With heavy heart, a proud South Africa bid adieu to the world

July 10th, 2010 - 10:29 pm ICT by IANS  

By Abhishek Roy
Johannesburg, July 10 (IANS) Irrespective of whoever wins or loses World Cup 2010, the month-long party will come to an end for South Africa Sunday night as they prepare to bid adieu to hundreds of thousands of football fans who crisscrossed boundaries to join the month-long sporting extravaganza in this country.

The majestic Soccer City stadium, set in the backdrop of historical township of Soweto from where South Africans started their struggle against apartheid, is perhaps the apt place where tournament could have come to an end, with both Spain and Netherlands looking to write their footballing history by winning their maiden World Cup.

While the winners will begin a long party that they continue in their country when they go back with the trophy, for the 48 million South Africans who sank their differences and put their best put forward to organise the event in the face of global scepticism, it is yet to sink in that the party is coming to an end.

“The whole country was in a state of trance. Now with just a day left for the World Cup to get over, it becomes hard to believe it’s going to end. It took a long time for the country to get ready for this event,” Prince, a cab driver, told IANS.

Lucille, a tour guide who travelled in the hundreds of deluxe tourist buses that were hired for the championship, spoke of “withdrawal symptoms” and rued: “I will not know what to do with my life from tomorrow, especially with my evenings.”

The early exit of the national team, affectionately called the Bafana Bafana (my boys, my boys), didn’t dent the spirits of the South Africans as the whole of Africa united to celebrate sport’s greatest draw that was being staged for the first time in the continent, largely due to the pull of South Africa’s icon and former president, the 92-year-old Nelson Mandela who is expected to be at the final.

“I am proud to be a part of the generation that saw the World Cup. We were lucky because in the next 50 years I can tell you South Africa will not host a World Cup. So, I can proudly tell my children that I saw the World Cup in Johannesburg,” Freddie Kgafela, who works in a store, told IANS.

The whole month South Africa never looked like a country that suffered the bitter divisions of racism. Football, traditonally known as the game for the blacks and coloured, also saw whites coming out in large numbers, blowing their vuvuzelas and participating actively in the sporting spectacle.

“I have never seen this side of South Africa in my life. I think the World Cup was the best way to honour the country’s fight against apartheid. Fans of all communities sat together and cheered for Bafana Bafana,” said Alex Whitaker, a British origin local.

From the dingy lanes of Soweto to the glitzy lanes of Sandton, the city of Johannesburg is now painted in orange the national colour of the Dutch, whose ancestors ruled here.

Nearly 1,000 Dutch fans, known as ‘De Oranje’ camp, from the Netherlands have settled in the nearby national capital of Pretoria. ‘De Oranje’ camp is believed to be the world’s largest football fan camp and consists of a convoy of 175 vehicles travelling across the entire African continent.

Even in Sandton, a posh area for the whites, Dutch flags are found flying high on roofs.

“We have written the history of this country and it is an irony that now we have come here again to write our country’s footballing history. I guess the local support for the Dutch team will be phenomenal and that will help us,” said Dennis de Villiers, a local of Dutch origin.

Security issues apart, the World Cup has turned out to be a “pot of gold” for South Africa, that helped the government showcase a different image of Mandela’s dream ‘Rainbow Nation’, where all races would live in harmony, to the world.

President Jacob Zuma said the World Cup had brought “priceless” benefits to South Africa, as the the 33 billion rand (4.2 billion USD) spent had led to lasting improvements in infrastructure, communications and transport.

But the social impact had been even greater, he said, as black and white fans packed into stadiums and fan parks together, 16 years after the first all-race elections ended white-minority rule.

“The social benefits are priceless. We have seen remarkable unity, patriotism and solidarity being displayed by South Africans, which has never been witnessed before,” Zuma said earlier this week.

“This augurs well for the consolidation of reconciliation and friendship for this young nation. We intend to build on this achievement,” he said.

(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at abhishek.roy@ians.in)

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