Last Friday, the long awaited event, colloquially known as twentyten, finally arrived. Other parts of the world refer to it as the FIFA World Cup but here in South Africa we counted down the days to the start of 2010, even though we were already in the middle of May. Every country has its moments which will forever be remembered by the mere mention of a date. What comes to mind when I say 9-11 in the US or all across the world for that matter? Or 1989 in Germany? Or 26 December to an Indonesian or members of surrounding nations? Many times these dates stir up anger or sadness but there are those precious few which has a positive ring to it.
The very young democratic Republic of South Africa also has a few of these dates which stir the emotions of those who were there to experience it. There are a few pre-democracy and late-apartheid dates which are significant for numerous reasons to the various people groups of South Africa. But then there are those dates which the whole of South Africa share as a nation. I say “1994” and concepts such as freedom, equal rights for all, Nelson Mandela, Rainbow Nation and the new South Africa jumps to mind. Should I open a bottle of 1995 Cab Sauv I don’t think about the fact that this wine is well matured but about “the year the Bokke won”. Anyone not familiar with what this is all about, go to a dvd shop and rent Invictus, not because it’s the greatest movie ever made, but through it you will get a glimpse of one of the most historically significant events in the history of SA.
Different years mean different things to different people but we are now once again experiencing one of those years, and this may possibly be the most significant one yet.
Let me quickly share the run-up (starting in the mid ’90s) towards the start of “2010”. The impoverished community has lost all hope, even with the new black government, who were supposed to lift them from their suppressed state, now in charge. The expected saviour seems unable to save. The richer white minority feels haunted by their past fears of violent payback for apartheid once again. Racial tension are at the highest it’s been since 1994 and everyone knows that either the government needs to act, otherwise people will start doing so. The general public lives in a constant state of irritation because of government’s inability to manage the country properly. Now, providence kicks in and all of a sudden an unknown level of patriotism is reached. Everyone has been talking about it but I have got to admit that I have not seen anything like the past month in SA in my life. It is difficult to explain this to a foreigner – you’ve had your own big moments but I honestly believe this is quite different. First off, two South African teams play in the final of the 2010 Super 14 rugby competition in Soweto – a heartland of black South Africa and home of SA soccer. The festivities surrounding this spectacle make one wonder if apartheid ever even happened? Then comes Friday, 11 June, the first day of “2010” – the country comes to a standstill. Everyone leaves work early, people and also their vehicles are dressed up as if South Africa and Bafana are all that life is about. A new national language has even been born: one where Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and English gets blended together like never before. And the weird thing is, a lot of these people couldn’t care less about soccer on any other day, on the contrary, they will have lots of negative things to say about it and the whole culture they perceive to be surrounding it. Bafana’s permanent support base just permanently increased by about 6 million people! If FIFA is busy playing some joke on us, we’re falling for it hook, line and sinker.
I personally also had a very profound experience on this day. After a long consideration I ended up watching the opening game in the local township of Kayamandi outside of Stellenbosch (my home town). A few friends of mine organised a spot in a shebeen and we watched it with about a hundred die hard Bafana supporters. The atmosphere in that place was electric – singing, dancing, the sweet sound of vuvuzelas and a culture relatively foreign to me. Trying to put it in words will do the whole experience an absolute injustice. This is my personal opinion but I think 11 June 2010 was the day that the average white South African was the furthest separated from his European roots in history and the non-white man was acknowledged by his former oppressor in the most genuine way to date.
We as South Africans find ourselves in the midst of an opportunity. 2010 will not bring an end to poverty, crime or heal racial tensions in South Africa. As a matter of fact, some of these things could get worse as the festivities dies out again. This is an opportunity to have our eyes opened to the few similarities which exist between the people of this diverse nation. An opportunity to say: Hey, I find many customs of my countrymen utterly ridiculous at times and struggle to understand their culture but I acknowledge the fact that they also add value to this nation and contribute in forming the identity of South Africa.
K’Naan’s song says it best to me: When I get older I will be stronger, they’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag, so wave your flag. South Africa is a 16 year old teenager with a very sad history and a huge identity crisis. My prayer is that this nation will realise that there is hope, a hope of growing older and stronger to that place where freedom can truly be experienced by all of its people. So for now, let us wave our flag!
At this stage, nothing paints the picture of what I was trying to explain about what is happening in South Africa at the moment better than this song for me.
Mzansi fo sho!
*another beautiful twist to this story is that I am currently (2015) living in a house with one of the Kayamandi locals who watched the game in the shebeen with me on that day, saying he “remembers the white people who watched the soccer there that day”. 🙂