The arrival was smooth and easy. I landed on time, picked up a SIM card, picked up my match tickets, and went to the hostel where I was staying. I checked in, showered, and then went to meet up with my old friend Chris Kasrils, his brother Andy, and their father Ronnie. I’d never met Ronnie Kasrils before, but had heard a lot about him. A veteran of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress, Kasrils was a leading anti-apartheid fighter. He was a founding member and later chief of Intelligence of Umkhonto we Sizwe—the military wing of the ANC. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the ANC. A wanted fugitive for many years, his family lived in London while he travelled around the world in disguise with fake passports. (The most tragic result of this displacement was that his son Chris became an Arsenal fan.)
After apartheid ended, Ronnie served as Minister of Water Affairs from 1999 to 2004, and served as Minister of Intelligence services from 2004 to 2008. His autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, is an excellent read on the struggle against apartheid as told from the vantage point of someone at the front-lines. Do yourself a favour and find a copy.
But Ronnie’s struggles against apartheid and racism did not end with the fall of apartheid. He then moved on to advocate on behalf of another cause dear to his heart: the Palestinian struggle against Zionism. In 2000, after the Intifada started, Kasrils led a commission of South African parliamentarians on a visit to Palestine. Upon his return, Kasrils spoke of their findings in the parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyyah, drawing a clear analogy between South African apartheid and Israeli Zionism, and stating that the only acceptable position for those who fought apartheid is to support Palestinians’ struggle.
He continues his struggles against Israeli apartheid to this day, most recently writing about Judge Goldstone’s report on Israeli war crimes in Gaza, and recently drawing analogies on how fighting South African apartheid through Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions offers the best model for fighting Israeli apartheid, concluding:
Just as a united, national movement of a determined people, reinforced by international solidarity actions embracing the peaceful weapons of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) – including many academic initiatives – won freedom for all South Africans, so too can this be the case in the Holy Land.
Chris, Ronnie, Andy and a couple of friends and I had lunch in a wonderful Joburg restaurant named The Attic. The food was great and I got my first taste of the famed Pinotage red wine of this blessed land.
We then went to the fanpark that FIFA had set up in Newtown in Joburg and watched England vs. Germany. It was a fun experience, the fans were lively and happy, and the atmosphere was great. I couldn’t help but wonder whether all the scare stories about this World Cup being held in Africa were about an altogether different country than this.
After this, we took the train to Soccer City to watch Argentina vs. Mexico, and what a game it was. The stadium looked glorious. It is a true feat of architectural genius, and the atmosphere inside was electric. As I mentioned earlier, the journey from and to the stadium was very pleasant, short and fun.
And I finally got to see the vuvuzelas in action. Now, I’d gotten plenty of headache watching the World Cup on TV, but was willing to be open-minded about them. At Chris’s insistence, I even tried blowing one of the things. But when I got to the stadium my mind was made up: those evil spawns of the devil must be banned! They are an awful monstrosity. They sound like death getting raped. But it isn’t the noise or loudness that is the worst thing about these horns, it is that they have subdued the wonderful football atmosphere of the games.
An integral part of every game and every major footballing occasion is the crowd. They chant, sing, boo, react to the players and spur the players on. With the vuvuzela, all of that is lost. All you can hear all throughout the game is the incessant droning sound of helicopters spraying pesticide. Whatever happens on the pitch, the drone remains the same. It gets louder at times, quiter at others, but the tone is itself. All the singing, chanting, booing and cheering is drowned away. This is a real pity. I would have loved to hear the thousands of Mexicans and Argentines chant and sing throughout that exciting game.
This pining for fan atmosphere reminded me how important we Liverpool fans were in bringing Liverpool back from 3-0 down against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Anyone who was there, including Liverpool and Milan players will tell you how great we fans were. Here’s Dutch legend Johan Cruyff:
“There’s not one club in Europe with an anthem like You’ll Never Walk Alone. There’s not one club in the world so united with the fans. I sat there watching the Liverpool fans and they sent shivers down my spine. A mass of 40,000 people became one force behind their team. That’s something not many teams have. For that I admire Liverpool more than anything.”
Argentine legend Diego Maradona, whose hand I was lucky to shake in Istanbul, had this to say:
“The English club proved that miracles really do exist. I’ve now made Liverpool my English team. They showed that football is the most beautiful sport of all. You knew they could defend but the team showed they could play too and wrote a page in the history books. The match will last forever. The Liverpool supporters didn’t let me go to sleep the night before. There were 10 of them to every three Milan supporters. They showed their unconditional support at half-time when they were losing 3-0 and still they didn’t stop singing.”
It is a pity that such moments will not recur in this World Cup, and we have them bloody vuvuzelas to thank!
That, however, remains the only blot on an otherwise perfect World Cup experience. The organization, fans, games, stadia, transport, accommodation and atmosphere have all been great. Well done South Africa!