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World Cup: In South Africa on your own

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World Cup: In South Africa on your own is written by Jens Skovgaard Andersen.

Orlando Pirates Stadium, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, South Africa,, football, soccer, travel

Ke nako! The time has come for the World Cup in football

As an enthusiastic fan of both football and South Africa, there was never really any doubt about where the summer trip of 2010 should go.

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That South Africa is called the 'Rainbow Nation' can be attributed to the father of the country Nelson Mandela and his project to unite the nation and the people after decades and centuries of separation - 'apartheid' - and division by skin color. Instead, he wanted to create a land where all colors coexist, just like in a rainbow.
Never before has the term rainbow nation been more comprehensive. Already on arrival at Johannesburg Airport, there are colors everywhere. Every single plane that lands is crammed with happy and colorful people from all over the world. And they are greeted by at least as happy and colorful locals, for whom it is truly an honor and not least a huge pleasure to host the biggest event of football and for the attention of the whole world.

Everywhere, both inside and out, the very distinctive sound of the vuvuzela is heard - the plastic horn that many TV viewers have learned to hate, but which has become an ingrained part of South African football culture and as such an indispensable part of a World Cup on South African soil.

And just about everyone is dressed in the South African national team 'Bafana Bafana's characteristic yellow and green colors. It is possible that the South African expectations for their own national team are modest, but the support they can not complain about!

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The world is welcome

On the day when the World Cup's opening ceremony and opening match between the host nation and Mexico is to kick off the final round, the whole country is seriously on the other end. Shops, offices and factories close early, giving all South Africans the opportunity to witness the moment when South Africa officially becomes the center of the world and where local heroes must take the first step towards African success.

Every TV and every car radio is tuned to football, and everywhere people gather at the screens to experience the big moment and to share it with others. Across the country, big screens have been set up in squares, parks, sports grounds and shopping malls, so that even those who do not normally have access to a TV can keep up. And the influx this day is huge.

On the outskirts of Johannesburg's fashionable district of Sandton, where the World Cup's notables are located, 'FanFest' has been held in a park. This is where I want to be a part of the party on the big day.

After running back and forth and asking God and everyone about the way to the fan party, I finally manage to get there by walking along the highway and following the signs that at least show the way for motorists. Johannesburg is very much a city designed for car owners, and the city is far from pedestrian-friendly…

At the entrance to the park, sales of vuvuzela, flags and warm blankets are underway, and inside the park itself, it is already well occupied with expectant fans, who are kept going with music and dance from the stage under the big screen. And when there is a break in the entertainment, the party continues with improvised songs, vuvuzela melodies and of course dancing.
It is great to feel the atmosphere around the event, and at the same time it is clear to feel the excitement in the air. The big moment is close now.

The influx to the fan party continues undiminished, and although there is officially 'only' room for 20.000 in the park, I'm sure there will be at least double that in the end. In any case, we are literally standing like herring in a barrel as the transmission from the impressive stadium 'Soccer City' in the southern part of the city begins.

The very African ceremony, which with drums, dance and song marks man's first steps on the African continent and with the help of singers from East, West and North Africa underlines that it is the whole of Africa's World Cup, clearly produces an enormous pride at the surrounding premises. It is difficult not to be affected by the situation yourself. And when South African President Jacob Zuma shortly after proclaims "Ke nako, Mzansi!" - "Now this is it, South Africa!", Then I must admit that I myself get a lump in my throat and 'something in my eye'. To stand between so many people who quite a few years ago lived with daily oppression and apartheid, and who now stand on the world stage and welcome the whole world with open arms, is truly a touching and overwhelming experience.

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Subsequently, it's time for Bafana Bafana to take over the show, and after a slightly soft start, which, however, shows that the South Africans have nothing to fear from the other teams, then it happens, what everyone has hoped for: Goals to South Africa !

The crowd favorite Tshabalala from the most popular team in the country, Kaizer Chiefs from Soweto, hammers the ball up in one corner and unleashes a roar of dimensions across the country and I am sure it can also be heard in several of the neighboring countries.

The party does not last, however, as the match ends in a draw, and a little disappointed, the many thousands of fans have to go home. But the joy and pride that the first World Cup in football on African soil is now underway, no one can take from them. And this day in the company of so many happy and proud South Africans is something I will not forget just yet.

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Africa rather than South Africa

From my base on the outskirts of Johannesburg's Alexandra township – statistically one of the least safe areas in the world(!) – the trip goes to a variety of matches. Of course mostly focusing on Denmark's matches, but I have also managed to get tickets for other matches at Johannesburg's two World Cup stadiums and also one in the capital Pretoria, which is only a short hour away.

Thus, I experience part of the incredible atmosphere that is around all the matches during the World Cup, no matter who plays. In the matches with African participation, the locals are completely on Africa's side, and you get the impression that it is almost indifferent to South Africa's own heroes if just one African team wins the tournament.

It is hard to imagine such a brotherhood elsewhere in the world, and it would be utterly unthinkable to see the same thing happen in Europe. Should the French or Germans suddenly side with England in the name of the 'European Brotherhood'? Never!

Also the big star-studded South American nations, Brazil and Argentina, enjoy huge support from the locals when they run on the field. But for all the matches, there is a great atmosphere, and you can really feel that it is the football, the party and the community that are in focus and not just personal sympathies and antipathies. In relation to how football can otherwise be, it is a really positive and uplifting experience to watch the matches in South Africa.

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Danes in the minority

Denmark's first match against the Netherlands will be played at Soccer City, and it is with expectations raised well that I and a couple of other Danish fans from the same hostel leave in very good time, as the traffic to and from the matches is unfortunately still legal 'African'.

We arrive via one of the free shuttle buses to the stadium - or roughly near the stadium - and go on a longer walk. And even though there are a lot of red / white colors to be seen, it must be said that we are somewhat outnumbered compared to the many thousands of orange-clad Dutch, who also receive good assistance from the locals, many of whom are of Dutch descent .

But now it's not the number that matters, and the Danish calmers will to that extent make their mark on the party outside the stadium. And then it probably also helps that the beer stall is open…

The match itself does not go as we hope, but it is a great experience to be in such an impressive stadium, which is built in African style, and which for many years to come will stand as the symbol of the World Cup 2010 when you pass it on the way to or from the township district of Soweto.

It is not only against the Netherlands that we Danes are outnumbered. Many Danes have moved away from South Africa for various reasons. I really think that's a shame, as many of the worries that were up until the final round turn out to be totally unfounded (apart from a single pickpocket who now has my old worn out phone!). I am sure that all the Danes who left have lots of good and positive stories to tell about their experiences.

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The World Cup in football creates contact

On the other hand, there are many other fans from many other countries, and it is one of the big attractions at an event like a World Cup. There is a constant stream of fans on their way to or from their team matches. And the charm of this is that you constantly meet new people, and there is always a basis for a good discussion about the fights.

That way, football, and sports in general, is a really good way to get in touch with people from all over the world. There is no doubt that email addresses and phone numbers for the big gold medal are being exchanged and many new friendships and acquaintances have been made.

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The best turnover of the year during the World Cup in football

After a few more days in Johannesburg, where there will be time for some sightseeing and a very interesting tour of Soweto, the trip goes to Pretoria, where Denmark will meet Cameroon. I have been advised against taking the metro train between the two cities - and the new major prestige project 'Gautrain' has not just been completed on time - so I have to take the bus. And here they have got a taste for the tourists' money. The ticket price has doubled, but luckily I fall into conversation with one of the drivers, who takes me with 'hys-hys', and then all of a sudden it's a bit cheaper.

In Pretoria, which is differently manageable and relaxed compared to 'big brother' to the south, I live in a hostel 5 minutes from the stadium, and it gives plenty of time to see some of the sights, including Union Buildings, which is South Africa's answer at the Kremlin and residence of the country's president. From here there is an impressive view of the city and it is worth the walk, even though it goes just legally a lot uphill for a lowlander like me.

Pretoria was and is the center of Afrikaans and of the 'white' part of the country, and there are quite a few examples of this in and around the city, which are definitely worth a visit. It is, of course, most of all the fight against Cameroon that pulls. Although we are again massively overmatched in the stands by both locals and the many West Africans who live and work in the city, it is fortunately us who end up celebrating the victory in the end.

And I have to promise that it will be celebrated! According to the local restaurateurs, it is nothing less than the best turnover of the year, as the Danes are visiting, and there is also a lot of calmness, which looks unusually festive.

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Views of wildlife

Since the next match on the program is to be played in the small town of Rustenburg, which is located in beautiful mountainous surroundings a few hours from Pretoria, I have decided that now I must also see some 'real' Africa. That's why I take a 'taxi' - the local term for the kind of crowded minibus known from all over Africa - to a backpacker lodge on the way to Rustenburg.

Here you have the opportunity to relax in scenic surroundings surrounded by lots of animals. And that's a good idea. I have the place closest to myself and there is plenty to look at; the lodge has a small lookout tower with the opportunity to see wildebeest, springboks, impalas, gazelles, jackals and much more. Together with the birds, monkeys, dogs and insects that live in the lodge, it smells a bit of safari. And in any case, it's a couple of great relaxing days that really recharge your batteries.

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We lost - but party anyway

To get on to Rustenburg, I have to squeeze my not insignificant body (195 cm and 100+ kg) and all my luggage into a small seat in another minibus taxi. Although it is not a decidedly comfortable way to travel, it is a good way to save money, and then it is the way the locals do it every day. And that makes it a little less sour to have to go home to the otherwise reviled Copenhagen city buses afterwards.

Well arrived in Rustenburg, I am accommodated in an equally legally expensive 'deluxe' room, (which probably would not get the same name in Denmark), but which provides a much-needed opportunity to get rid of the luggage.

There are a small handful of other Danes who live in the same place, and in the company of a single Japanese, we go to battle together. First, however, we just have to find a place to recharge for the match, and our driver knows the perfect place: A small bar on the way to the stadium, where the atmosphere is quickly dominated by the present Danes and their brought CD with 4 football team songs, which runs on repeat for hours. After watching Italy on TV being sent out of the World Cup, we go in a high mood towards the stadium, which is located outside the city. Here the mood is also uplifted, and for once there is a fair distribution of the fans, and the locals are even mostly on Denmark's side this time. But the match will be a disappointment for the red / whites, who will not get more matches at this World Cup in football. In return, our Japanese companion Kazu is in a very good mood and we continue to party on his behalf at the small bar we came from. Surprisingly - not least for the Japanese themselves - Japan moves on from the group stage at the expense of Denmark.

At the bar, the grill, which is for self-service, gets off to a good start when you have bought meat from the bar's own butcher, because that's how they are too. And since the locals have also turned up in large numbers, the party lasts well into the night before the trip goes home with a not entirely orange-free driver, who drives very loud and hears very loud music so as not to fall asleep…

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Soccer among beach lions

Since Denmark will not play more matches this round of the World Cup in football, I suddenly instead have a ticket to the Netherlands' match against Slovakia in the beach metropolis Durban, and then there is nothing to do but go there. With 'taxi' back to Pretoria and night bus on to Durban, I have now reached the Indian Ocean and a different summer-like atmosphere.

Durban is characterized by the city's large Indian population, and at the same time it is a city full of surfers, beach lions (and lionesses) and vacationing families. And the city's version of FanFest is located right in the middle of the beach, just as the stunningly newly built stadium is located with a view of the beach, sand and water.

Not surprisingly, the city these days is dominated by Holland's orange colors, and the party is going well for several days leading up to the match. Along the beach there are several big screens, and the atmosphere is a wonderful mix of holiday and football party.

The holiday atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the fact that all school children have been given time off from school during the World Cup, so that they can watch the matches and so that the schools can be used for other purposes. It is shown to be very popular with children…

The match itself falls in Holland's favor, and their orange army can celebrate further and otherwise embark on arranging the onward journey to the next city, next match and next party, while my journey to the World Cup in my beloved South Africa is about to drain out.

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Proud South Africans for the World Cup in Football

Whether it is the World Cup in football or not, South Africa is a fantastic country to travel and be in, and there is constant progress in the infrastructure so that it becomes easier and easier to get around the country. And I will definitely be going back there (when the prices of accommodation are no longer screwed up by 400%…).

Arranging such an important event as the World Cup in football has really given the country and the continent a huge push forward - not least mentally, where it is now clear to all South Africans that there is nothing they can not do.

Hopefully, South Africa will be able to use this success to meet even more of the challenges they face. There is no doubt that this World Cup will continue to have great significance for Africa and the African self-perception in the future. The pride of being able to carry out an event of this size is enormous among the people. They will no doubt be ready with open arms the next time the world comes to visit - the World Cup or not.

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About the author

Jens Skovgaard Andersen, editor

Jens is a happy travel nerd who has traveled in over 60 countries from Kyrgyzstan and China to Australia and Albania. Jens is educated in China Studies, has lived in China for 1½ years and is a member of the Travel Club. He has extensive experience with the travel world as a tour guide, lecturer, advisor, author and photographer. And of course most important of all: As a traveler. Jens often goes to places where it is also possible to watch a good football match in the company of other incarnated fans and has a special fondness for Boldklubben FREM, where he sits on the board. For most people it is obvious to look up to Jens (he is barely two meters tall), and then he is a 14-time champion in the TV quiz Jeopardy and still single, so if you can not find him out in the world or on a football stadium, you can probably find him out touring in the Copenhagen quiz environment.




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