CAPE TOWN—It’s a joy reading the vibrant, provocative Cape Town press. The Cape Times today leads with a mammoth headline—”Cup gets 9/10 from tourists,” and I believe the headline is not far off. Then the news that the Ghana team, newly dubbed “Ghafana Ghafana” by the supportive South African fans, will get some face time with Nelson Mandela himself. The Sun notes that Ghana’s Serbian coach has called on the assistance of a Serbian healer who reads animal entrails in tonight’s match against Uruguay.
The Times also reported today that it may or may not be true that the losing North Korean players will be sent by their government to work in the coal mines, as predicted by their coach after the 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Argentina. Already Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has banned his country’s national team from international competition for two years after its disappointing showing at the Cup, and France’s coach has been called to appear before a parliamentary commission to review the team’s dismal performance on and off the field. (Why, for example, did Coach Raymond Domenech ban a star player from the team after the player simply called him a “son of a whore?”) And the Times recalls the unlucky Andres Escobar, murdered on his return to Colombia after an own-goal in a 1994 Cup game cost Colombian gamblers big bucks.
And all this before you get to the sports page.
A Business Report headline from yesterday says that “Laugh might be on us as big Cup spenders depart.” That is, South Africa thrilled to Ghana’s victory over the U.S., and no one here seems sad that the Brits, French, Aussies and Mexicans are out; but the bad news is that these teams—especially the U.S. and England—bring the big-spending fans to South Africa. As of June 20, American fans had spent $34.5 million, English fans $33.8 million, the Aussies $8.8 million, the French $6.4 million, and the Mexicans $4.9 million. All were among the top 10 national spenders here in South Africa, and now their teams are out.
Yesterday’s Times had a French scientist speculating that the new, controversial Jabulani ball may be “too round” because it is stitched on the inside. That paper led with an article about referee controversies in the Cup—played above a headline about South African army units moving into the town of Du Noon to put a stop to xenophobic violence against Somali shopkeepers there.
The Mail & Guardian recently plastered its cover with a headline about the brother of Danny Jordaan, South Africa’s chief World Cup administrator, profiting from his connections to FIFA on contracts for building one of the new soccer stadiums. But next to the headline ran a giant photo of a crazed South African fan with the inset caption: “Win? Lose? The euphoria continues.”
And it does, as I await the game between Ghana and Uruguay. The streets outside this downtown Internet cafe are filled with the sounds of the vuvuzelas and especially with joyous Netherland fans thrilled with this afternoon’s victory over Brazil. And everyone else in the city is sporting Ghana colors, thousands heading for the Fan Fest to see it all on the big screen.
The contradictions are everywhere in the nation’s press. The Mail & Guardian reports that a giant electric utility bought 1,100 high-priced tickets for its brass at a cost of some $1.5 million while “embroiled in heated wage negotiations that could lead to blackouts.”
The Star‘s front-page headline, “Medics quibble over shot boy,” leads a newspaper filled with page after page of happy World Cup news.
“Italy Crash Out,” screamed the Sowetan a few days ago, and inside there was news of a deadly abattoir gas leak, kidnappings and 33 deaths from forced circumcisions of boys at “illegal schools” in the Cape.
Today my family visited two Cape townships, sprawling slums housing millions of people living in wood-and-tin shanties. This was the largest concentration of poverty I have ever witnessed—and at every stop this afternoon, we saw people sitting around television sets on the street, wearing their Bafana Bafana jerseys, happily watching the World Cup.