Johannesburg: Come Friday, South Africa will
be awashed with yellow as millions of citizens are donning
special shirts of that colour to show their support for the
Bafana Bafana, the home squad for the FIFA World Cup that
starts on June 11.
This has been happening for weeks now, as Football Friday
-- a campaign to get South Africans united behind the 2010
FIFA World Cup -- has taken off like wildfire.
Supported by all levels of government and corporates,
almost every car sports a flag as they drive on streets where
lampposts and buildings are adorned with larger versions.
The World Cup is expected to unite the country in a way
that has not been seen since South Africa`s first
democratically-elected President Nelson Mandela used the Rugby
World Cup to bring together Black and White citizens in 1995.
Till then, rugby remained largely a sport for the
minority white community, while the favoured sport of the
majority was football.
Already in the past fortnight, in two major pre-World Cup
events, thousands of whites got their first taste of life in
Soweto, the township which started in the apartheid era to
house the Black community separately.
Two of the country`s largest stadiums are in the Soweto
area, where 75,000 people of all races gathered on Thursday
night at Soccer City to spur on the home side to a 2-1 victory
against Colombia in a friendly game.
Braving chaotic traffic with a spirit of camaraderie, the
hordes of fans blew their noisy Vuvuzelas, a type of long
horn, donned all sorts of hats and clothing, painted faces,
and generally embraced each other, irrespective of race,
colour or creed.
Even in the cricket-crazy community of Indian origin
here, both local and expatriate, there is a keen anticipation
of the World Cup games, tickets of which are almost sold out.
Lalit Modi and his Indian Premier League pumped millions
of rands onto a marketing campaign last year to make the IPL a
household name in South Africa within a matter of two weeks.
They placed signs on every streetlamp in major cities and
took up full page advertisements in every newspaper in
But with the FIFA World Cup, it is not the marketing
money that has made a difference and united the country in a
way that the highly commercialised IPL ever could hope to. It
is the common man, woman and child that hold the promise of
making the first venture by FIFA into the African continent
the biggest success ever.
Certainly FIFA and a host of affiliates and sponsors will
make a lot of money and capitalize on the event. There has
also been a lot of talk about the economic benefits to both
South Africa and the continent as a whole from the legacy of
the World Cup.
But at the end, perhaps the biggest benefit of all will
be, albeit inadvertently, furthering the dream that Mandela so
masterfully crafted with the Rugby World Cup -- reconciliation
and brotherhood among South African citizens like never
before. All united in sport.