Soweto’s football derby frenzy

Soweto was bustling with excitement ahead
of the football derby between Kaizer Chiefs
and Orlando Pirates, South Africa’s biggest
football teams.

Orlando Pirates fans waiting to get into the

Jugglers entertain the crowds outside
the stadium before the game.
(Images: Nosimilo Ndlovu)

• Altaaf Kazi
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Nosimilo Ndlovu

Soweto was full of excitement on Saturday 31 October ahead of the much-anticipated football derby between top local teams Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, which both call the township home.

Lying in the southwest of Johannesburg, Soweto is South Africa’s largest and most famous township, home to over 1-million people.

The Soweto derby is the biggest game in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League and always attracts a huge following of fans. But Saturday’s face-off was particularly significant because it was the first time in 26 years that the giants battled it out on home turf, where their rivalry began.

The match was played at Orlando Stadium, newly refurbished as a training venue for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Over the past two decades the derby venue has mostly been Soccer City in Nasrec, outside Soweto, but that stadium was unavailable because it is also undergoing World Cup renovations.

When news broke that the Soweto teams would be returning home, Joburgers of all kinds wanted in on the action.

Driving through downtown Johannesburg on the morning of the game, dressed in my Kaizer Chiefs yellow T-shirt and matching black pants, derby frenzy was in the air.

Almost everyone on the streets was dressed in their favourite team kit. Minibus taxis, draped with either Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates flags, hooted as they drove past fans, who were waving and blowing on vuvuzelas, plastic trumpets used as noisemakers at local matches, to announce the big game. Even my car radio pumped our blasts of vuvuzelas.

Queues snaked around the corner at all the shisa nyamas, isiZulu for the informal pavement restaurants where you can buy meat and have it cooked on site, on an open fire. Fans were filling up on pap en vleis (Afrikaans for stiff porridge and meat) before making their way to the stadium, chanting in unison.

By midday the city centre was almost empty – everyone had rushed to Soweto to see the big clash. Traffic heading to Soweto was flowing, but as we got closer to the stadium it almost ground to a halt. Traffic officers quickly stepped in to get the cars moving again, much to the relief of the fans.

In Orlando East, where the stadium is situated, the rainbow nation filled the streets as football supporters from both teams marched along with vuvuzelas and flags in hand. Black, white, coloured, and Indian South Africans shared stories and laughed as they approached the stadium gates.

Business booming

Business was booming outside the stadium, with vendors lining the road to sell branded flags, vuvuzelas, umbrellas, hats, assorted sweets, food and cigarettes – anything a fan may need before, during or after the game.

Young car guards ran up and down whistling and waving at drivers, hoping to score a decent tip for pointing out a good parking spot.

Yoliswa Ndaba sat a short distance from the stadium with her pots and gas stove, selling hot pig trotters – a culinary hit with the locals.

“I arrived here early in the morning hoping to secure a good spot and catch supporters as they started arriving and wanted something to eat before the game,” she said.

It was the first time she had sold food at a game. “I usually sell at the local train station, but decided to come here today. This is a big match – everyone will be coming here so I think business will be good.”

Next to her three men had also set up tables and a gas stove, selling another local favourite – cow liver and pap.

The rich aromas stopped a number of passing fans, who stared longingly at the huge frying pan sizzling with mounds of liver. Cooks Mxolisi Sithole, Lesego Mokoena and Thandanani Mbambo cajoled them with, “Come on my brother, just R30 for a plate. Come, my sister, come, we’ll do it quickly for you.”

It was also their first time to sell to match-day crowds. “Business is really good here,” said Mokoena. “Next time we are going to make salads and come earlier. They’ll find us here when they arrive and we’ll be waiting for them when they come out.”

Mbambo added: “People are excited when they come here. Their pockets are loose. Some come with children –and children always want food.

“We’ll be here in 2010. We’ll be selling this food to tourists who want to experience truly South African cuisine. The tourists are used to rice and shawarmas – they’re not going to come all the way here just to eat the same food they eat back home. They will want something unique, and we’ll be here to give it to them.”

It was five minutes before kickoff, but supporters were still queuing at the stadium gates. As they waited they were entertained by local ball jugglers showing off their best skills, hoping for a tip, and a young gymnast pulling off remarkable contortions as he spun around in the air.

A band of photographers cut in, promising fans free entry to the game if they bought a photo of themselves. “Same time memories, same time photos and free tickets,” they shouted as they ran up and down through the crowds. Inevitably, the tickets never materialised.

Football nation

Football is the most widely played sport in South Africa, particularly popular among the country’s black community. Local teams are followed with passion by fans across all nine provinces.

In Soweto on the day of the derby, the streets emptied out as the game began. Many people headed indoors to catch the action on TV, while the diehard fans who couldn’t get tickets – the match was sold out three days before the event – gathered at local hot spots where the match was being screened.

The game ended with a draw, probably the best outcome for the fans, and for Soweto. With no-one disappointed, the celebration continued. Crowds cheerfully shared beers and analysed the game, while the more energetic headed to nearby parties that raged on until the next morning.