Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ayoba turns to Eina – South Africa’s World Cup Dream is Crumbling

Bafana Bafana, South Africa’s national soccer team, is ranked 88th in the world and of the 32 teams participating in the Fifa 2010 World Cup, only one team (North Korea) – is ranked lower. Yet even against terrible odds South Africans have held hope that their team will win the tournament and even the President, Jacob Zuma, has said publicly that he has “great faith” that the team can win the Cup for the nation. Perhaps it is the euphoria of playing host to the World Cup that has imbibed this child-like belief that a win is possible – like the battle between David and Goliath might play out again, or that the magic of a Sangoma – a traditional African witchdoctor – will transform this unlikely dream into reality.

There is a feeling that this is South Africa’s time – that somehow the decision to bring the Cup here has enabled the country to be finally born anew, washed of the scars of its apartheid past, freed for from the discomforts of poverty, released from the animosity between classes, its people finally united in pride and overwhelmed with jubilation – if only for a month. A feverish energy on Opening Day became inescapable – it was already apparent that the day would be filled with excitement, but this was an upwelling of large proportions and caught some off guard. Businesses planned to remain open, mostly for half-days, but the mindset of employees everywhere was on a single track – focused on the first match, made evident in the sea of green and gold jerseys that almost everyone wore to work that day – ayoba (amazing) the World Cup was finally here.

South Africa ended its first match in a draw – but the performance of the team was strong and so was the sound of the vuvuzela, a triumphant noise of support. Day by day the efficient machine of the Cup carries on operating relatively smoothly and news headlines echo a collective sigh of relief as the nation proves itself to the world, that yes – we can do this, and everyone nods in agreement, well done to South Africa. But after South Africa’s second match – a loss and a disappointing show of skill – it became evident that the euphoria is starting to wane.

Just over one week into the tournament, Bafana Bafana now stands with one of the worst host nation performances in World Cup history yet it will need to defeat France – a former world champion and a true Goliath – just to stay in the game and proceed to the next round. The buzz of the vuvuzela is going softer now, eina (ouch), Bafana, eina – the feeling now is unsettled, tense, afraid of what might happen in the next match – the last chance. Bafana, the nation’s heart is hoping and crying for you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

National Pride, Jubilation & the Fifa World Cup in South Africa

South Africa is awash in flags – not just the South African flag, but flags of all nations. Flags drape buildings, line the sides of the roads, fly from the windows of cars and decorate office spaces. Street hawkers stand in intersections and wave the flags for sale – the vibe is one of celebration. The air is thick with energy, of excitement and passion. The feeling is everywhere – in the streets, on the radio, the television, and in everyday conversation – pervasive and inescapable. Finally after years of preparation, scepticism and anticipation, today is the dawn of the Fifa World Cup, surely the biggest event of its kind ever in Africa.

In the early hours of the morning, even before the sunrise, I wake to the sounds of a distant vuvuzela – that monotone sounding horn that creates an ear-splitting decibel, greater than a chainsaw but much beloved as a symbol for the Cup by everyone. On my way to work I drive past an open-air tour bus on its way through Camps Bay, full of celebrating fans singing songs, blowing vuvu’s, waving and hanging themselves over the sides. I remind myself that it’s still only 8AM. Coming through town I pass a flat bed truck full of workers in overalls singing and dancing in much the same fashion. As I drive past the ferris wheel that has suddenly appeared in the centre of town, gleaming in the morning sun, it is hard to believe that today is supposed to be a normal work day.

Once at the office the mood is one of delirium and I continue to wonder what I am doing here. Finally, about lunchtime, I am free and make my way through to the City Bowl – on the way I get the feeling I am about to be part of something very important. The highway to town is eerily deserted – not due to poor turnout but because it seems everyone is already there. The fan walk near Green Market Square means that some of the streets are blocked off, but even on those that aren’t the crowds roam freely, striding wherever they please, forming a fabric of green and gold, South Africa’s team colours. The sound of hundreds of vuvuzeles becomes a singular buzz, like I am inside a giant vibrating beehive.

I leave the City Bowl for the Waterfront, where big screens have been set up to watch the very first game, South Africa vs. Mexico. Again the park is overcrowded with celebrations and there is no chance of getting near the viewing area – the closer I get to the screen the more crowded – shoulder-to-shoulder and in some places even less, to the point I cannot move unless the crowd that I have somehow lost myself within, decides to. Surrounded by fans singing, dancing and waving flags, unable to move forwards or backwards and being shoved along by the energy of the herd, my mind flashes back to stories of stampedes and balcony collapses and I understand how those things can happen. Time passes and eventually I spill out of the group and back to myself, to my own volition.

I find a more comfortable place out of the way – with a view of a TV off in the distance. After a while South Africa scores the first goal of the Cup and the crowd erupts explosively, the noise crackles and reverberates everywhere. It’s hard not to get swept up, to feel the pride of the nation, to be part of the stampede of frenetic joy that has combusted across the nation – I can’t help but feel it and know that the World Cup, ayoba, is here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fun & Games at Home Affairs

I always knew living abroad would be full of fun and games. Now that I've been living in South Africa for four years, my original permit has expired and I've applied for a visa - a visa extension, to be exact. The Home Affairs guy said it's a routine application - so routine, it's for free. Here's a little insight into the process and how you might be able to have almost as much fun as me:

Hoop #1 Go to the Home Affairs web site to download the application and list of required documents – review this information very carefully – dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s

Hoop #2 Go to Home Affairs in person to submit said-application form and documents – get told, “No, no – this is ALL wrong – who gave you this?” “The web site,” I reply. I take a new application form and start over again.

Hoop #3 Dutifully gather required documents including letters from my employer and my partner. Visit the local police station – secure official stamps. Make affidavits and declarations. Copy, repeat.

Hoop #4 Go back to Home Affairs, my partner in tow. They need to see it to believe it. Wait for 2 hours. I notice that Immigration lawyers have a special que – I think how much money I’m saving this time, doing this myself, all for free. More time passes. Finally I submit, receive a receipt and leave with false hope that everything is now sorted – “just 30 days,” I think, “then I’ll get the new stamp.” That was easy.

Hoop #5 The 30 days pass – I go back to Home Affairs. Wait. Wait for 3 hours. Get told they can’t find my application, jeepers, where could it be? They ask, “How long do you want to wait?” They look tired now – like I’ve asked for too much. I wait some more – I tell them they have to find it. I leave a few hours later with a phone number to call – more false hope, otherwise empty-handed.

Hoop #6 I call the number. No one answers the phone.

Hoop #7 I call a few days later and get disconnected. I call back – it’s as if they know it’s me – again. No one answers the phone.

Hoop #8 I call and get told to “Come in with your receipt.” I say “but I already did that – they told me to call.” She tries to transfer me – about five times – then I get disconnected. I call again. No one answers the phone.

Hoop #9 Hire an immigration attorney. Continue waiting for my new visa stamp – and the bill. Can’t believe they said this was free.