South Africa’s ‘ubuntu warriors’

17 June 2009

The festive mood around South Africa is growing as the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup heats up, with thousands of people flocking to USA versus Italy match at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria on Monday night.

For some though, the tournament is not about sitting back and enjoying the feast of football on offer. Over 4 000 South Africans are currently working as volunteers around the four stadiums and host cities, playing a crucial role in ensuring that Fifa’s “Festival of Continental Champions” is a success.

“We’ve been looking forward to today and have been preparing for quite a while,” 31-year-old Frederick Mbazima said while paging through the volunteers’ training manual. “Now it’s time for the practical,” he added, shutting the booklet as the first fans began arriving for the match.

By profession, Mbazima is a mechanical technician at a Pretoria-based nuclear energy research facility, but at Loftus Versfeld Stadium he is a spectator services volunteer. As the fans stream into the stadium, Mbazima leads them through the correct gate entrances.

“The Confederations Cup is an opportunity for us to meet people, make friends and to engage with people from overseas,” he says. “The only way I saw for me to be a part of all of this was through the volunteer programme.”

The volunteers all seem to enjoy describing their roles and responsibilities during the “World Cup warmup” event. Suliman Anvar Suliman, supervisor for the Tshwane/Pretoria accreditation centre, describes his operational area as the heart and soul of the tournament. “Nothing can function without us,” he says.

Since 1 June, Suliman and his team have been hard at work accrediting media officials and tournament staff for venue access. Monday was definitely their busiest day so far, he said.

“I think we’ve had about 1 000 people pass through here today – from stewards to police officers, media, caterers and bodyguards. But we’re proud to say things have gone very smoothly.”

Suliman says that working as a Confederations Cup volunteer is not something he takes for granted. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It might not come again, not even in my children’s lifetime. It’s a chance for me to give back to my country.”

Of the nearly 40 000 people that applied to be volunteers for the tournament, a total of 4 030 (1 129 from Tshwane/Pretoria) were chosen after a rigorous recruitment process that included a panel interview.

Charles Ndlovu from Bushbuckridge says that when the panel asked him why he wanted to be a volunteer, his answer was simple. “I grew up serving my community and I grew up loving my country. So of course, I would love to welcome the world to South Africa.

“Being a volunteer is not about money or anything else,” the 23-year-old adds – it’s about service and love.”

Solomon Modaka says he’ll definitely be handing in his application form again when the volunteer programme for the 2010 Fifa World Cup opens on 20 July 2009.

Busy checking tickets from his post at one of the main entrance gates, where supporters arrive from the park and ride/walk facilities, Modaka said: “When 2010 comes, you’ll see me there – I’ll be volunteering again.”

SAinfo reporter and 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Organising Committee

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