Last Friday’s World Cup opening game between Bafana Bafana and Mexico ushered in a new level of football hysteria here in Cape Town. In anticipation of the 4pm game, streets were full of supporters in green and yellow, and crowds in bars spilled out of the entrances. Long Street, the main bar strip in downtown Cape Town, was so crowded that every single bar closed their doors and stationed bouncers at the entrances in order to stop more zealous fans from entering. Luckily, with a horde of people pushing up against me at the doors of Long Street Café, I was able to persuade the door man to let me in just in time for the singing of the South African national anthem.
The vuvuzela-blowing, singing, and chanting that had filled the streets all day continued throughout the match, and the enthusiasm in the air was incredible. With the home team advantage and the support of a nation behind them, Bafana Bafana notched the first goal of the game, but Mexico answered later in the second half, ending the game in a 1-1 draw. For a squad widely dismissed as one of the worst teams in the tournament, South Africa proved that they did indeed belong on the World Cup pitch.
Since Friday’s game, what I have been up to can be described in two words—football and the exhibition. On Saturday, the other Duke students and I headed into to Museum to help the exhibitions staff with installation. Later on in the day, we walked to the FIFA Fan Park in front of City Hall—which is less than a block away from the museum—to watch the US team take on England. Unsurprisingly, USA fans were greatly outnumbered by English supporters dressed in red and white and waving their flag. After Steven Gerrard’s early goal, it seemed like it would be a lopsided game, but with tough play and a lucky break from the English goaltender, the US pulled away with a 1-1 tie. Needless to say, the few US fans in the viewing area were celebrating when the ref blew the final whistle.
Work on Monday flew by. Although things were hectic preparing the exhibit for the opening the following night, my mind was focused on the Italy-Paraguay game that I would be attending that evening at Cape Town Stadium. The experience lived up to my expectations. It’s been a lot of fun watching the soccer games on TV, but actually being there in the stadium—experiencing the sights, sounds, and emotions first-hand—was incredible.
Since most of the roads near the stadium were closed and traffic was totally clogged downtown, we decided simply to walk to the game instead of taking a taxi. It seemed like a good decision as we weaved through streets jammed packed with commuters driving home and tour buses and taxis dropping off fans at the game. But with the glowing Cape Town Stadium in sight about a kilometer ahead, the clouds opened up and unleashed a torrential downpour of rain mixed with hail. Everyone walking to the stadium got drenched—especially because FIFA bans umbrellas from the stadium, so no one had one on them. The rain began to let up as we went through security, headed inside the stadium, and made our way to our incredibly positioned seats at midfield, under the stadium’s roof.
The game itself was a lot of fun. We were surrounded mostly by Italy fans (I was cheering for Paraguay, the underdogs), but luckily no one nearby was blowing a vuvuzela (they are ridiculously loud and equally annoying in person). Paraguay scored first near the end of the first half, unleashing a wave of excitement from the few Paraguayan supporters in the crowd. Unfortunately, Italy managed to answer in the second half with a goal off of a corner kick. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. The soccer was entertaining, but the most exciting part of the game was when everyone in the crowd did the wave (and it lasted for three laps around the stadium!).
Tuesday was the day I had been working toward since my first day back at the museum three weeks ago. All day we swept, polished, mopped, and ran around the exhibit hall making sure that everything was in order. By the time 6pm rolled around and guests began to arrive for the Offsides exhibit opening, we were finished, and the exhibition looked awesome. After speeches from the British High Commissioner in South Africa (the exhibition was partly funded by the British Council), Bonita, the director of the District Six Museum, and Tina, the head of the Museum’s Exhibition Department, a vuvuzela was blown to mark the exhibit’s official opening. The evening was particularly rewarding to see the guests enjoy all off the hard work we have put in. And the hors d’oeuvres were delicious.
Wednesday—Youth Day—was a public holiday in South Africa commemorating the June 16, 1976 student uprising in the Soweto township outside of Johannesburg. Sadly, instead of enjoying the day off, I found myself back at the Museum helping out with their annual Youth Day public program. This year, many of the former residents of District Six gathered to visit the newly opened Offsides exhibition. After serving the guests tea and coffee (it still amuses me how intense South Africans are about their tea—one woman rejected a cup I served to her because it was rooibos tea and not the regular Ceylon tea variety), museum officials gave a near repeat of their speeches from the night before.
Unsurprising to me, however, the program seemed to devolve as the day progressed. Upon entering, each of the guests was given a different color circle to divide them into three groups. The new exhibition is a bit small, so not everyone could visit at once. As soon as the larger group was divided, things fell apart. The guests—many of whom are in their late 60s and 70s—did not listen to instructions. Instead of cooperating with the rotations that were planned, they just went wherever they wanted. I couldn’t help but laugh on the inside while all this was happening. Last year’s Youth Day celebration was similarly thwarted by rogue guests, so it all came quite expectedly.
I’ll post back at the end of the weekend with more about this past week. I wanted to get this up ASAP since I have been bad about updating the blog.