Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oranje, boerewors and xenophobia

A two day football hiatus ended with the first of the semi-finals last night between the Netherlands and Uruguay. I had decided to return to the fan park in Mary Fitzgerald Square, the scene for my roller coaster ride that was Bafana's win over France. I arrived at the park with a couple of friends early to soak up the atmosphere but the only soaking up was that of alcohol. It was dead. It seemed that there were more police than fans, although this did improve just before kick-off. Over half the stalls selling food and crafts were closed, as if they knew that it wasn't going to be worth their while opening up and braving the Jo'burg winter. Looking around at kick-off, I would estimate that only a quarter of the fans at that France game were there last night. 

 Great costumes but these were few in the fan park

Still, 95% of those there were supporting the Dutch, probably for a variety of reasons including Dutch heritage, their attacking style of play and the fact that Uruguay knocked Ghana out/ cheated Ghana out of a semi-final place. If Ghana had played last night, I'm certain that it would have been a different atmosphere. The small crowd cheered and jumped about when Van Bronckhorst scored the opener for the Dutch but were stunned as Diego Forlan was allowed time on the ball to blast home a shot from outside the box. The full time whistle was met with a spontaneous outburst of singing and dancing to the Coca-Cola song Wavin' Flag as the few news crews there were rushing around trying to get footage of the fans deliriously jumping around. It's strange how after football games total strangers come up and hug you in celebration and work their way into your photos. There's been a lot of that this tournament for me.

 Celebrating after the Dutch win - Gijsbert's not a random drunk fan!

Buying a boerewors roll at half time, a Mexican news crew came up to the vendor and started interviewing him about what he was cooking. All of a sudden, they turned around to Ben and I and began asking questions about what we thought about SA food. We kept repeating the word "delicious" as our extended vocabularies eluded our (slightly) drunken selves.

"And what do you think of South African beer?" as they turned to me.

"It's better than English beer!" I blurted out, unable to think of anything more profound. Then they took close-up footage of me eating my roll. It couldn't have been a pleasant sight for those viewers of Estrella Television in Mexico. My apologies...

Yet for all the fun of yesterday, the dominant story in yesterday's newspaper about the threat of xenophobic violence reminded me of all the potential social problems that are bubbling under the facade of the World Cup. Zimbabwean immigrants have allegedly been threatened by South Africans to leave before the end of the World Cup otherwise they face violence and even death. Two years ago, the xenophobic violence in Johannesburg kicked off in the area where I'm currently staying and areas nearby. Seeing the images of one man burning to death on TV and in the newspapers is something I hope isn't repeated again. South Africa is better than this.

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