About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the press attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
I've lived in South Africa for three years now and can honestly say there's something different and really big going on here because of the World Cup. There's a sense of national unity and a fun excitement building up that I haven't experienced until now. It's overtaken the steady drum of uncertainty that accompanies a lot of the political debates and general concerns about service delivery problems and crime reports. As in the United States, South Africans speak out loudly about problems and the need for change -- it's a hallmark of their dynamic, diverse democracy. But the World Cup is changing some societal dynamics, and I think it will last beyond the final game.
Two things have been obvious in the last two weeks: South African flags are everywhere and people of all colors are wearing bright yellow and green Bafana Bafana shirts. (Bafana Bafana, "Boys, Boys" in Zulu, is the national soccer team.) In this country, soccer is still very much a "black" sport, while rugby is the "white" sport. Yet, the government-sponsored "Football Fridays" initiative that encourages everyone to wear a soccer shirt on Fridays, has been a huge hit. Hospitals, government agencies, and banks have purchased Bafana shirts for all their staff, and they wear them with pride. Big, tough Afrikaaners can be seen on Facebook and the nightly news commenting on Bafana's latest game. And in as an added spin-off, the rugby championship had to be held in Soweto last weekend, because the normal rugby stadiums are now reserved for World Cup games. Thousands of white rugby fans went to Soweto resulting in a flood of photos showing the rainbow nation really mixing it up in a fun way over beers and boervoer sausages in the country's most famous township.
We striped-pants diplomats in the U.S. Embassy have been doing the Football Friday thing since January too. I have considered it a personal challenge to come up with a different dignified yet stylish U.S. Soccer outfit each week. At first, we shared our secret sources for finding a USA shirt or ordered them online, but now they're easy to get in all the big department and sports stores. You can even deck out your car with flags that attach to a rolled up front window, or flag "sleeves" for your side mirrors sold by street vendors at major intersections. And what's more fun, you can sometimes define what neighborhood you're in by the quantity of different flags sold by the vendors -- some areas have more Cameroon or England or Italy. South Africa and Brazil are universally popular, and while the USA is never really big, we're still ahead of Serbia, Nigeria, and South Korea.
Before the Cup is over, I think I'll get a Bafana shirt as a keepsake -- it will always remind me of how much national pride this Cup is bringing to the surface in beautiful South Africa.
To view photos from the U.S. Embassy Pretoria, click here.Follow the U.S. Embassy Pretoria on Facebook and Twitter.For information on the World Cup in South Africa, visit the U.S. Mission's website.To view Sharon Hudson-Dean's next entry, click United States vs. England: Striving to Repeat Results of 1950 World Cup Match.