World Cup turns South Africa into one global party

To the outside world, South Africa still projects imagery from the apartheid era, signifying political unrest in a dangerous, newly uncertain nation.  To visitors, the young democracy optimistically casts one step toward the future as it makes sure not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

But one perception is certain across the board: Africa’s first World Cup is the culmination of how times have rapidly changed in the continent’s southernmost country in less than 20 years.  To see it up close and personal is to swipe away the negative press coverage preceding the tournament, and to replace it with vivid imagery of locals breaking into song and dance whenever the moment beckons, tourists proudly wearing crazy garb in their national colors and tour guides eager to show off what their country has to offer.  No debut is perfect, but overall South Africa successfully opened its arms to the globe in what has been called the world’s greatest sporting event.  Here are some of the hits and misses – mostly at the hands of FIFA, the tournament’s organizers – from the 2010 World Cup:


Vuvuzelas: To television viewers, the hum of vuvuzelas (pronounced voo-voo-zay-lahs) buzzing from various stadia resembles swarms of locusts.  In reality, it’s a delightfully dissonant cacophony of miniature orchestras, bleats of approval for anything from goals scored to announced attendance numbers and folks simply trying to learn how to toot their own horns (no pun intended).  Several fans joked that the games served as a fine excuse for spectators to just show up and play their instruments, irrespective of the opponents or result.

Tourism: It may be South Africa’s wintertime, but the sheer range of activities is staggering, not limited to: shark diving, whale watching, hiking, wine tasting, boat cruises, skydiving, bungee jumping, township tours, safari game drives and biking, just to scratch the surface.  In Cape Town, one particularly interesting organization that links tourists directly to locals is Andulela (  The tour company focuses on personalized experiences rather than dropping busloads of people from stop to stop.  I signed up for the Cape Malay Cooking Safari, which paired me up one-on-one with a tour guide who took me through the Bo-Kaap area, into a spice market to learn about some of the ingredients used in Cape Malay cooking, and finally into a neighborhood resident’s house to learn how to make some of the dishes unique to Cape Town.

The Dutch fans: Unmistakable in their orange garb and traveling cross-country in caravans, supporters of the Netherlands stayed true to their team’s bus slogan: “Don’t fear the Big Five, fear the Orange Eleven.”  (For reference, the Big Five is the term for the five animals that tourists aim to see on a safari game drive: the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros.)

The Fan Walk in Cape Town: Somerset Road marked the start of the pedestrian-only stretch to Cape Town’s gorgeous Green Point Stadium.  Bands, flame throwers, merchandise and food kiosks, and other distractions dotted the 2.5-km stretch, which served as a comfortable and safe way to get to one of the eight games staged at the grounds not far from the gorgeous V&A Waterfront.

Best shuttle driver in Johannesburg: When in Jo’Burg, you could rough it by renting a car, driving on the left side of the road and hoping that you can navigate between the Central Business District, the Northern Suburbs and all the neighborhoods in-between.  Or you can rely on shuttle drivers who often couple their services with tours.  Many competing services abound, but special mention must be given to Ferdi of Green Light Transfers & Tours who swooped in at the 11th hour when another company botched my Soweto tour.  The friendly Jo’Burg native picked me up from my lodging, drove me to the township and made a point to stop at several key sites – a squatter’s camp, the Regina Mundi Church, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Vilakazi Street, which contains the homes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – before dropping me off at the airport so I could catch a flight to Cape Town.  Ferdi’s business is new and he’s quickly building a list of satisfied clients, so give his company a shout at [email protected] if you want a trusty driver in Jo’Burg.

Red Cards

Vuvuzelas: Bleating horns in large open-air stadiums is one thing.  Bleating them in small cafes is quite another.   As the sticker in my own vuvuzela warns: “Prolonged use of Vuvuzela can cause ear damage.  Blow at your own risk.”

Technology: We’ve heard all about how blown calls have resulted in disallowed goals and unnecessary penalties.  But in this day of ESPN, it was interesting to note the lack of scoreboards with the information that sports junkies crave.  In Major League Baseball, one can keep track of other games in progress, get basic info on their favorite players and note the score at any given time in the ballpark.  At the U.S. Open, larger-than-life drawsheets indicate which players are still in the running, and giant screens on the grounds show live coverage or highlights from recently played matches.  At the World Cup, this was all notably absent, and given how few matches were staged each day, it was puzzling as some of this information wasn’t even present on the screens in the stadia themselves (which in some cases were partially obstructed, depending on where you sat).  Fans tried to remember who was in each group, who had already advanced and who was playing each day, and I repeatedly had to take out my master schedule so we could constantly crunch numbers.  If Emirates, FIFA’s airline partner, can provide live score updates DURING flights, then surely FIFA can do the same on site.

Stadium food: The offerings were slim in Beijing, even more so in South Africa, with the main choices being lukewarm artificial meat (hot dogs) or more lukewarm artificial meat (what posed as boerewors rolls).  Not once when I approached a food kiosk was the entire menu ever on tap and of the four stadia I went to, only one (Green Point in Cape Town) actually offered food from official World Cup sponsor McDonald’s.  Even there, queues streamed out of the enclosed restaurant, whereas Beijing offered a large open-air pavilion.

Traffic control: With no pre-existing public transportation options, park-and-ride shuttles and car rentals were commonly used, resulting in some sticky situations at venues outside the major cities of Jo’burg and Cape Town.  In Nelspruit, swarming crowds swooned forward to pack onto buses after the Chile-Honduras game, and in Rustenburg the funnel effect – first to get on the shuttles, and then to get out of the parking lot – caused major traffic issues.  In both cases it took hours for fans to exit the vicinity, and judging from word-of-mouth as the tournament went on, the situation didn’t seem to improve for Rustenburg in particular.

Australian fans near Block 205 at the Ghana-Australia match in Rustenburg: I had to be specific with the seat location because most Australian sports fans I have met over the years are unabashedly enthusiastic and delightfully sporting mad.  For whatever reason on this particular June 19, the fans in, above and below Block 205 felt like misbehaving.  When one player on Team Australia scored, fans threw beer on fellow spectators.  When one player who should have scored didn’t, about 20 beer bottles sailed over my head and onto the pitch.  Thankfully the bottles were made of plastic and no one was hurt, but the incident didn’t escape international press or FIFA, who reportedly threatened an investigation after the match.

Also, thankfully, the incident was an anomaly rather than a common occurrence, as most in South Africa were there to support their teams in the spirit of “Ayoba!”  At the MTN Fan Zone in Cape Town near the V&A Waterfront, Ghana fans cheered their overtime win over the U.S. in the Round of 16.  While our group sat, dejected, a couple of them turned to us, shook our hands and congratulated us on a tough match – a reminder that sport brings everyone together and that the game of football really is The Beautiful Game.

The World Cup culminates in the finals on July 11 at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium.  Tickets are still available for some of the remaining matches at

all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine