Who were those Germans?

3 Aug

Cacau (Brazilian born) and Podolski (Polish roots)

Sami Khedira (Tunisian roots), Jerome Boateng (Ghanaian roots), and Mesut Özil (Turkish roots)


Looking back I think one of the most notable stories of this World Cup came out of Germany. No, I’m not referring to Paul the psychic octopus, although I do think that he has successfully written his name into football lore. The real story was the surprising ethnic diversity of the German national team. Germany’s team has been compared to the French team that lifted the Cup in 1998 because of their willingness to present a different face of Germany to the world.  This German team broke from the blonde hair, blue eyed, Aryan stereotypes and fielded a team that more accurately reflects the current state of German society. The on field contributions of players who come from immigrant backgrounds was not overlooked by the international media. With names like Boateng, Khedira, Oezil, Cacau, and Podolski amongst more traditional German surnames such as Meuller, Lahm, and Schweinsteiger its no surprise that pundits and fans alike took notice. What’s more, the German style of play was clearly influenced by these new players. I was surprised to see that the conventional German playing style, which is commonly likened to a well-oiled machine, had been broken down and transformed into a more playful style more commonly associated with South American teams. Dare I say that the German side had more flair than the Brazilians this time around? And yet, despite their success in the tournament, the “new look” of the German eleven was quite a hot topic in Germany. They faced opposition from those on the far right for being “un-German” and from those on the far left for just being German. That being said, it seems that apart from these extremes the German public welcomed Löw’s selection with open arms (I’m sure a 4-1 thrashing of England followed by a 4-0 scoreline against Argentina had something to do with it.) One portion of the population had even more reason to celebrate Germany’s success. The immigrant community which has traditionally been rather isolated in Germany rallied behind the German team which some saw as a valorization of their presence in Germany. The success of the team served as a symbol of the positive influence of the immigrant in German society. What a strange twist of fate that a country which, until quite recently, refused to give citizenship even to the German-born children of immigrants now finds itself represented by a squad of 23 players so ethnically diverse that 11 of them could have chosen to play instead for other nations.
The squad’s composition neatly reflects sociopolitical as well as football-specific changes that coincided at the turn of the century. The country liberalized its old, draconian citizenship laws to allow children of immigrants easier access to German passports, while the German FA, spurred into action by a lack of young talent, made a conscious effort to integrate and groom players from the immigrant community.

The Neukölln flag fight

With Germany celebrating as its football team advanced through the World Cup, the flag was flying everywhere in the country. However, one story that caught my attention and which I think sheds some light on the current state of German nationalism has to do with one flag in particular. Ibrahim Bassal, a German of Lebanese descent and the proud owner of a German flag found that some of his neighbors weren’t very fond of the patriotic display hanging in front of his business. You see, Bassal’s flag isn’t just an ordinary German flag, Bassal’s flag is more than just a flag, Bassal’s flag is a glaring statement, sorry, I think I forgot to mention that Bassal’s flag is also five stories tall. The increase of immigrant players on the German national team this time around isn’t entirely responsible for the display, “We have hung little German flags outside for years,” Bassal explains. But this year, he and his cousins decided they would do something different. They placed a special order with a textile company, and soon a giant German flag worth €500 ($616) was hanging on the outside of the building where Bassal’s store is located. Measuring 22 meters tall and 5 meters wide (72 feet by 16 feet), the over-sized banner covers five stories! What compels a man to display his love for Germany in this way? For Bassal, a member of the immigrant community, the flag is a symbol of cultural integration. “We live in Germany and we also belong to Germany,” he explains. But, as Bassal has found out, not everyone in the country is a fan of the patriotic display. One might guess that perhaps those on the far right would be opposed to a “foreigner” hanging such a giant flag outside of his business. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite and it was left-wing activists who were responsible for tearing down Bassal’s giant flag. This perplexed me at first just as Bassal himself simply could not understand why all the protests were coming from the German side. “For the fascists, we are foreigners and for the anarchists, we are, actually, I have no idea what we are to them.”
During the 2010 World Cup, his neighborhood became the scene of what local media called the “Neukölln flag fight.” Just a brief side note, the Neukölln is simply another name for the German flag. Left-wing activists called on sympathizers to destroy the German flags which could be seen everywhere, arguing that they are a symbol of German nationalism. There was a rash of thefts of small flags attached to car windows. Some of those who decorated their vehicles with flags say they decided to only display the flags when they were actually driving their cars. But the loss of a small flag that hangs out the car window hardly compares to what Bassal went through. His flag was torn down twice and each time he has replaced it spending €1,500 in the process. During the day, Bassal said that people from the left-wing scene would come into the shop and berate him. One day a woman rushed in and she wanted to know how Bassal could hang the German flag up in a country with such a history, and said she wanted to round up another group to tear the flag down again. The only option was to call the police, Bassal said.
As I said before, I think this story reveals a great deal about the current state of German nationalism. There are some Germans who are still timid when it comes to openly expressing their patriotism. Should they be? Germany’s image has been stained by the horrors of its past but there are few left in the country that contributed in any meaningful way to those atrocities. For years now Germans have struggled with this sense of guilt, that somehow they are the bad guys when really they are no different from anyone else. Yes, they have had their problems but so has every country. The past World Cup that was held in 2006 has been described as a crucial moment in Germany’s history. It served as a turning point for the country, for one month the world was exposed to the Germany of today. German citizens were happy to open their doors to the world and to try to break down the stereotypes of the “evil” Germans. It was a big moment for Germany and I think many heaved a sigh of relief that they could openly proclaim their love for their homeland. With this World Cup, Bassal’s story shows us that even the immigrant community has gotten behind the black, red, and yellow. I hope that the sense of inclusion that the immigrant community felt during the month of the World Cup will spill over as Germany moves forward and continues to redefine what it means to be a German today.

Khedira walks the line

One of Germany’s new stars is Sami Khedira who has just moved to Real Madrid after a wonderful performance at the World Cup. Khedira, the Stuttgart-born son of a Tunisian steelworker and a German mother, also exemplifies this new Germany. How did Khedira find himself in a squad of such diversity? It turns out that the squad’s composition neatly reflects sociopolitical as well as football-specific changes that coincided at the turn of the century. The country liberalized its old, draconian citizenship laws to allow children of immigrants easier access to German passports, while the German FA, spurred into action by a lack of young talent, made a conscious effort to integrate and groom players from the immigrant community.

Khedira is one of those players who has been forced to “walk the line” between not forgetting where you come from and fully committing yourself to the country your playing for. Players such as Zinedine Zidane have encountered this same predicament. There is a sense of being neither here nor there. Khedira is German but for some German’s he is a foreigner while Khedira is Tunisian but for some Tunisian’s he is a German. He can neither be German nor Tunisian enough to satisfy either group. Khedira regrets losing most of his Arabic language skills (“I had German friends, so I spoke only German”), but there are still strong ties to his father’s homeland. “Tunisia didn’t qualify so I’m their only ‘representative’ here,” he said. “I know that they’re rooting for me there. I can make two countries happy. But my family [in Tunisia] knows that Sami is German and wants to win the World Cup [for Germany].” It turns out that Khedira has become a crucial member of the German team both on and off the pitch. He has inherited the position of team deejay from former Germany international Gerald Asamoah and chosen a morale-boosting song called “Fackeln im Wind” (torches in the wind) for this tournament. It’s by rapper Bushido, a German-Tunisian, like Khedira. “The song was written specifically for the German national team,” Khedira told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “It’s a song that deals with the topic of integration. That’s why I got involved with it. Bushido has foreign roots, like many in our team, but he identifies 100 percent with our country.” Khedira may identify 100 percent with Germany but there are some that have complained that he and his teammates who come from immigrant backgrounds have contributed to the formation of an “un-German” national team.

The view from the far right

Members of the far right in Germany have complained that they simply can’t relate to this team and that there are too many “non-German” players. These comments sound the same as those coming from France, as the French have complained about the racial makeup of their national team over the past couple years. Some of the extremists were a little torn when it came to this World Cup, they wanted to cheer on the German team but they just didn’t want someone with a foreign name to score any goals. “I will certainly not cheer at a Cacau goal! But I will never give up for Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger…. Because I love Germany really!” And while Thomas Müller was Germany’s leading goalscorer with five goals, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, both born in Poland, contributed six goals together and it was Mesut Özil, a midfielder of Turkish descent, whose goal against Ghana made sure the team got out of the group stage. It’s interesting that those on the right would be willing to forgive the team of it’s mixed background so long as the ones who score the goals and get the glory are as “German” as possible. A goal in a World Cup match brings on a wave of euphoria that spills out of the stadium and washes over fans around the world, one goal can make a player a hero. The thought of a player of immigrant background or a person of immigrant background period catalyzing that sort of happiness seems gravely wrong for those on the far right. The thought of those same players becoming idols for young German children is even more unsettling.

Neo-Nazis hate this new team “because it totally disturbs their entire world view,” historian Detlev Claussen of the University of Hanover told the news source Spiegel online. They want national teams to be based on ethnic purity. In fact, he argues, Germany has long been a country with much diversity and mass immigration going back over 100 years, it just took the national football team a long time to catch up with this reality. Jonas Gabler, a researcher into the far-right and football, agrees that the new multicultural national team makes it extremely difficult for the right-wing extremists to identify with it. “It is an expression of the new understanding of the nation, something the far-right don’t accept at all.” However, “Citizenship is not based on ethnic background but on the constitution, it is enough to accept Germany’s Basic Law to be German.” And that is something that the far-right have a huge difficulty accepting. This is echoed on the far-right Deutscher Standpunkt website: “The squad is not a German national team and those people with dark complexions are the Federal Republic of Germany, but they are not Germany. Not tall and blond, but black, brown, puny and Muslim. What progress!” the article fumes. “In fact one cannot become German, one is German — or not. These new Federal Republic citizens are and will remain foreigners.”

There was an article that appeared in mass circulation that examined which players sang along to the national anthem and discovered that of those with migration background, only Klose sang along. “There was then quite a lot of commentary on the Internet about how we don’t really need people like Özil,” Gabler says. It really is stunning how similar Germany and France have responded to the changes in their national team. French papers conducted a similar study of which players sang along to the national anthem and made a big deal about certain players failing to raise their voices.

Claussen argues that the German Football Federation (DFB) had been pretty reactionary in the past but after the poor showing of the German team in the 2004 European Championship it sought to make it easier for migrants to play for the team. “It made a complete about face,” he argues, “And put everything into multi-culturalism.” Gabler argues, however, that new legislation in the early 1990s and again at the beginning of the decade making it easier to gain German citizenship also played a big part. “The many players with a migration background simply couldn’t play for Germany because they didn’t have the right to a passport,” he says. The changes to citizenship rules opened the way for the DFB to take advantage of the pool of talent in the country. “It realized that it had let players with huge potential get away.”

After the fall

In the end, Germany won. They may have lost to Spain in the semi-finals but they came back to beat Uruguay to win third place. I’ve been checking the German papers to see if there were any racist reactions to Germany’s loss but I think the country escaped relatively unscathed. For the most part it seemed that Joachim Löw (Germany’s coach) stood firmly behind his team and that his confidence was mirrored by the German people as a whole. However, one thing that I noticed was that during the semi-final match against Spain both Boateng and Khedira were taken out. I was a bit distracted during that match so I can’t say whether or not they truly deserved to be taken out but it does seem a bit odd that both of those players were substituted once the team began to lose. They were replaced by “more German” players, perhaps in the hopes that they would try harder because it somehow meant more to them. Other than this, I feel confident when I say that Germany shocked the world with it’s new style and it’s inclusion of players with immigrant backgrounds. I hope that the changes on the field will take place off the field and member of the immigrant community will be celebrated for their contributions to German society as a whole.


Zapiro and the World Cup

28 Jul

Zapiro is a cartoon artist for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper. Depending on who you talk to he is either a genius who brings to light pressing issues in creative ways or a man whose work is offensive at times because he is out of touch with the people. I’ve chosen to share the following comics for various reasons, I think some of them highlight certain contentious aspects of the World Cup and others I think are just plain witty.

Comment: Sepp Blatter (right) extends his arm to pass Danny Jordaan (left) the slip of paper that confirms that South Africa will indeed host the 2010 World Cup. Jordaan was the head of the South African organizing committee responsible for overseeing the World Cup preparations while Sepp Blatter holds the lofty position of President of FIFA. I think the facial expressions in the cartoon are pretty spot on. As Blatter reaches out his arm he has a grin on his face but his eyes are closed. When South Africa was announced as future hosts of the 2010 World Cup FIFA faced harsh criticism for its choice. Perhaps Blatter’s eyes are closed because he had blind faith in South Africa’s ability to rise to the occasion. Danny Jordaan has a grin on his face but is sweating bullets because he realizes the size of the task ahead of him. The image also accurately reflects the power dynamic between FIFA and South Africa. Sepp Blatter and FIFA behave as if they are infallible. If Blatter is God then some of Zapiro’s later comics would surely be considered heresy.

Comment:Bafana Bafana roughly translates to “the boys, the boys” and I’m not sure if the boys became men in this tournament but I think that the country was behind them all the way. For a team that wouldn’t have even been in the tournament had it not been for the rule that automatically gives a spot to the host country, I think they did quite well. They won’t be the sequel to Invictus but I think they can hold their heads high.

Comment:From June 11th to July 11th people from around the world were united by a common passion as soccer madness swept the globe. The problems and conflicts that divided us were swept under the rug, to be dealt with later. This cartoon seems to embrace the school of thought that views football as an opiate of the people. Much has been written about the uses of football as a means of pacifying the populace and I have to say that while I don’t fully buy into this theory, some of the arguments are indeed very interesting. But, this is nothing new; those in power have used games to take people’s minds off more pressing problems for hundreds of years. The Romans had the Coliseum and now the South Africans have the Calabash. Now that the grand event has come and gone, we can only hope that Soccer City and the other stadiums that were revamped for the World Cup don’t become modern day ruins. As for the problems swept under the rug, I think the issue of xenophobia in South Africa is a good example of just how quickly those problems have resurfaced.

Comment:This one is pretty self explanatory, a goal is a beautiful thing and should not be missed no matter what your in the middle of. The comic is also a testament to the power football has to bring people together who are in conflict… or at least to distract them for 90 minutes.

Comment:FIFA’s media restrictions during the World Cup leant validation to those who perceive FIFA as an authoritarian regime in which corruption is rife. The cartoon depicts Blatter smothering press freedom while the men behind him represent some of FIFA’s dirty little secrets.

Comment: This cartoon came out at the height of Fick Fufa sentiment in South Africa. What’s Fick Fufa? A Cape Town-based artist found a way around Fifa’s branding rules only to express his discontent with the international powerhouse. The artist, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of the long arm of FIFA, produced a run of 120 T-shirts with Fick Fufa printed on them. Later, a different shirt sprouted up with MAFIFA on it with the slogan we own the game beneath that. Why did people turn on FIFA and when did this happen? I think that the main reason is because people began to realize how little they were going to actually benefit from this World Cup. This change began to occur after the initial glitz of the opening ceremony and the first couple of games began to wear off and especially after Bafana Bafana was out of the tournament.

Comment:Heading into the quarterfinal match Ghana was certainly carrying a lot of baggage. The weight of carrying the hopes and dreams of a continent might have been too much for the young Ghanaians. With one kick Asamoah Gyan could have become a hero, he could have taken an African side further than they had ever been before. I watched the match at a fan park and I’ll never forget the feeling when he took his penalty kick and hit the cross bar. It seemed like a done deal, all Ghana had to do was make a simple penalty kick. But he missed. People fell to the ground, screamed in a mixture of outrage and disbelief, and I’ll never forget the blank stares at the screen from the people who were in complete shock. The weight of the continent’s hopes may have crushed the Ghanaian eleven, they are only human after all.

Comment: South Africans put on a world class World Cup and I think that they do have every reason to be pleased with themselves. The headlines in the cartoons are actually real headlines that ran in British tabloids during the buildup to the World Cup. Most of the headlines centered on the high crime rates and how dangerous South Africa is. This may have deterred certain English fans from making the trip to South Africa but they still had quite a large showing. To be fair, these stories ran in some of the trashier British papers and weren’t in the Telegraph or other respected newspapers. Regardless, if the papers printed these stories because they thought they would sell then I think it reveals the way certain sections of the population in England still think about “Darkest Africa”.

Comment: One of the worst parts about something like a World Cup is that eventually it has to end. The true test is how South Africans take this experience and move forward once the hangover has worn off. For the past 4 years the World Cup has been something to look forward to and now it has come and gone and it feels like something is missing. Politicians have been quick to announce that South Africa will be placing a bid for the 2020 Olympics to try to fill that gap with a different mega-event. The country was united around a common goal of hosting an incredible World Cup but can it unite around more serious issues of education for all, increased healthcare, and an end to corruption?

Comment: The threats that there would be a resurgence of xenophobic attacks after the World Cup was one blemish on the shine of the World Cup. It loomed overhead like a dark cloud and the fear of attacks was real. I was a bit skeptical about the possibility of media sensationalism with this story but when I spoke with a Zimbabwean woman who cleaned my friend’s house in Johannesburg she said that she and her friends were indeed afraid that the threats would come true. There have been incidents here and there but nothing as bad as the onslaught that occurred in 2008. I think the comic does get at the issue of just how quickly the new pan-africanism dissolved or perhaps that there are certain spaces where pan-africanism is accepted but that it is not allowed to pervade into every sector of life. When it comes to games we are one with our African brothers but when it comes to jobs then things change.

Comment: This comic cleverly plays on the saying most associated with the World Cup in South Africa. “Feel it, It is here” was used in television and radio promotions for the World Cup. I think my favorite play on this saying was written on a piece of cardboard at one of the stadiums in Joburg and it said, “Feel it, it is cold.” Funny to hear South Africans complain about their “winter” although I will admit that Joburg was colder than I had expected.

Comment: This is one of my favorites and I hope that the vuvuzela’s popularity will continue to grow. I don’t think it should be the only method of cheering but I do think that there is a place for it in fan cultures around the world.

Africa United?

1 Jul

Replace Ghana with Africa (taken at the Ghana v Germany match)


Giant Jabulani with Ghana supporters

The question everyone’s asking is: with the “Six-pack” nearly finished, will the party go on? The answer is YES. With Ghana’s next match tomorrow against Uruguay, we can expect to see Africans around the world decked out in red, yellow, and green in support of the Black Stars. They remain Africa’s hope, the last of the six African teams (Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast) that made up the “Six-pack”. If the Cup is to stay on African soil as so many hope that it will, it will be in Ghana that it finds its resting space. While it may be difficult for Americans to find a soft spot for the Black Stars after they were responsible for sending our team home less than a week ago, the African continent has quickly become united behind Ghana. It seemed that this was bound to happen. From the start, most South Africans I spoke to had realistic expectations for the African sides in the competition and didn’t expect many of them to make it out of the group stages. After South Africa became the first host nation to ever fail to advance from the group stages it was time for Saffers (South Africans) to pick a new team. For a moment, the country had been united behind Bafana Bafana. There was little time to dwell on this painful exit as one by one the other African sides crumbled. After the fall, it was the Black Stars that remained. So, Ghana it is. Would South Africans have preferred to root on the likes of the Ivory Coast with deadly striker Didier Drogba? Maybe, but that’s irrelevant now, we’re not rooting for Ghana, we’re rooting for Africa. Besides, at least its not Algeria, right? It is the duty of every African to set aside what qualms they may have with Ghana and support their brothers. For the most part, it seems that South Africans black and even white have done just that. I was at a bar in Johannesburg for the US vs Ghana match and I was surprised to see white South Africans blowing the Vuvuzela for Ghana just as hard as the black South Africans next to them. When I asked them why they were rooting for Ghana they clearly stated, “I’m African too. Ghana is our last chance.” This thrilling display of Pan-African unity will likely dry up as soon as the last of the “Six-pack” is finished. For the time being, however, it is something to revel at. It took a game for Africans to realize how much they had in common with their brothers and sisters to the north, south, east, and west. But if this fairytale story of African’s standing together as one family sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

While on the surface it may seem that Africans around the world have put aside their differences and rested their collective hopes and dreams on the broad shoulders of the Black Stars, there is more going on here. There are some schisms in society that four weeks of euphoria can’t possibly fill, some gaps that football can’t bridge. South Africa, a country once known for the horror of Apartheid, has a new nightmare. In recent years there has been an onslaught of xenophobic violence directed towards the immigrant community. Africans from across the continent have come to South Africa to work and to live. Unfortunately, some South Africans haven’t shown them the hospitality that they’ve been so quick to list as a selling point for why tourists should come for the World Cup. The world is welcome, bring your dollars and your euros, hell we’ll even take pesos. The world is welcome, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you, put on a grand show for you, come, enjoy, Africa is yours. The world is welcome, but our fellow Africans are not. In recent weeks there has been an increased number of threats towards “foreigners”. Don’t worry, the tourists here for the World Cup are safe, its African immigrants living throughout South Africa who find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment. There has been an influx of threats of violence towards “foreigners” after the end of the World Cup. How strange that once the cameras have gone home, once the world has turned its gaze elsewhere, South Africa may erupt.

After receiving a number of threats, Zimbabwean Kisswell Dhliwayo is temporarily closing his tuckshop in the township of Tembisa, Gauteng from July 11, when the World Cup comes to an end. “I’ve been told by so many of my customers that all foreigners must go after the World Cup. I’ve also been warned by my neighbours that people have said they will loot my shop, so I’m going to move out my stock,” he told the Mail & Guardian (a prominent South African newspaper). “I’m going to close up, maybe for a week, and see what happens.” Fearful for his safety, Dhliwayo sent a text message to a South African human rights organization, which in recent weeks has received more than 50 text messages from foreigners located in different parts of the country, complaining of intimidation and threats from locals. Human rights organizations, as well as those working with refugees and migrants, are concerned about what has been described as a “climate of threats” that points to the possibility of outbursts of xenophobia and violence. Some organizations say the government is not doing enough to try to prevent the xenophobic violence of 2008 from recurring in South Africa. Sixty-two people died in the wave of attacks two years ago, yet questions have been raised about what the reconvened inter-ministerial committee dealing with xenophobia is doing to counteract the wave of threats. This is a very serious matter; the Scalabrini Centre recently conducted a survey and found that 68% of foreigners surveyed reported receiving threats.

This was supposed to be Africa’s World Cup a time for change and yet, even amid this thrilling sense of pan-Africanism there remains the same problems that have plagued Africa for decades. I want to believe that Africa can overcome, that the euphoria that this World Cup has brought can be used as a catalyst for long-term positive change. But, I fear this unity that we are experiencing dissolves when we leave the realm of football. There are racists around the world who can root for a black football player on the pitch and then hurl a nasty insult at a black person walking past on the street after the match. In times like these I feel that football is an exception. South Africans are happy to root for their “African brothers” from Ghana ready to treat them as one of their own, but when a hard-working Zimbabwean immigrant tries to set up a shop in their neighborhood he is unwelcome and tormented. I should stop and clarify that there is only a small section of the population that is perpetuating this abuse and that as far as I know most South Africans live in perfect harmony with these “foreigners”. However, to trivialize this issue is the wrong approach. We must try to examine the root cause of this unrest that has led to a “climate of threats”. This World Cup has been full of broken promises. It did not bring the economic boom or the jobs that were promised. The result is increased economic competition among a sector of the population that is easily manipulated by local leaders with a South Africans first agenda. The same thing has happened around the world, in England, in the United States, and anywhere where there are immigrants, which is everywhere. South Africans have been on their best behavior with the global media in their backyard, it would be such a pity if the first African World Cup was remembered for what happened afterwards. When the World Cup ends I hope people won’t forget that 11 Black Stars once lit the way for the continent, lit the way towards an Africa united. Let this sense of “Africa as one” transcend football, please.



The Bothersome Business of the Boateng Brothers

23 Jun



Kevin-Prince Boateng

Jerome Boateng

Today Ghana will face Germany in what looks to be the best chance that an African team has of making it out of the group stages. This match up is more than just a clash of one of the strongest European sides with one of the strongest African sides; it is also likely to be a clash of brothers. Jerome Boateng and Kevin-Prince Boateng are half-brothers who are of Ghanaian descent but were born and raised in Germany. The game on the 23rd will see the brothers on opposite ends of the pitch, as Jerome will be playing for Germany while Kevin-Prince will be playing for Ghana. The battle of the Boateng brothers has been highly anticipated and has received a fair amount of press. I would like to critically examine one article that was printed on Spiegel Online, a German news source, titled “The Boateng Brothers’ World Cup Duel” from 4/16/2010. The article basically tries to show how based on Kevin-Prince Boateng’s personality he would be better suited playing for Ghana. There is a sharp contrast between the half-brothers, Jerome is rational while Kevin-Prince is irrational, Jerome is a hard worker while Kevin-Prince is a hothead, and Jerome is a team player while Kevin-Prince is selfish. After reading this article I highly doubt that Germans felt they got the lesser of the two Boatengs. 


 Jerome Boateng:

 “Jerome Boateng has four tattoos… He likes to listen to music from Ghana, because it sounds cheerful…”

Kevin-Prince Boateng:

“Kevin-Prince Boateng has 13 tattoos… he prefers music by German rapper Bushido, whose songs are about whores and anal sex.”

“Like Jerome, Kevin-Prince was born in Berlin. Most of what he knows about Ghana, his father’s country, comes from stories he has heard. Nevertheless, he says: ‘I’m proud to be an African.’”

Comment: in the opening lines of the article the stark contrast between Jerome and Kevin-Prince is clear. Based on the number of tattoos and the music tastes of the brothers, it can be ascertained that one is “good” and one is “evil”, its as simple as black and white. Does that make Jerome white? Perhaps that is what the purpose of this article is, to show that even though Jerome Boateng is black, he is a “good” black and possesses all of the desirable characteristics of a white person, especially when compared with his brother.

Choices to make

 The author met up with both players to talk with them about how they ended up choosing to play for the country that they did.

Kevin-Prince Boateng:

“Kevin-Prince walks through the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Southampton, wearing baggy jeans and clunky sneakers. Kevin-Prince Boateng had played 41 times for the German Football Association’s junior teams. In 2006, a jury selected him as the most promising new player of the year. Kevin-Prince looks around the lobby, searching for his manager. The two men sit down in armchairs. Kevin-Prince pulls his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and stares absent-mindedly at the screen. His manager says: ‘If Ghana wins the World Cup, the whole continent will be on fire. And Kevin will be a star.’ That’s the plan.”

Jerome Boateng:

“He smells of cologne, but not overpoweringly, and he has a diamond stud in each ear. He orders an arugula salad and a bottle of mineral water. He speaks quietly and seems almost shy. ‘I never thought of playing for Ghana,’ he says. ‘it doesn’t make any sense. Germany is my home. I like the people here, and the mentality.’”

Comment: The details that the author chooses to include say a lot. Kevin-Prince is wearing baggy jeans and stares absent-mindedly at his phone. Jerome on the other hand, smells of cologne, but not overpoweringly, he is sophisticated. He orders a salad and mineral water and speaks softly, he’s delicate, nothing to be afraid of. Kevin-Prince’s manager makes it quite simple, he is playing for Ghana but interested in his own success first. Jerome on the other hand remains loyal to Germany because he likes the people and the mentality. Hopefully after reading this article those people with their mentalities will like him.

Different personalities and playing styles

 “The half-brothers’ different personalites are reflected in their playing styles. Jerome is a disciplined defender, keeping track of things and remaining calm when on the ball. Kevin-Prince can control and finish, but his actions are more physical, almost angry. Last year he kicked a player on the opposing team in the temple.” (Kevin-Prince also injured one of Germany’s star players Michael Ballack just weeks before the start of the World Cup, an injury that dashed Ballack’s hopes of playing this time around.)

Kevin-Prince Boateng:

“Kevin-Prince, Jerome’s half-brother, visited often when they were growing up. ‘Kevin was Jerome’s idol,’ says Martina Boateng [Jerome’s mother]. She rolls her eyes, as if it were something she doesn’t like to think about. ‘I really like Kevin. He’s funny, a clown. He loves to make people laugh. But he can’t accept a subordinate role, he has a big mouth and he doesn’t obey the rules. That always comes through.” When the boys were younger, she feared that Kevin would be a bad influence on her son.”

“Martina Boateng puts on her coat. She prefers not to comment on Kevin-Prince’s decision to play for Ghana. All she says is: ‘Kevin comes from Wedding. I admire him for having fought his way out of there. Wedding is a poor Berlin neighborhood where foreigners make up a third of the residents. The unemployment rate is above 15 percent, 15,000 crimes are recorded every year, and the number of welfare recipients is high.”

Jerome Boateng:

“For a time, Jerome adopted a sort of affected immigrant dialect, speaking in rudimentary sentences without articles. But that was the extent of his rebelliousness. Today Jerome is the epitome of the modern professional athlete. He doesn’t drink and he doesn’t smoke.”

Comment: Jerome defends, Kevin-Prince attacks. Jerome defends his right to be a professional athlete and to be chosen for Germany’s World Cup squad by looking after his image and staying “clean”. Kevin-Prince attacks, he’s after glory one way or another, and his tactics may be deemed offensive in more ways than one. Kevin-Prince’s rags to riches story is hardly new in the football world and neither is the assumption that growing up in a rough neighborhood translates into a rough style of play. I’m sure that it took a great deal of confidence to convince himself that he was talented enough to play professionally, to escape the “ghetto”. I’m sure there were plenty of people who told him it would never happen, that he was a fool to believe such things, and I bet there were times when he believed them. If Kevin-Prince comes off as over-confident, maybe it’s because he had to be. If he can’t accept a subordinate role in football maybe it’s because he grew up in a subordinate role in society and now that he’s had a taste of what its like to live as something other than a second class citizen, he’s reluctant to let himself slip into the backseat in case the driver decides to make a U-turn back towards Wedding. But, this aggressive side should fit in perfect on the Ghanaian squad, right? After all, they’re African, right? I’m surprised they’ve even found time to put together a football squad, there’s a war going on there, right? The article implies that Jerome’s discipline and ability to keep track of things and remain calm when on the ball is German whereas Kevin-Prince is physical, almost angry, which is clearly African.

Boateng men

 The article goes on to interview Kevin-Prince’s brother George and Prince Boateng, the father of the Boateng brothers.

“George Boateng is Kevin-Prince’s older brother and Jerome’s other half-brother. He was the terror of the streets as a teenager. ‘I got into a lot of trouble. Fights, probation. I had a short fuse, and I was a bad role model for Kevin. He can thank me for his reputation.’”

“He prefers to talk about Jerome, his half-brother. ‘Jerome is my haven. Everyone calms down when he walks into the room. Kevin is ambitious. Jerome is a perfectionist. He lives for success.’ George is Jerome’s harshest critic and his biggest fan. They speak on the telephone every day, discussing the last training session and analyzing moves ‘Jerome is like a sponge. He absorbs everything.’”

“Prince Boateng travels to Ghana twice a year. The African side of Jerome and Kevin-Prince, he says, is their suppleness, their looseness. ‘Both of them are great dancers.’ And what’s German about them? He thinks for a moment. ‘Jerome is punctual and reliable, which is something you can’t really say about Kevin.”

“He says he lost contact with Kevin-Prince when his son went to England three years ago. Kevin-Prince spent a lot of time in nightclubs and going to parties. He bought three cars on a single day, a Lamborghini, a Hummer and a Cadillac Oldtimer. He also bought a new wardrobe: 160 pairs of shoes, 200 hats and 20 leather jackets.”

Comment: This section of the article feels like a search for the source of Kevin-Prince’s faults. Is it his brother George who made him this way? Is it his strained relationship with his father? It may very well have been both of those things on top of a million others but I think it is a bit ridiculous that the article has portrayed him in such a manner that by the time the reader gets this far into the article he/she has begun to ask themselves, what made him that way? What went wrong in this boy’s life? The explanation offered is that the prominent male figure in Kevin-Prince’s life when he was growing up was his brother George who admits that he was a bad role-model, a delinquent even. Then the article exposes Kevin-Prince’s shopping list, perhaps there are some clues there. Personally, I find Kevin-Prince’s wasteful spending just that, wasteful, but I respect the fact that he has every right to spend the money he earns in any way he sees fit. If Jerome is a sponge then what does that make Kevin-Prince? One of those steel wool things? Because he seems to rub everyone the wrong way.

A score to settle with Germany?

 “Before the U21 European championship in Sweden, the team went to a training camp on Tegernsee, a lake near Munich. One player still had to be eliminated. The decision was up to the team council. One of the players who was there, but doesn’t want to be identified, says: ‘Kevin was picked because he had been late for meetings several times. The idea was: someone who’s that unreliable jeopardizes the entire project. If you want to win the title, you can’t have anyone stepping out of line. Besides, he was injured.’” 

“It seems that one of the reasons Kevin-Prince Boateng decided to play for Ghana’s national team was because he still has a score to settle with Germany, even if he denies it. Jerome Boateng is playing for Germany, because it seems logical to him. In his case, reason is the motivating factor.”

“Matthias Sammer, the sports director of the German Football Association, puts it this way: ‘A lack of discipline and egotism can be discerned in Kevin-Prince. When it comes to his athletic and mental constitution, Jerome is the stronger player.’ In other words one brother is a good fit for Germany, while the other is not.”

Comment: The author cleverly saves the details about Kevin-Prince being cut from the U21 national team until the very end. The implication is that Kevin-Prince wouldn’t have made the German national team anyways. In this way, Germany gets the last word in. Kevin-Prince isn’t playing for Germany because he is “proud to be an African”, he’s playing for Germany because he’s already been cut from one of their national teams and isn’t eager for it to happen again. It becomes clear, Germany has snapped up the better of the Boateng brothers. Tonight’s match will be the ultimate test. I’ll be supporting you Kevin-Prince, if you’ve got scores to settle then this is your chance, a win for Ghana should silence your critics.




More than just a game: The Makana Football Association on Robben Island

22 Jun

Goal posts on Robben Island


The story of the Makana Football Association has been brought to light in recent years during the buildup to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It provides a great deal of insight into the historical importance of football in South African society. The formation of the Makana Football Association on Robben Island has been labeled as a “triumph of the human spirit” and a beacon of hope during the darkest days of apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela or Madiba, as he is known by South Africans, is by far Robben Island’s most well known political prisoner. However, this is not his story. This is the story of the collective struggle of Robben Island’s prisoners to retain their humanity through something as simple as playing football. 

Just for some perspective, imagine an alternate reality of the United States in the 1960s, where the experience of today’s political elite had been formed in the negro baseball leagues. The country is led by President Jackie Robinson, Vice President Satchel Paige, and Secretary of State Willie Mays. Sounds crazy? Replace baseball with soccer, and you’ve got South Africa, a country that has shown that football is more than just an opiate for the masses and has given new meaning to the term “political football.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Robben Island, it is a prison just off the coast of Cape Town where hardened criminals and political prisoners who had been involved in the struggle against the Apartheid rule were sent. The conditions on Robben Island were dire, prisoners were undernourished, beaten, and forced to break rocks into smaller rocks that would eventually be used to reinforce the prison walls. The ultimate purpose of Robben Island was to isolate men from everyday society and to break their will to continue the struggle for change. In turn, the prisoners regarded it as an obligation to find ways to strengthen their resolve and to equip themselves with the skills and determination they would need to create the free, democratic South Africa they thought would exist during their lifetimes.

The construction of the Makana Football Association didn’t happen overnight, it was an extensive process that required ample perseverance. Every week from 1964 to 1967, a prisoner, a different one every time as punishments often followed such impunity, would make an official request to be allowed to play football and every week for three years, the prison warden would refuse. What eventually changed the mind of the warden is unknown but in the end he conceded the right to play football to the prisoners on Robben Island. Football was much more than just a game for the prisoners – it was one of the ways in which they confirmed their dignity as individuals and asserted their right to run at least a part of their lives despite the brutal conditions of the prison.

Of the men who played in the prison’s soccer league, an astonishing number would go on to become important figures in shaping post-apartheid South Africa.Their ranks include current President Jacob Zuma, opposition leader and former Defense Minister “Terror” Lekota, Minister of Human Settlements “Tokyo” Sexwale, and Kgalema Motlanthe, who completed former President Thabo Mbeki’s second term. Mandela never participated; he watched the early games from an isolation block until the authorities built a wall to obstruct his view and to stop prisoners from passing notes to him during the matches. Zuma had the distinction of doubling as a referee. Leave it to a future president to play one weekend and arbitrate the next.

This story has not gone unnoticed, in recent years a book was published that told the story of the Makana Football Association and a film was made based on the book. In the book “More Than Just A Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told,’’ Chuck Korr and Marvin Close make the case that organizing and maintaining the prison soccer league increased the confidence, managerial skills, and morale of the inmates. Working together to convince the prison authorities that they should have the opportunity to build a proper field and to wear soccer uniforms rather than prison garb a couple of times a week helped the men to increase their sense of self-respect, and ultimately persuaded some of the guards and administrators to acknowledge the ingenuity, talents, and tenacity of the inmates. Perhaps more significantly, members of the various organizations dedicated to dismantling apartheid learned they could work together.

Trailer for More Than Just a Game

The Island prisoner community was made up of two major factions in the struggle against apartheid, the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) and the ANC (African National Congress), along with a number of small groups. The PAC was a group that had separated from the ANC and established itself in April 1959. The two groups disagreed on a number of issues including the future for a multi-racial South Africa and the tactics to be used to confront the increasingly violent enforcement of the apartheid regulations. They did agree on the need to end the system over time and, in the short term, to challenge some of its harshest policies but for the most part they remained hostile. They carried this hostility onto the Island, separating themselves as much as was possible in the close confines of the Island. The campaign for football and the need to create an organized structure for that changed the relationship between the PAC and the ANC. It was the first activity upon which the two largest political factions on the Island (at that time, the PAC was the larger of the two) cooperated which showed how much football mattered and that it was possible for the men to act together.

For the political prisoners, administering and managing football became a developmental process for honing administrative and leadership skills. Tony Suze, one of the men who helped organize the league commented that,

“Football was a crutch that supported us from mental collapse but it also focused us on who we were, what could happen (if we honed our organizing skills), and what would be! There was never any doubt in our minds that we were a government-in-waiting. And everything we did, including playing, managing and administering soccer, had to be done properly.”

Anthony Suze and Sepp Blatter hug for the cameras during Fifa’s visit to Robben Island

The men who established the Manong Football Club, Gunners, Rangers, Ditshitshidi, and the other teams that made up the Makana Football Association felt that their duty was to maintain themselves physically, psychologically, and spiritually while incarcerated, so that when they got off the island, they would be fully equipped to take up once again the struggle for the freedom of their people. Playing soccer became an important part of the routine that allowed men like Tony Suze and Jacob Zuma to emerge stronger than ever from confinement and move South Africa toward a more promising future.

Let us now put the story of the Makana Football Association in the context of the larger history of football in South Africa. The Afrikaner officials of the apartheid regime never embraced football. They loved rugby and cricket and funded those sports generously, but saw football as a game for Africans. At first, they ignored the sport — then they began to ban some matches. In April 1963, at the Natalspruit Sports Ground in Johannesburg, authorities locked the gates and left a note saying the day’s games had been canceled. Fifteen thousand supporters scaled the gates, carrying an extra pair of goal posts to replace a set that had been removed. The matches went ahead.

Soccer kept countering apartheid — white teams knew that to test themselves they had to play against the black teams, and unofficial games became more and more common. The truth became obvious: The white league was second class. Few were surprised at its collapse in 1977. Despite the outright segregation in the rest of South African society, in 1976, the government allowed a mixed-race team to play against a visiting Argentine squad in Johannesburg. Black and white South Africans lined up together on the pitch, though the stands were still segregated. The home team won 5-0, including a hat trick for a then unknown black player named Jomo Sono. When he scored against Argentina, his teammates, black and white, did what teammates have always done: hugged and shook hands. This feel-good victory was overshadowed only a few weeks later, however, when approximately 500 black South Africans were killed in the Soweto uprising.

Jomo Sono

Jomo Sono, when he returned from his lucrative stint alongside Pelé in the New York Cosmos, made a very political statement in 1982 apartheid South Africa — he bought the white soccer powerhouse, Highlands Park.

 Apartheid’s opponents quickly seized on the potential that football had to rally support and raise funds. The African National Congress (ANC), then a banned underground movement, quickly realized that wherever there was football, there was a crowd. Political meetings suffered a blanket ban from 1976 onward, but it was far harder to prevent several members of a political party from sitting together in the stands, amid thousands. Zuma, for instance, would emerge from hiding to attend the matches of the Zulu Royals and confer with other politicians. Peter Alegi, a historian and author of “African Soccerscapes”, claims that as early as 1944, the revenue from football matches was being handed over to the ANC. Patson Banda, a former player for the Orlando Pirates, remembers one game that was played across the border in Zimbabwe in front of more than 100,000 paying fans. Again, the ANC received the proceeds collected at the gate.

By the late 1980s, football matches were at center stage of the country’s rapidly evolving politics. ANC flags, which were still banned, were seen openly in football stadiums, a sign of the regime’s weakening grip on power. In 1991, South Africa’s current football federation was founded. During its inaugural meeting, it made the astonishing assertion that its formation was “only natural … as the sport of soccer had long led the way into breaking the tight grip of racial oppression.” It was an audacious statement, even dangerous, as the fall of apartheid was still more than two years away.

Football played a central role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and what happened on Robben Island is just one compelling chapter in the larger story of how something as simple as football became a bastion of hope for all those who believed in a brighter future for South Africa.


Korr, Chuck(2010) ‘Tony Suze’s reflections on the importance of sport in the struggle to end Apartheid’, Sport in Society, 13: 1, 32 — 35

 Suze, Anthony(2010) ‘The untold story of Robben Island: sports and the anti-Apartheid movement’, Sport in Society, 13: 1, 36 — 42




My City, My World Cup

17 Jun

South African pride

The Mail & Guardian, one of South Africa’s leading newspapers has been interviewing South Africans each week about what the World Cup means to them. I wanted to share excerpts from each interview because I think they show the various expectations that South Africans have for the World Cup.

We’ve heard it all already: the World Cup is supposed to create jobs, bring more people into the economy and leave an infrastructural legacy to be marveled at. The tournament will also serve as a unifying moment as “rainbow nationalism” is galvanized around the tournament and Bafana Bafana.
But what do South Africans say about the World Cup?

Khalo Matabane

A bravely singular director, his films have tackled issues central to South Africa’s fragile democracy with sensitivity and intelligence.

What are your expectations of the World Cup? This sense of cosmopolitanism that you see and feel in cities like New York — the world in one, hopefully, for a month in South Africa. I would like the World Cup to remain in the continent and I think it’s not a far-fetched idea.

What has been the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of readying itself and hosting the World Cup?
Some people will always ask; was it necessary to host the World Cup and spend billions instead of building better hospitals where babies won’t die or provide free education? That is the political and philosophical and maybe human question. On the other hand, the challenge is how many ordinary South Africans who love soccer will manage to afford to go to the stadium with the high unemployment and poverty?

What about Johannesburg will mark it out as especially different for World Cup tourists?
It is a bizarre city. All at once it has a feel like a battle of cultures: African, American and European and soon Chinese. It has developed infrastructure but also has so many poor people and is diverse.

Bafana’s chances? We all know soccer is a strange game. We hope our vuvuzelas, Madiba magic and the JZ dance plus sangomas will help where the players can’t.

Which matches will you be going to? I will be watching at home and sometimes in the streets.
Comment: This interview exposes one of the greatest challenges of the World Cup in South Africa which is making sure that ordinary South Africans are able to afford tickets to the games in order to fully participate in the historical occasion. There are fan parks set up around the country where everyone can watch on a big screen for free but its not the same as actually being there. Tickets are available for South Africans for 140 Rand which is the equivalent of 20 USD. As for some of the terminology, Madiba magic refers to the “magic” that stems from having Madiba (Nelson Mandela) present at the stadium. Sangomas are like traditional healers and if you don’t know what a vuvuzela is by now you shouldn’t be reading this blog.

Lael Bethlehem

the CEO of the Johannesburg Development Agency

What are your expectations of the World Cup?
A four-week window to change the way people think about Africa. To show that South Africa is a vibrant, growing and confident country, that we are organized.

What has been the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of readying itself and hosting the World Cup?
Transport has been a massive challenge, and also a brilliant opportunity. I doubt that the Rea Vaya BRT system would have been built in Joburg without the Soccer World Cup as a catalyst. And Gautrain would not have been done as quickly. The event has given us the chance to create new systems — and we’ll be feeling the benefit of that for many years to come.

What has been the biggest shortcoming in our preparing for and hosting of the tournament? Getting people to realise that hosting this event is not just about infrastructure. We’re showing off the whole culture of the country every South African is a host and we must be ready to play our part.

Comment: The World Cup has been “sold” to South Africans. It has been marketed as an opportunity to show the world just how wonderful South Africa is which will hopefully bring in tourists for years to come. The billions of dollars that have been spent on the World Cup have also been justified by the infrastructural legacy that will be left behind after July 11th. In Johannesburg, the Rea Vaya is a bus system and the Gautrain is a high speed rail. I’ve heard South Africans say that the price of the Gautrain puts it out of reach for most South Africans.
Professor Tim Noakes

The pre-eminent sports doctor in the country who is also the founder and director of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.

What are your expectations of the World Cup? The World Cup will change the perception of South Africa in the rest of the world. And this will be for the better. South Africa is a beautiful country with a vibrant soul and a captivating mix of people, almost all of whom are remarkably hospitable and generous.The economic impact will flow from this changed perception. We will be seen as a serious developing country.

What has been the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of readying itself and hosting the World Cup? The first challenge has been the cost. Hopefully this will not be a drain on future development of more pressing social needs in this country. The big challenge has been to generate interest in our national team given that they are not competitive internationally. It seems that patriotism and a natural optimism amongst our SA soccer followers will overcome this at least for the first few games.

How do you think the World Cup will change soccer (its infrastructure, administration and the way it is played) in Cape Town? Sport in general?
No effect on either. South African sport will be uplifted by individuals and teams that have a global vision and a desire to be the best in the world. I have yet to find any influential administrator of any South African sport who shares that vision and who places sporting excellence as a non-negotiable. Until that happens, most of our sports and especially soccer will continue to be ordinary by global standards.

Comment: The first World Cup in Africa will do little to strengthen the local football leagues. If these leagues were to be developed then we wouldn’t see the flow of talented African players to Europe and the rest of the world which mirrors the “brain drain” of other professionals in Africa. African players like Drogba, Eto’o, and Essien are key players at some of Europe’s biggest clubs and while they are happy to play for their home countries during the World Cup, there isn’t an economic incentive for them to play their club football at home.

Silas and Samuel Muzumbi

Silas (23) and Samuel (27) Muzumbi are street traders and brothers from Zimbabwe. Sitting on a beer crate and listening to reggae music, you can find the street traders selling their beaded wire art everyday on corner 7th and 2nd streets in Melville.

The brothers who’ve been in South Africa for almost two years have been selling their hand made artwork at this corner for almost six months. 
”The economy in our country made it very difficult for us to sell our art so we decided to come to South Africa to make a decent living,” Samuel told the Mail & Guardian.

So are you going to be making more things come the Soccer World Cup? We plan on making a lot of things. Now we have lots of things but we can’t put them here because of the Johannesburg Metro cops.

What have they been doing? They come and take our stuff, each and every time they put us down. We had a lot of stuff last week but now we have a little because they took it, now we have to start making it again.

Why are they trying to get you off the streets? They say there is no license to sell in the street, but then we went to the metro department in town for the license and then they said there is no license to sell art on the street.

Have the metro cops been worse now in the lead up to the World Cup? The metro cops are coming worse since the world cup is around the corner. They have let us down. We are trying to make art because you know art is an African thing but they come and take our stock all the time.

Comment: The average South African is unlikely to see any monetary benefits from the World Cup. Those who own hotels, restaurants, and other sorts of shops are the ones who will benefit from the month long stream of tourists. Street traders and those involved in the informal sector of the economy were upset with FIFA’s stringent regulations. FIFA has exclusive rights to sell products that say FIFA, FIFA World Cup, or even World Cup which leaves little room for South Africans entrepreneurs. What you do see people selling are flags and vuvuzelas.

Elias Maluleke

Maluleke (52) was one of more than 2 500 workers employed to build the Cape Town stadium  in 2007.

”The stadium was built by African men from all over the continent,” he tells the M&G.

”We, the people who took part in building the stadiums, are proud of what we have been able to do.”

Green Point, now renamed Cape Town stadium, received a massive facelift when it was turned into a 70 000-seater, all-weather, multi-purpose world-class stadium.

 He is proud to be one of the many African men from around the continent that were involved in the building of the structure.

After the stadium was built, what was the feeling among those who helped built it? We felt very happy because we had the opportunity to do that for our continent. We were also happy to expose our experiences, even abroad.

So are you planning on watching any games? I haven’t received my tickets yet, but we were promised that all of those building the stadium would get two World Cup tickets. We can’t choose the games but I was told that I’d be watching a game played in Cape Town.

Are you excited about the World Cup? Yes. I didn’t think that one day the World Cup would come to Africa. I am very happy because South Africa has shown the world that we can do it. When Fifa officials visited South Africa to check our stadiums, they said we had done really marvellous work.

Comment: Elias is proud of his work because the Cape Town stadium isn’t just for South Africa, it is for the whole continent. This has been deemed Africa’s World Cup and I would be willing to bet that most fans watching the tournament w0uld be unable to differentiate South Africa from the rest of the continent. South Africa has simply become Africa. I’m glad that the construction workers will get tickets to some of the matches, surely they deserve them.

Clive Barker

The former Bafana Bafana coach.

What has been the biggest challenge for the country in terms of preparing to host the World Cup? Adjusting to all the criticism levelled against the country and then accepting that it was, and is, going to happen. There were a lot of sceptics critical of our crime, [saying] stadiums weren’t going to be ready in time … I think they will continue to be proved wrong.

How do you think the World Cup will change football? A legacy for young footballers will be seeing some of the greatest players in the world in their backyards — [Lionel] Messi, [Wesley] Sneijder, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and even [Steven] Pienaar — this is going to be inspirational for them. Thirty years ago we didn’t even have international football to watch [because of sporting sanctions]. Now, the kids will be going to bed dreaming of these players and of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final in 20 years’ time.

Bafana Bafana’s chances? Realistically, it’s going to be difficult to qualify for the knock-out phase. We can do it, but we need to beat Mexico [in the opening match]. If we played France at basketball we would probably lose because Thierry Henry would use his hands, but I think we can also beat them — they’re not as fluent as they were 10 years ago.

Comment: I think that the critics have been proved wrong, South Africa has hosted a wonderful tournament thus far. Is the inspiration of having some of the world’s best players in your backyard worth the 6 billion dollar price tag, or should that money have been used  to invest in health and education.

Andile Bhekizulu

A 22-year-old bricklayer working on Durban’s beachfront.

What are your expectations of the World Cup? I don’t have any expectations for the World Cup.

Why not — don’t you have tickets? Aren’t you excited? No, I don’t have tickets because they’re just too expensive. I should be moving my mind to the World Cup but my mind is still on my bank balance.

But you’re here working on the Durban beachfront. The World Cup has helped in creating a job for you. Yes, but I’m earning R80 a day (laying paving on the promenade). I’m working for the government, but it’s not really a living; I survive, but not very well. My mind is on my bank balance, not the soccer.

Three tips on things to do between matches in Durban?
For tourists? I don’t know what they will like, I don’t know them and I don’t think they will come to the townships.

Comment: Simply put, this one needs no comment.

Mike Sutcliffe

Durban municipal manager

What are your expectations of the World Cup? Our approach to the 2010 Fifa World Cup (called Our 2010 and Beyond Strategy) is one of five key long-term programmes we have been driving at a strategic level: (i) food security and housing for all; (ii) reducing the social wage (ICT and Public Transport); (iii) preparing for climate change and energy shifts; (iv) growing the port and manufacturing; (v) 2010 and Beyond eventing and tourism strategy. 

Each of these consisted of doing a fair amount of research on the international experience and then developing our own strategies. So our expectations were to ensure that everything we did for the 2010 Fifa World Cup was part of a longer-term strategy and had four main drivers: create the icon (stadium, beachfront); ensure we keep maintenance costs as low as possible; build economic opportunities; and environmental sustainability.

What has been the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of readying itself for and hosting the World Cup? Afropessimism.

What has been Durban’s biggest challenge? Afropessimism and resource challenges (skilled project managers and other technical and financial resources)

Comment: Glad to hear there are long-term plans in place, wish there was a bit more transparency. If an African team doesn’t make it out of the group stages then there will be a lot more Afropessimism to worry about.

Tsepo wa Mamatu

A university lecturer and theatre director whose plays tend to provide sharp political criticism.

What are your expectations for the World Cup?

I expect the country to search her soul and wonder why suddenly South Africans, Black and white, have decided that they are long-lost lovers. I expect a buzz, the one you get from a soft drink- tasty at first but all sugary and tasteless a few more sips down. I expect whites to affirm that they have always known that South Africa is working – all we need is another spectacular event, like the Olympics.

What has been the biggest challenge facing South Africa in terms of readying itself and hosting the World Cup?

The biggest challenge has been selling the circus to the most average of us- how to convince millions of us that suddenly the city will be safe, just like in Europe. You mean, now I can walk bravely in downtown Jo’burg? Heck, what took so long to get it right? Ah, that our former masters can see how the post-colony has thrived since the last time they docked over here. So the challenge has been: “How do we make massa proud of us, of how well we have kept the plantation since he was last here?” Who knows, he might want to whip us back into his fold. After all, what are we going to do with the Gautrain?

Tips on things to do between matches in Johannesburg?

Walk around the city to realise and romanticise decay as signs of new beginnings. And buy from hawkers- damn, it’s their money anyway, stolen by years of colonial rule and moons of blaxploitation.

Comment: Brilliantly put for the most part. It’s sad but true.

Can you feel it? It is here!

17 Jun

The day before the World Cup kicked off I was driving around with my friend here in Johannesburg and a car pulled up next to us at a stoplight and the man inside rolled down his window and motioned for me to roll down mine. I did so cautiously, I had obviously heard about how dangerous Johannesburg is and the man didn’t look too friendly, once I rolled down the window he leaned over and said “Can you feel it? It is here!” and then a huge smile spread across his face. The light turned green and we sped off while blasting the official World Cup theme song Waka Waka (which sounds better with a lot of bass mixed with the mounting excitement for the greatest sporting event in the world).

The World Cup is now well under way but I think the most exciting moment in the tournament thus far was the opening match between South Africa and Mexico. South Africans were confident that their vuvuzelas, Madiba magic, and ever improving team would be able to sweep aside the Mexicans. A popular fast food restaurant named Nandos ran a full page ad in most of the newspapers that said, “To the Mexicans, a free lunch if you lose.” The excitement here in Johannesburg on June 11th is hard to describe. South Africans had been waiting for that moment for 4 long years. There were countdowns to mark when the tournament was 500 days away, 100 days away, and 50 days away. The wait was finally over, it was time to unveil South Africa to the world.

For the opening match we decided not to go to a fan park because it would be too crowded but we still wanted to watch it with other South Africans so we ended up at a bar. The funny thing about this bar is that it is actually a part of the Zoo Lake Bowling Club, a lawn bowling club in the heart of Johannesburg. I think it is safe to assume that 15 years ago, before the end of apartheid, this would have been a Whites Only institution. The crowd gathered however was very representative of makeup of the “rainbow nation” as South Africa is affectionately called. There were white, black, and Indian South Africans in the crowd, including one fake South African who had put on his South African national team jersey for the occasion. I was caught up in the euphoria of the moment but I forced myself to step back and critically analyze the situation in which I was in. The unifying power of sport should never be underestimated. Yes, sport can create intense rivalries and there has even been a war fought over football, but what I witnessed was the truly beautiful side of the “beautiful game”. One popular beer ad implores the public to set aside its differences because “now is the time to unite behind Bafana Bafana”. This unity should run deeper that football, it should last longer than 90 minutes. What I witnessed at the Zoo Lake Bowling Club wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago. The physical barriers that separated blacks from whites from coloreds have been torn down, however, their legacy remains in the hearts and minds of South Africans. The night of June 11th 2010 was a symbol of just how far the country has come. I am not naive enough as to think that South Africa has completely rid itself of prejudice and discrimination or that hosting the World Cup has brought the country together for good. What I saw that night was the culmination of years and years of work after the end of apartheid to break down the mental walls that were just as powerful if not more powerful than the physical ones that once divided the country.

South Africa midfielder Steven Pienaar perfectly sums up the growing excitement leading up to the World Cup.

“I think it will be a really special moment,” Pienaar told the BBC. “Not only for the players, but for all South Africa and the whole continent, because it is going to be a day of history, like when Nelson Mandela came out of prison. For us, it is special because it is the first World Cup on African soil. We’re going to make history.”

Pienaar is not the first person to compare the opening of the World Cup to the day that Mandela was released from prison. Danny Jordaan, the head of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee in South Africa has also compared the two historical events in the same breath. In an interview, Danny Jordaan said that when the envelope was opened in 2004 granting South Africa the 2010 event, “I think it was almost a second liberation for us, it was huge moment of joy… the second affirmation of the worth of our country.” He went on to say,

“For me, to think back on special moments in our history: the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, the day that we voted for the first time in 1994 — the beginning of democracy in our country — this day (winning the World Cup) stands equal if not ahead as an experience and a significant development in the history of our country.”

Personally, I think this is a bit of an overstatement. Hosting the World Cup has had an undeniable role in rallying people together, but it cannot hope to match the importance of Nelson Mandela walking out of prison. Hundreds if not thousands of people died in the anti-apartheid struggle, they fought to turn the tide in the country, so that one day Mandela might be released and might lead the country into a brighter tomorrow. I think we do them a great dishonor by equating their sacrifice with the hosting of this circus that is the World Cup.

Wavin’ flag

Proudly South African

At Zoo Lake Bowling Club for the opening match

View from the fan park in Johannesburg

Makarapa Madness!!

Interesting to note that the Ivory Coast players (in orange) and the South African players (in yellow) have very light skin tones even though nearly all of those players are black Africans

Fans with a ball of their own