World Cup spirit in Soweto

South African and foreign fans get the
vuvuzela noise going at the Fifa Fan Fest
in Soweto.
(Image: Nosimilo Ramela)

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2010 Fifa World Cup
Local Organising Committee
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Nosimilo Ramela

While over 90 000 football fans were having the time of their lives as South Africa’s 2010 Fifa World Cup kicked off at the iconic Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on Friday, eight kilometres away, in the heart of Soweto township, another 40 000 were getting into the tournament spirit with the Fifa Fan Fest.

Elkah Stadium in Moroka, Soweto, is one of the two Fan Fests venues in Johannesburg; the other is to the north of the city, in the upmarket Sandton area. On Friday locals and foreign visitors braved the winter cold to enjoy the atmosphere as they watched first the colourful opening ceremony on the huge screen, and then the intense clash between South Africa and Mexico.

“This is history in the making. I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said Sindiswa Mgoza from Pimville, Soweto. “Watching it at a fan fest with thousands of fellow South Africans and football lovers from all over the world makes it even more special.

“We are sharing our cultures and making history – and what better place to do that than in Soweto, where freedom fighters such as Mandela once lived.”

The streets of Soweto were a blaze of green and yellow as crowds wearing South African football jerseys sang, waved the national flag and blew on noisy vuvuzela trumpets as they made their way to the festival. The stadium opened at 10am, with a stage for live performances from local and international artists, the huge screen, and plenty to eat and drink.

Marquees set up throughout the stadium offered visitors traditional South African food such as steamed bread and tripe, pap ‘n vleis (stiff porridge and meat) and boerewors rolls. Security was tight, with a large contingent of officers keeping order all day and through the night.

People came with their families, carrying blankets for children and camp chairs for the elderly. Many came early to get the prime spot in front of the screen. “We arrived here at 11:30am,” said Mathato Molefe from Jabulani, Soweto. “We didn’t want to rush, and get stuck coming in, as we came with our elderly mother and kids.”

Molefe and her family were all wearing South African football jerseys, hats, scarves, and jackets with the national colours, carrying vuvuzelas and South African flags. “We are very proud of our country, and are excited to see the first African World Cup being played in our own back yard.”

William Hamilton from England came to the fan fest with friends from Australia, the US and South Africa. “We just had to come and watch the opening game in Soweto,” he said. “This is a historical event and this township and its people are a major part of this country’s history. Being here for us is like being at the centre of the making of history.”

Hamilton said he and his friends were loving Soweto. “The people here are really amazing. They know how to have fun. The dancing and singing has really put us in the spirit of an African World Cup.”

Getting into the jive

A few hours before the kickoff, as people slowly filled up the stadium, local artist Chommee opened the entertainment with her dancers jiving to her hit songs such as Jive Sexy and Fly the Flag, while the crowd danced and sang along.

When Somali-Canadian artist K’naan took the stage to sing his anthemic Wavin’ Flag the queues at the food stalls evaporated as everyone headed to the stage. The crowds went into wild cheers and flags flew high as everyone held hands and sang along – many with tears in their eyes – just 10 minutes before the game began.

“This song brought all of us to tears,” said Nosihle Mthembu. “K’naan gave such an emotional performance. I’m sure there wasn’t a dry tear in the entire stadium, in fact in all of Soweto. I’m sure they could hear him and us from every corner.”

Let the games begin

The air was thick with anticipation as the whistle blew to start the first game of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The tension was palpable, people screaming and gasping, as the game picked up and the two teams tried for goal. There were passionate celebrations when South African striker Simphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the tournament, putting his country in the lead.

“We are well on our way now,” said Thabiso Mokoena. “Tshabalala has just rewarded every South African for all their efforts putting this World Cup together, and for all of us cheering fans, who have come out in numbers to blow our vuvuzelas and wave our flags.”

Though the game ended in a 1-1 draw, there was still a sense of victory for the successful launch of South Africa’s – and Africa’s – first Fifa World Cup, with an amazing opening ceremony and a cracking opening goal. “At the end of the day we scored the first goal; we opened this tournament with an electric goal,” said Mokoena.

The families made their way home after the game, while the youngsters stayed to enjoy the festivities as local DJs played through to midnight – and the beer queues grew longer.