2010 World Cup, New York style

Expatriate South Africans get Fifa World
Cup football frenzy at Madiba Restaurant
in the heart of New York.

Mark Henegan, owner of Madiba Restaurant.
(Images: Philippa Garson)

• Wolfgang Eichler, Fifa Media Officer
+27 11 567 2010 or +27 83 2010 471
• Delia Fischer, Fifa Media Officer
+27 11 567 2010 or +27 11 567 2524
• Jermaine Craig, Media Manager
2010 Fifa World Cup
Local Organising Committee
+27 11 567 2010 or +27 83 201 0121

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Gallery: United for Bafana Bafana

Philippa Garson, New York

There is no discernible “little South Africa” in New York, the melting pot of the world, but on Friday 11 June the country claimed its piece of the pot when pockets of South Africans exploded with jubilant national pride onto the surprised streets.

Madiba Restaurant, a South African eatery and bar in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was one of several venues on Friday that like magnets across the city drew South Africans for the opening game of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. They came during the morning rush hour to celebrate this defining moment in the history of their country and their continent, seeking as many fellow citizens as they could in a city of over 8-million citizens and a myriad ethnicities.

Madiba did not disappoint. There wasn’t much wiggle-room in the joint, renowned for its boerewors rolls, trendy Afro-chic décor and colourful renditions of its iconic namesake, Nelson Mandela. Clad in football or rugby shirts and swathed in the colours of the flag, South Africans tooted vuvuzelas and sang the national anthem along with their kith and kin at home, some with tears pouring down their cheeks. Never mind that it was 10 in the morning when the game began here: the beer flowed as it would in a township shebeen.

Queen Adam, a 27-year-old au pair, has been living in New York for the last four years, but is planning to go home for a holiday to catch some of the games at the end of the month.

“I’m so excited that the World Cup is in Africa, but more specifically South Africa, because it’s such a global stage,” Adam said emotionally. “Everyone has his or her eyes on the country. So many people in the US are ignorant about South Africa. They see Aids and poverty and suffering but what we are showing them is celebration, life, action.

“Celebration is also such an African thing, something we are so used to doing, but people here don’t know this at all. And now they’re seeing us pull off the biggest celebration in the world.”

Her friend Mimi Maseotsa, also 27, added: “It’s magnificent; it’s beautiful. I feel like crying 24/7. I really want them to win. They deserve it.” Maseotsa, a personal trainer, has been living in Brooklyn for the past five years.

Looking every bit the African queen, Nosipho Cele, who brought along her little boy, Gama, said she felt entirely South African even though she had been living in New York since she was three years old. “I’ll always be South African, even though my community is here. Today is a great day!”

There was little doubt about the allegiance of the rowdy crowd – even of those with more tenuous links to the motherland. Benjamin Stix, a college student whose mother is South African, said he would support South Africa any day over the United States.

He trekked from the top end of Manhattan with his mother to Madiba’s to watch the game. “I just think this is a great opportunity for the country to go far, for the world to see South Africa successfully put on a world class event – it’s really awesome for them.”

His mother, Miriam Lacob Stix, left South Africa 31 years ago. “It feels amazing,” she said. “The concert was incredibly moving. We hung a South African flag out of our window. But I decided that today we had to be with fellow South Africans.”

According to Madiba owner Mark Henegan, the South Africans began trickling in at 6:30am – and didn’t leave until 4am the next morning. He describes the restaurant’s regulars as a “liberal crowd who enjoy cross-culture. These are people who love the whole vibe of Brooklyn and New York. They’re hipsters of all ages, from the young 18-year-old au pairs who exclaim ‘Ag, you’ve got rusks!’ when they arrive, to the kwaito-loving jollers who can drink the night away.”

But this was no regular day at Madiba’s, with the colourful crowd spilling out onto the pavement. The elation after Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the match was followed by tense silence after the Mexicans equalised, and then incessant “oohs” and “aahs” as the South Africans took charge of the second half, vainly trying to score again.

But disappointment at the one-one result soon morphed into elation again, as the bigger picture sank in: the momentous month-long event had just begun and Bafana Bafana had shone on the field. A throng of toyi-toying supporters took to the pavement to do their stuff as cameras and television crews jostled for space.

It has been uplifting to see South Africa – as a place, a phenomenon, an exciting centre of the action – creep into the psyches of navel-gazing Americans for the first time. “You’re from South Africa? Really? Wow, that’s where they’re playing the World Cup”, is a more likely refrain these days than the usual quizzical “South Africa? Oh yeah …”

Suddenly, for football lovers at least, or for those who cannot help but notice the huge Fifa adverts on bus stations here and on their television sets, South Africa is on the map. And football is growing in stature as a national sport as immigrants from South America assert their culture.

Pascal DiNoia, an American businessman, said he didn’t know anything about South Africa until he met Madiba owner, Henegan. “When he came off the boat from South Africa I gave him his first job in the land of opportunity.”

DiNoia soon learned a lot about the country and its legendary statesman from Henegan. “Now I’ve come to regard Nelson Mandela as one of the great minds of the century – a peacemaker. I think it’s time for South Africa to shine. They are no longer in the infancy of their democracy. They need to spur this movement throughout the continent, to show they can really be a beacon of light for the rest of the world.”

Henegan said every non-South African he encountered was “so excited about the country. You won’t believe how many people are saying to me, ‘We want to go to South Africa’.”

Though much of the reporting here on the run-up to the World Cup has questioned the wisdom of South Africa’s hosting such a massive, expensive event when most of its people need jobs, food and houses over fancy stadiums, the country has once again pulled off another rainbow nation moment for itself and for the world.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup will prove a costly output for a nation with so many pressing challenges, but no price can be put on the self esteem of a nation. The positive reverberations will echo long after the incessant, beehive hum of the vuvuzelas has died down.