South Africa United

first_imgAfter almost six years of waiting and worrying, the FIFA World Cup is finally here in South Africa. Next week’s opening ceremony and the first game for ‘Bafana Bafana’- the nickname given to the national side-will signal the beginning of what many in South Africa, and indeed Africa, hope to,After almost six years of waiting and worrying, the FIFA World Cup is finally here in South Africa. Next week’s opening ceremony and the first game for ‘Bafana Bafana’- the nickname given to the national side-will signal the beginning of what many in South Africa, and indeed Africa, hope to be the best World Cup ever.South African football fans are lively and are waiting for the world to arrive It’s been a long road, filled with doubt and fear, but the construction of wondrous stadiums across the country and the major overhaul of transport facilities convinced those who refused to believe that the world could trust Africa with such a massive responsibility.Many are calling this an opportunity for not only South Africa, but also for the continent of Africa as a whole. Long seen as the poor cousin in the world, hosting the biggest sports event in the world illustrates just how far the ‘dark continent’ has come.South Africa has embraced the Cup, with the majority of workplaces and even schools adopting ‘Football Fridays’, where employees ditch regular attire and wear ‘Bafana Bafana’ shirts to add to the excitement of the biggest year in South Africa’s sporting history.Football, a predominantly ‘black sport’ in South Africa, has been embraced by every race in the Rainbow Nation, with even previously sceptical observers throwing their weight behind the event. Recently, the Blue Bulls-South Africa’s standout rugby side-chose to host two of their most crucial matches in Soweto, a previous hotbed for racial tensions and the symbolic home of black struggle in the country.advertisementR640 million (Rs 90 crore) will be spent to deploy 41,000 specially trained police officials for the 2010 World CupThe Bulls, from the Afrikaner-dominated Pretoria, shattered boundaries with one inspired move, and their subsequent winning of the Super 14 tournament in the heart of Soweto was another step towards unifying a nation that is still rebuilding itself.The sight of white Bulls’ fans mixing with locals in taverns and in the stands has galvanised the wave of support behind ‘Bafana Bafana’ for this World Cup, in much the same way that the 1995 Rugby World Cup swept up the entire nation and pushed the unfancied Springboks all the way to the world title.Yet, a similar fairy-tale story for South Africa’s national team is not likely. Most fans’ hopes are now consigned to simply qualifying for the second round.The embarrassment of becoming the first host nation to fall at the first hurdle is a prospect that no one wants to even consider. Form though suggests that captain Aaron Mokoena’s side will have to find new levels to emerge from the group with France, Uruguay and Mexico.Indeed, ‘Bafana Bafana’ have declined since the turn of the century and the entire country is now in silent prayer that the five-month training camp before the tournament will reap rewards for coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.This is the Brazilian’s second stint at the helm and his presence has managed to restore some sort of stability to a ship that was threatening to veer dangerously off-course.In a landmark event the Africaner-dominated bulls rugby team celebrated a super 14-S win in Soweto stadium After a short break, Parreira’s return as an emergency measure immediately transformed the fortunes with an unbeaten, 10-match run up to the World Cup. Infrastructure may have taken shape but informed observers are nagged with worry about the South Africa’s overall footballing fortunes.Since being on the brink of making second round in 2002, ‘Bafana Bafana’ have not kicked on. Instead they are a shadow of the side that was continental champions in 1996. The development of young talent has been poor, with coaches highlighting this as the glaring weakness in South African football.An entire nation is hoping to be the crucial 12th man for the team with vociferous support from the stands. The ‘vuvuzela’, a trumpet of sorts that is part and parcel of the local scene, was met with disdain by players who participated in last year’s Confederations Cup.Spain and Italy called for the offending instrument to be banned, but the FIFA has said it adds to the atmosphere, and coach Parreira has called on all the ‘vuvuzelas’ to be on full blast to aid his side. No South African will care how the team makes it to the last 16, so long as they get there. The motto it seems is, ‘By any means necessary’.To our visitors I have to say that, despite the usual reports predicting massacres on every street, what you are more likely to find is a country in party mode for a month. Yet, mindful of the country’s notorious reputation for crime, South Africa has invested heavily in getting over 10,000 extra police officers into gear. These extra numbers will allow key areas including fan parks, high volume roads and public areas to be heavily guarded. Crime hot spots have also been given extra attention, with CCTV cameras adorning most city centres.advertisementThe general message now being sent out by authorities is that if the tourists don’t behave reckless, they should enjoy themselves. Every major city is transformed into a cacophony of colour for the occasion. The beaches of Durban will provide variety to the parties of Cape Town and the malls of Johannesburg, along with the country’s vast range of attractions will ensure that the entertainment doesn’t just end on the field.South Africa has put on its best frock and, after much work, is ready to put out its best foot and welcome the world with open arms.It is time. Wozani (Come on in).The author is sports writer for The Witness, Pietermaritzburg, the oldest daily news-paper in South Africa.last_img

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