Only when we confirmed our tickets, half a year ago, it actually dawned: our return to South Africa this year June, would put us in the midst of the World Cup opening. The event South Africa has been anticipating already since 2007, the first year I came to live in South Africa. In those two years I lived in Johannesburg, South Africans were continually counting down to June 11, 16:00, the moment the World Cup is officially opened.
And now it's there. Jozi is abuzz like never before. A few brief impressions.
In short, what's happening I've not seen paralleled in the years I've lived here. There was joy and boisterous partying when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 2007. But the build-up of the past days prior to June 11 was nothing short of electric. It does bring people together. There are countless people dressed in yellow, the official colour of Bafana Bafana (Boys Boys). That includes white people, who actually look pale and unhealthy in the fluorescent colour. But it all seems to say: as a nation, we're together. Countless billboards carry the claim: Unite for Bafana. From a foreigner's perspective it all sounds a bit overrated and cheesy, but it's also very endearing and energising for a country where tensions and huge divisions remain fact. Many South Africans feel that the World Cup was really needed for a country where the atmosphere was grim from months after the murder on Terre'Blanche.
A positive example of World Cup excitement came when we were driving back from the Campus Square mall where we had gone to get 2 identity photo's for our car registration. We were waiting for the traffic lights when one of these notorious Jozi taxis came to an abrupt halt (as they do) beside us. It's riddled with South African flags. Two windows opened, and two green vuvuzelas came out and began to hoot passionately. The car in front of us caught on with its own horn. Then the taxis across. Then the cars. We rolled down our own window and we pitched in with our own vuvuzela, and I added to the din of noise with the claxon. It's a sea of sound which is saying: it's here. Unite for Bafana Bafana! It's exhilarating to experience this sort of unity bonding.
The sound of vuvuzelas is everywhere in the city on Friday, coming from all directions. Originally vuvuzelas were made of the horns of kudus, and the sound, which carries far and wide, was used to announce a legkotla, a meeting or a gathering of people. It hasn't lost much of the latter meaning. On the radio, people warn for the damaging effects on the hearing: a good, solid blast on the vuvuzela can generate about 110 - 120 Decibels of sound. In traditional South African custom, no one listens to this and I'm practically the only one who brings ear plugs. Some people compensate by wearing woollen hats or ear warmers.
That Friday afternoon, we drive to Newtown, across the Nelson Mandela Bridge packed with hooting taxis. The city swells with people. It's almost baffling there's still space to park. On the square before the Africa Museum, large screens and a stage have been erected: a so called Fan Park, where South African products can be catered, instead of the mass products from the Fifa sponsors. We've come with friends, but we lose every single one in the milling crowds. Everything hoots, sings, toy-toying. People are shouting at each other "Philip is here!!" (I can't even begin to explain this one, but it's a township joke concerning Caster Semenya.)
There is a resounding wave of pleasure across the crowd when the screens finally, finally give view to Soccer City stadium, when the players enter the field. One of the most emotional and touching moments occurs when Jacob Zuma speaks. Those thousands and thousands of people, uproarious and loud seconds before, all fall deeply quiet. All of them. I can hear the wind again, rustling overhead. Because Zuma is explaining why Madiba can't be there with the opening due to the tragic death of his 13 years old great-grandchild. Zuma keeps still. The country is quiet. And then Zuma says, It's time for Africa. And the whole square re-discovers its voice. With extra power. I put in my ear plugs.
That the first goal of the World Cup 2010 is made by South Africa, and is of great beauty, is probably the cherry on the cake for this country. It happened so fast that no one on the square was getting worked up yet. Everyone was relatively quiet when the ball suddenly was sitting inside the goal. The explosion of joy followed half a second later. I never managed to see the repeat. And really, everyone kept on partying on that one goal until the Mexicans evened the score. Only then another quiet settled over the square, one of "what's this now?" The party seemed to shrivel. But through the haze of the alcohol I guess everyone began to realise: at least we're not losing! From Mexico! And so the party picked up again, and when the game finished, we were pushed in the throng out of the fan park, and onto the streets where we managed to slip out. The party went on during the rest of the night.
Partying, they've build a solid reputation for that in Jozi. I knew that, and it has been confirmed once again. But we hope to move east coming Monday. That is, if we get the car registration finally done - which really is a story of it's own once again. Because while partying in Jozi is fine, I will try my utmost best to prevent experiencing Jozi with a hangover.