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Freshly ground South Africa

For now, it feels like a freshly ground South Africa. One that’s okay with the notion that you can have fun as one nation, under one Bafana Bafana banner – green and gold.

Last modified: 7 Jun 2010 19:24
Fans cheering in Moruleng. (AFP)

What an amazing vibe. My city, Johannesburg, festooned in a blaze of colour; flags on cars, around cars, on people’s heads, flag sellers painted as African masks.

South Africa is full of national pride.

It's an unusual sensation for this country of mine that is consumed with rampant crime, spiraling corruption, Jacob Zuma’s seemingly endless brood of children, potholes and electricity blackouts suddenly obsessing with placing flags on their cars like diplomats, debating the pros and cons of the noisy vavuzela trumpet, (as I write this I can hear one blaring, tunelessly in the background) unrealistically positive about the home-team Bafana Bafana’s success, hooting their horns, laughing, everyone smiling!

Even verkrampte tannies (conservative ladies) are seen wearing football shirts of the mainly black national team. It’s the World Cup - the very first one on African soil.

And the mood is contagious. A friend tells me of his amazing day in Soweto end of May when the Bulls rugby team played the international Crusaders in Orlando Stadium. The Bulls’ supporters are mainly burly Afrikaners hailing from Pretoria. Herkie said he saw them surge into Soweto in a flood of white mass to spend the day sharing braais with locals at their homes, chatting and joking with them. The photos were the proof – big grins everywhere - 16 years after Apartheid and it is still a notable sight.

All the fluttering colours of the World Cup seem to have Photoshopped away the stench of crime and lingering racism and replaced it with pride and optimism.

But not everyone is feeling it. South Africa's reputation is so bad that fans are choosing to stay away. The fear in Britain was stoked by the tabloids warning of a ‘machete race war’, ‘packs of rampaging baboons as a new crime menace’ in Cape Town and, the final spook, a warning to ‘guard against mosquito bites and avoid contact with raw meat due to an outbreak of Rift Valley fever, which has killed 15'.

The travel giant Thomas Cook has cut packages by 70 percent to get fans’ bums off sofas and onto planes. As many as 24 percent of the fans said they might change their mind and make the effort if England do well at the start.

The educated bet is their team will beat the US, but then again, you never know with England….

I hear on the radio that some fans are so paranoid – the ones who make it over –that they’re hiring their own bodyguards for 4000 rand a day – depending on their level of risk, they will be accompanied by a copper carrying a nine-millimeter firearm.

‘Where are you from?’ I ask one of the flag sellers wearing a coloured wig. ‘Zimbabwe,’ smiles back the man, putting the South African flags onto my rearview mirrors. I ask how he is being treated since the xenophobic riots in 2008 which killed 50 and displaced tens of thousands. ‘Terrible,’ he replies. ‘South Africans hate us, they make our lives miserable. Now I’m happy, it’s the World Cup and life is good!’

For now, it feels like a freshly ground South Africa. One that’s okay with the notion that you can have fun as one nation, under one Bafana Bafana banner – green and gold.