Are funny creatures. We tend to rally around the oddest of things. Elections, rugby, our barbecue technique and, after today, our football.
After watching the opening game and ceremony, in which we drew against Mexico 1-1 (a good score, considering how crap our team is!), I have yet to encounter the same amount of collective pride in a national team as I did tonight. When we won the rugby world cup in ‘95, it was largely fat white dudes parading around celebrating, or at least to my memory. When we won it again in 2007 I was in Japan, but I believe the same kind of spirit was in existence for a brief period. After seeing this game, and the excitement in Johannesburg during the week leading up to it… wow, we are a strange nation!
The sheer passion witnessed amongst all kinds of South Africans during this game, the cheering of the simplest tackle or pass, it all makes for an incredibly inspiring show. When our goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune makes an easy save, or simply collects the ball, the entire crowd erupts in a cacophony of vuvuzela trumpeting and screams. I take part, because I feel the same invested passion in the importance of this game.
The opening ceremony was also quite appropriate. Austere, yet symbolic. Graceful, yet inherently primal in the kind of way only Africans understand. It wasn’t the excessive, bombastic display of sheer excess formalised into giant formations of drummers and soldiers like the Chinese olympics, but I would have been disappointed if it was. This is Africa (TIA) after all, and to spend billions on an hour long ceremony would have shown the world only our incredibly irresponsible side. Instead, the ceremony as it was (and to an extent, the game), showed that. yes. this is africa, and we don’t have much in the way of excess, but what we do have is a unique sense of self which Westerners can only contrast with depressingly bleak existentialist representations of society. Tonight was a celebration. I was initially depressed at the thought that this much energy and money was being focused into such a small project compared to South Africa’s more obvious problems, but the resignation that this kind of focus of energy would never have emerged without a soccer world cup prevails.
Johannesburg is the focal point for all this. I didn’t realise it until my brother noted that the myriad flags adorning the cars were not at all normal in his town. I’m sure they are now, but Johannesburg has traditionally been the heart and soul of South Africa. It’s not as pretty in the superficial way that Cape Town is, nor is it as obviously fun as the beach city of Durban is, but everyone comes to Joburg, no matter what! Here in Johannesburg, being South African is at least for this moment in time a fantastic thing to be. It’s patriotism and nationalism rolled up into one big bag. Sport is a matter of waging politics by other means, and it’s awesome for now! At least, that’s how we feel for the tournament.
So, much like the fantastic rugby world cup victory three years ago, I shall enjoy this month. Not because it represents a paradigmatic shift in South Africa’s conscience, because it doesn’t. But I shall enjoy it because it represents yet again what we can be. The ideal manifestation of South Africa society is forced through during this tournament. And it’s nice to be reminded of the superego, the heavenly aspect of ourselves, which we can be, which can strive for. Maybe one day our children or grandchildren will experience this kind of unity and enthusiasm on a daily basis. For us, however, it’s simply a taste of what this fantastic country can be.
Song of the day: – K’naan and Bisbal – Wave your flag (should have been the official theme anthem!)