Thursday, July 1, 2010
Superficial brotherly love
"Look at the stars, look how they shine for you." That was one reporter's musings on Twitter after Ghana beat USA to book their place in the quarter-finals. The Black Stars are now the pride of Africa, carrying the hopes of an entire continent on their young shoulders.
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At any other World Cup, being continental representatives may not have borne this much importance. But this tournament has been dubbed "Africa's World Cup" and after all but one of the African sides disappointed, the youngest squad at the event (with an average age of 24) have a massive responsibility to their so-called African brothers.
The host nation is leading the call to get behind Ghana with everyone from boxing legend Baby Jake Matlala to President Jacob Zuma rallying support. Even the Organising Committee have joined the chorus of cries to get behind Ghana with spokesperson Rich Mkhondo saying: "We have always said that this is an African World Cup and in the spirit of that statement we are appealing to South Africans to support an African team. We are indeed very proud of Ghana."
There's an ironic tinge to the sudden show of African brotherhood from South Africans. Remember that just over two years ago, South Africans committed a heinous crime against other Africans. Waves of xenophobic violence swept over the country, and over 60 people were killed. One of those victims was dubbed the burning man - a Mozambican national later found out to be Ernesto Nhamuave, but whose identity was only discovered two weeks after his death - who was set alight and left to scald.
Nhamuave's painful death told a story of angry and selfish South Africans who wanted their country for themselves and themselves only. Poor South Africans felt that an influx of foreigners from African countries denied them jobs, housing and other amenities. Although the pie given to these South Africans is small, they didn't want the kwerekwere, a derogatory word for foreigner, to have any of it.
Criticism for these acts of violence was widespread and swift and the South African government acted quickly to condemn the attackers. The overwhelming sentiment was that South Africans who felt this way about other Africans had very short memories, since African countries had opened their doors to political exiles during the Apartheid era. Violence, murder and outright hatred were no way to repay them.
The xenophobic attacks were confined to certain townships in Johannesburg such as Alexandra and isolated areas in other major cities and authorities moved quickly to quell them. Suspicion still remains that they merely put a lid on a simmering pot and sooner or later, the contents of that pot will over boil and attacks will resume. Major South African newspapers such as The Star and other newspapers around the continent such as the Zimbabwe Independent reported that foreigners feared for their lives after the World Cup, saying they had been threatened with fresh attacks.
African brotherly love, as you can see, is all rather superficial in South Africa. That hasn't stopped ordinary South Africans, who may not have been touched by the xenophobia, from getting behind Ghana and expressing their desire for them to do well in the competition.
Local support at Ghana games has been noticeable, with South Africans of all colours claiming the Black Stars as their own. The Afro-conscious types hark back to the 1950s, when Ghana became the first African country to gain independence and see it as prophetic that they were the only African team to advance to the second round in 2006 and the only one to go one step further this time.
The other reason Ghana is garnering so much adoration is because they look as though they have a very real chance of making the final four. Although South Africa's Bafana Bafana couldn't get past a spirited Uruguay, there's great belief that Ghana will. Eddie Lewis, former West Ham player and veteran football manager, said he felt Ghana would win the 2014 World Cup, but is revising his opinion. "Because of all the young players they have, I thought that would be the year they would pose a serious threat. But I may have thought too far and they could even win this time," he said.
South Africans feel the same way, with many who were interviewed after the Black Stars' victory over USA quoted as saying things like "Ghana will win the cup for sure". It's heart warming to see how many South Africans are keeping the local flavour of the World Cup alive and staying interested in the tournament, even though the hosts are out.
However, a lot of it is blind support, with many of the Ghanaian team strangers to South African eyes. When household name Michael Essien was ruled out, that left Andre Ayew (known because he is Abedi Pele's son) and Sulley Muntari as the most popular members of the squad. There is one other player who South Africans can relate quite directly to, and that's 19-year old Jonathan Mensah. He spent a season playing for Premier Soccer League (PSL) club Free State Stars, based in the small town of Bethlehem.
The place name must have had an effect on Mensah, because he became well known for his monthly community social projects. One such project involved visiting a children's home, where Mensah donated £200, which may not seem like a lot, but the average PSL player doesn't earn anywhere near the amount their European counterparts do.
While Mensah hasn't set the tournament alight, Asamoah Gyan certainly has, and he and his dance are building quite a following in South Africa. When he scored twice from the penalty spot in the group stages not much notice was taken, but his winner in extra-time over USA was headline news. It didn't hurt that he dedicated that goal to the whole of Africa.
Following that, the whole of Africa is gearing up to get behind him and his team and that includes the host nation. They may be considered the bourgeois of the continent, but South Africans know that when it comes to football they don't rank among the best, so they'll support the team that does.