By Duane Jethro Ke Nako is a Sotho phrase that roughly translates into “it is here” or “it is time”. Playing on this traditional term, the South African Broadcasting Corporation sought to tap into the charged feelings of anticipation and excitement with the prospect of the looming World Cup, with its own slogan, Feel It is Here. On June 11th, 2010, it arrived. The day marked a watershed moment in South Africa’s history, as the nation celebrated the opening of the highly anticipated FIFA 2010 World Cup™, to be staged on home soil. World Cup day, as it may be termed, was not only eagerly anticipated, it was also raucously celebrated.
Ominous signs of the day’s events were evident from early on already, in fact from about 6am when the first vuvuzelas could be heard blaring in the distance, calling the nation to rise and join the party. My plan for the day was to go into the city of Cape Town and spend the day at the free Fan Park set up on the Grand Parade, the main square in the city centre. This was but one free public viewing area, known as a Fan Jol, set up in and around the city for the benefit of the non-ticket baring public.
The train journey into the city served as a dramatic metaphor for the nation’s sentiments, as at every stop the coaches began to swell with more and more excited football lovers, dressed in all kinds of wild and wonderful regalia, making their way to the centre. As the trains pulled into central station the heightened feelings of anticipation were palpable, with literally thousands of people streaming along the platform in a glare of yellow and green, blowing their vuvuzelas, marching in unison towards the celebratory square.
Being the most beautiful place in the world, the Grand Parade, situated as it was in the shadow of the old Dutch Castle, and under the awing of the majestic Table Mountain and the foreboding steeple of the city hall, presented itself as the most beautiful location for taking in the sights and sounds of the celebrations that were to erupt on the day. Indeed, this location was steeped in history, having been established as the city’s first public space by the Dutch in the 17th century, and the spot where Nelson Mandela chose to greet the nation following his release from prison on 1990.
On this day, however, the massive South African audience arguably anticipated their role in the creation of history as they gathered to witness the opening of the 19th edition of the FIFA 2010 World Cup™. The best comparison I could come up with would be Queen’s Day, with its similarly charged atmosphere of excitement and celebration.
Other than the first democratic elections held on the 27th of April 1994, only sports events like the 1995 Rugby World Cup final have drawn such widespread national support. Like those momentous occasions, there was a sense that South Africans felt they were out to witness the berth of a spectacular occasion, to witness the actual reality, the manifestation, of all the hype and hard work of the last 6 years.
Despite this bubbly enthusiasm, the crowds were prevented from entering the main viewing area for sometime, as officials tried to manage the influx of eager fans; an interlude that led to loud, heated expressions of solidarity from the sometimes angry, yet physically eager crowds not long before the opening ceremony was to be broadcast live on the big screens. Entry was eventually granted, and cheers could be heard all around when the first wave of football lovers were let through.
And it was certainly worth the extended wait. Once inside, the venue could best be described as a veritable zoo of colour and sound, with thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds showing support for the national squad and a general sense of elation. Being slammed with the sonic blast of vuvuzelas left, right and centre, and the visual spectacle of bright egregious regalia and shameless commercial branding all around, it was hard not to believe that this was a scene from a Phillip K. Dick novel.
Of course, this being a FIFA™ event, entry to the Fan Fest™ was free but once inside pretty much everything cost a lot. Finance aside, the crowds certainly indulged in a fantastic, historically momentous time. The mayhem continues for another couple of weeks, and I will try to bring you the best of it! Watch this space…
Duane Jethro is a PhD Student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of VU University Amsterdam. His research focuses on post-apartheid cultural heritage initiatives and takes place as part of the NWO project Heritage Dynamics. He is currently conducting fieldwork in South Africa and will regularly write reports about the World Cup for Standplaats Wereld.