jozi, the vuvuzela’s were trumpeting; and cars draped in our flag and laden with fans of all kinds were slowly pushing forward with one aim in mind: to get into Soccer City and live the moment. A moment bigger than ourselves.
Standing amongst 84 000 other fans, I felt proud to be South African. The “bar” is low in Africa; many people don’t expect much from a continent beset with violence and poverty, where good-news stories are few and far between and where the normal measures of success don’t apply.
So, we are not going to put on the best opening ceremony of any World Cup and the logistics around traffic control and congestion could be more efficient, but what you will feel is the energy and passion of a people who prevail, sometimes against the odds in the shadow of some weighty issues. A people who continue to surprise, a people who say, “a boer maak ‘n plan” and a nation born out of the vision of an old man, our Madiba, who said that “South Africa is for everyone”.
So we dust off our vuvuzelas, hang out our flags, brush up on our Diski Dance moves, and don our Makarapa’s for the greatest show on earth. We put our problems and differences behind us for about 30 days and enjoy the spirit of the beautiful game, on a beautiful continent in the land of Mandela.
Ayoba Mzanzi! Laduma!
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