Today the one year countdown begins! A year to go until the Soccer World Cup comes to South Africa. The big 2010. Or it seems the more firmly entrenched way to pronounce it would be 20 10. I am receiving reports that the whole of Africa is getting behind us (http://bit.ly/fbz9Z) with this contagious excitement, although the World Cup fervour does not stand alone as a South African representative in Africa. Old JC Zuma is just as revered North of our country, so perhaps that is not really a great indication of vindication that 2010 is as important as we might think.
It is of course and should need no vindication. But we live at the tip of Africa which is sometimes a long way off from certain goings on in the rest of the world and although South African locals have been exposed to 2010 articles, facts, branding and advertising for a year or so already. The funny thing is, white South Africans (not involved in the ACTUAL build up to the event on some commercial, marketing or business point of view, or those involved in local soccer itself) have not the faintest idea as to what is coming our way. Oh you will certainly hear the regurgitation's spewing out of every bloke and his buddies mouths around the braai or while settling down to watch some rugby or cricket together on TV; or from the Book Club wives and Poppies getting together on a Thursday night or for that Monday morning coffee at Vida e Cafe. The World Cup talk is, for the vast majority of us locals, purely a way of making use of the chance to say something attention grabbing so as to be a part of the conversation, and perhaps even out-do your buddies while you are at it. To show how up-to-date one is with that happening around us. And that is exactly how we know it so far ... as something that is around us but not a part of us.
Not a clue I say:
Soccer, you see, has never really been much a part of the uniting of the Rainbow Nation. Not on the grand scale as mentioned above. Rugby was a big part of President Nelson Mandela's master plan - hatched while doing hard labour and sleeping on even harder cold floors on Robben Island. The plan proved to be a miracle as it played such a phenomenal role as the catalyst to making sure the transition of power in South Africa was effected in such an efficient way. Us whites were given our all-precious rugby back to play out on an International stage - which was greedily accepted and made the most of, resulting in an amazing against the odds win to claim the 1995 Rugby World Cup. So we won the William Webb Ellis Cup to crown South Africa as the World Champions in our beloved white mans sport - Rugby. The country danced in the streets as one - literally danced in the streets as the traffic stopped. On that day, there was no traffic in the cities, nobody needed to go anywhere, everybody was celebrating. It was a truly wonderful moment to be a part of and to experience.
Soccer enthusiasts celebrated as hard as any others in the RWC 1995 fanfare. Soccer though had no such lofty aspirations with the masses. As long as the boys and men could play the game they were happy ... and they did, everywhere they got the chance. There have been no such ubiquitous celebratory moments in soccer in South Africa, even when the platform has been presented. How many of us whiteys even remember South Africa won the African Nations Cup! The whites have just never really bought into it. Why should they, there is plenty going on without soccer and nobody was really pushing it down their throats too actively.
I too am a whitey. From many years back though, I have African soccer in my blood. Not the tainted feel for the game that you will find if you go looking for a litmus test of our cuntries soccer from the top of the pile in the local leagues. No, I have the feeling from real soccer experiences, from the 'pick-up' games that been played where ever possible for countless years gone by. From the small holding urban area I lived in, just next door to Alexandra township, to the beaches of Hout Bay in Cape Town, I always managed to find a game as a strong little bare foot whitey. For the first few minutes the dark faces would look at me with consternation and there was always at least one whose first reaction was that he did not want me there. The anger in those eyes will always be with me. Fore everyone of those angry fellows though, there was a huge white smile, and usually more than one, that welcomed me in a true African unabated friendliness that was available to even a young unknown and unaccompanied white boy when, even under the harshest conditions of apartheid in the 1980's, the smell and feel of freedom was able to be found on a piece of dirt with some tree trunks or oil drums for goals and some form of soccer ball. It was unabated, sometimes rough (I was 9,10,11 years old playing properly against and with tough men) and exhilarating beyond my abilities to describe to to you in words.
Soccer was always remained dreamy to me. World Cups were 'out there' and a little bit too untouchable if you lived in South Africa. The exotic and mysterious flavour found its way into my head though. I remember listening to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico when Maradonna socred a goal with his hand - soccer World Cup now, not Rugby - no hands allowed. Listening I say, as we were probably not afforded the rights to broadcast the events such as that due to our political stand point at the time. So I had to make do with the wireless. It was crackly and comforting. A good dose of the way people took part in supporting their sports teams in the last 80 years or so I should expect.
The next World Cup was in Italy and so in went on. South Africa eventually got to take part too, but were nothing special. Tainted by politicking and poor management has been the reality as the game has become more and more big business in South Africa ... its such a pity as there is plenty of talent, but no direction and counter productive efforts keep us languishing.
This will do little to quell the exuberance of the soccer loving nation next year as the beautiful game comes home to Africa. It is a part of so much that is African, a lot more so than Europeans, South Americans and the rest of the world realises. I think there will be some amazement from those visitors as they flood to our beautiful country to enjoy the latest volume of World Cup soccer in action. None though, will be more amazed than the locals. It is just too big to contemplate and does not register on the frames we use as points of reference - cricket WC, Rugby WC and a couple of large tournaments we have hosted. This one will be very different. Off the charts bro!
What is of personal interest to me though, on a local Cape Town scale, is to see the reaction to South Africa coming to Cape Town. Along with all the melting pot of the rest of the world, there will be a huge following of South Africans moving all over the country. Cape Town folk that have not lived in any other part of South Africa do not, I think, have a clear picture of how their country actually looks. I am talking about whites in Cape Town you understand. I can't wait to see the awakening take place as they come out of a long slumber of ignorance and strange perception of what our country is like. Not a fault or anyone nor poor behaviour by the Capetonians mind you. Just a lack of feeling for the rest of the country. A relaxed bunch that are going to be shaken up, hopefully to the extent that we were back in 1995. Back then, when all had settled, the sentiment was incredibly positive and that is probably the most powerful tool to actually getting things done that are worthwhile in our land. I know it will be the same next year, and I can't wait.
It's less than a year now and soon it will be out of even FIFA's hands as Africa brings its unique flavour to what the former call football and what we call soccer. The African rhythm is unique, not as flamboyant as the South Americans, not as fluid as the Europeans or as energetic as the Asians. The Power and Mystique though go unchallenged. That is what those embracing the event in 2010 with the right intention will be able to tap into. A unique experience to be sure. Sound the drums and awaken Cape Town from its slumber!