A note about this article: It was first published by The Daily Maverick in 2014. It is republished here largely unaltered, save for adjusting the timeline to reflect that it has been ten years since South Africa hosted the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Six years after this article was first published – the vacuum back into reality has never been more stark. – Ed
It’s just gone exactly ten years since the Football World Cup kicked off in South Africa. We all seemed to forget about politics, provincial team differences, fast-food takeaway joint preferences and everything else that so often divided us.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The build-up to kick-off started months before and we were even united in that. All the bad press form international media. All the ‘will you guys be ready’ questions. All the doubters, the haters, the stories about machete gangs. But we were ready. We were ready to show the world who we were and exactly what we were capable of. We were, for once, ready to just forget about all the bad stuff and focus on our real national sport: football.
June 11 was a special day. South Africa was painted yellow. Bafana jerseys: authentic, knock-offs and even just plain bad supporters’ tops were everywhere. Phillip, he is here. Offices were all closing early or, at the very least, stopping work early to watch the opening ceremony together. And as Shakira jungoed her hips and little Zolani Mahola proclaimed: “We’re all Africa”, it was like pride and peace encapsulated us.
Doing the fan walk to the V&A Waterfront to find a little spot to watch was magical. Everyone was smiling. People were hugging each other for no reason. Everybody was happy. Content. Excited. We had hope. Nestled in between a bunch of foreigners and friends, we all watched as our boys took to the field. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika echoed across the country. The whistle blew and, we were off.
Siphiwe Tshabalala’s wonder strike sent us all into rapture. Actually, more than rapture. It was something we hadn’t felt before. Unity? Acceptance? Not sure what it was, but we felt it. The equaliser didn’t matter. What mattered was that Bafana Bafana did much better in their opening game than anyone ever thought they would.
“People are raising their expectations. Go on and feed them; this is your moment. No hesitations.”
We rejoiced in the beautiful game. We unified our voices through vuvuzelas. We made stupid little flags come up in everybody’s Twitter feed. We taught the world some choice words, one which would become incriminating evidence against Kevin Pietersen in the future.
We took ‘feel it, it is here’ and made it a person: Phillip, he was here. We showed the world that South Africa had the guts, glory and balls to put up a world-class performance. Despite the criticism (before and) during the tournament, we didn’t let it get us down.
South Africa lost to Uruguay (or Urun**** as they later became known) but there was still hope. Shakira’s theme song for the tournament was never more apt.
“When you fall, get up.
You’re on the front line
You know it’s serious
We are getting closer
This isn’t over…”
But the dream wasn’t to be. South Africa crashed out of the World Cup on a high, after beating France 2-1. That was enough for us. We were happy and we weren’t going to let the party stop.
“In the streets our hands are lifting, as we lose our inhibitions.”
As the tournament continued, we all found other teams to adopt. Many of us became fierce BaGhana BaGhana supporters, which in turn ignited the argument about who was African and who was not, and whether South Africans had any business saying we should support Africans as a whole. It was coming back. Our feistiness. That inherent part of us to always instigate something, because we need to question everything. Our love for arguments is something fierce. Can’t we all just get along for a few weeks?
The World Cup climaxed without a glitch. We were feisty and arguing, but still proud.
The afterglow of hosting a successful international soccer tournament lingered for a while, but soon, the flags started to fall down and the winter weather had faded the mirror socks, the ones that hadn’t been stolen, anyway. Slowly but surely, the vuvuzelas were subdued and we all returned to normal life.
Most of us who never cared about football before, went back to not caring about football. We returned to being self-absorbed. Reality also returned; the knowledge of just how many problems the country still had. How much inequality there was and how much money was wasted.
For most of us, the World Cup didn’t leave a lasting impression. It was easy to get drunk on mob euphoria and FIFA-branded patriotism. Reality, for the average South African, was far-removed from the seas of happy and colourful faces that flooded our shiny new stadiums. And that’s the reality that remains to this day.
We had to return to the real world because we don’t live in Football Utopia.