Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Diary of an Umlungu* at the Soweto Derby - Part One

Friday 8th March 2013

My supporters’ club membership for Kaizer Chiefs had expired a couple of years back while I was living in Edinburgh. There wasn’t much point in trying to renew it if I wasn’t going to be able to watch them play. I hadn’t bought a new Chiefs shirt in a few years either. I’d wanted the zebra one but I could never get hold of it in the UK.

Today I rectified both when I visited the Kaizer Chiefs village in Naturena, Soweto. It’s not a village in the conventional sense but an area housing the offices, training facilities and the club shop. With it being the day before the derby against Pirates, taxi loads of Chiefs supporters from across the country and beyond (supporters from Harare made an appearance) congregated at the village to renew memberships, buy new shirts and other merchandise, and get in a party mood. The club shop itself was like a mini Man Utd megastore, with a variety of shirts and other goods (the strangest was a wireless door bell – I guess someone might want it). The fans were parting with their hard-earned cash very easily as Chiefs’ branded plastic bags were stuffed full of the latest stock. Two free derby tickets with every home shirt purchased must have helped there.

You could buy home shirts, two different away shirts, training shirts, training vests, rugby shirts, golf shirts...
Yet also in the shop lurked a camera crew, well, cameraman and an interviewer. They made their way over to me and as I made eye contact with them, I knew exactly what they wanted and why, but I still wanted to get them to explicitly state it. They asked me if they could interview me for Kaizer Chiefs TV. The following exchange went something like this:

Me: But why would you want to interview me?

Them: We think that you’ll represent the diversity of Kaizer Chiefs fans.

Me: But I don’t think that I do. There aren’t many people like me.

Them: That doesn’t matter.

For diversity, read white. They couldn’t have known that I was an Englishman when they first asked me so it couldn’t have been that I was from overseas. The attention-seeking side of me loved this but it was also telling of the state of South African football fandom as a whole. The significance that these people had place on me because I looked different from everyone else reflects the sad truth that domestic football is often ignored by many white South Africans, so when a white guy supports a local team, it is often seen as strange. I remember back in 2009, The Star did a whole page article on an Orlando Pirates supporter just because he was white.

Sleep-deprived supporters from around SA enticed by free t-shirts and derby tickets being handed out

I wasn't going to start dancing but the Amakhosi faithful were getting into the party mood

The cameraman followed me to the membership office so he could film me filling in my form. I tried to do it in my best handwriting but even my best is just a messy scrawl. The interview itself didn’t last that long. At one point, I had to say Amakhosi 4 Life with two fingers up in the peace sign, which is the symbol that the Chiefs fans use to reflect their slogan of Love and Peace. This was done with a fair deal of social awkwardness as my English reserve was bitterly fighting against any such lack of inhibition. I bumbled my way through the next two or three minutes without too many 'ums' and 'ers' before making a hasty retreat. Still, for a brief moment, the researcher had become the researched. I don't think that my research training covered this.

*umlungu/ mlungu = white person

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