In the spirit of ... the 1995 Cup final
“Sorry Sisi, you’re holding up traffic—Soccer City is that way!”
I laugh as a fellow journalist mimics the Orlando stadium marshals who tried to convince her she was in the wrong place. “Can’t a black girl come to a rugby match?” is the question she decides not to ask.
As this is my first rugby match, I totally understand where she’s coming from.
At the Bulls merchandise stand they’re selling everything you can imagine, from horns to boxer shorts. And they’re all blue. I’m ready to reach into my purse, but what do I even know about rugby?
I soak myself in the pre-match energy. On the other side of the fence I spot an old black man and a black teenage boy with their faces painted blue. I have no idea whether they are rugby fans. Maybe they don’t even know who the Bulls are. But it doesn’t matter. The message they’re sending is right there on their faces: support. Ke nako; it’s heart-warming.
Meanwhile, my Mail & Guardian colleague, Tarryn Harbour, is checking out Facebook and Twitter. That’s where we find the inevitable pessimists who insist that such events don’t translate into a unified South Africa. Here at Orlando, 40 000 people are testimony to the contrary.
Later, from our god-like seats, I look down on a sea of blue. A chant breaks out across the crowd, but I can’t make out the words. Tarryn translates, and I then hear it: “Bulls, Bulls, Bulls.” And supporting the chant, there’s a stadium-shaking shout of vuvuzelas. It’s the weird and wonderful soundtrack of the rainbow nation.
I felt sorry for the Crusaders. They never had a chance.
Afterwards we board the media bus and edge our way home. One of the journalists points to a shebeen facing the road where everyone is already partying. In the middle of it all, I see two white Bulls supporters. They’re dancing, embracing and sharing their victory with the regulars.
A South African victory.—Vuvu Vena
Images of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, when I was a nine-year-old, remain burned into my mind: Nelson Mandela in Francois Pienaar’s jersey; members of my family crying and thanking God as the golden trophy was raised.
Now, 15 years later, I’m queuing outside Orlando stadium, watching the smoke from a Weber braai spiral into the sky next to the open boot of a 4x4. The Bulls have come to Soweto and they’ve brought their fans with them.
Soweto has probably never seen so many (unarmed) white people on its streets before. And I suspect most of the Pretorianers would never have imagined being in the township after dark—voluntarily.
But they’ve come in by the busload; they’ve come in by car. Brandishing blue flags and bottles of beer, they’re here to see their beloved Bulls do something no other rugby team has done: play at Orlando.
The smell of boerewors drifts on the air as Rooi Rok Bokkie blasts from the speakers in the beer garden. People dressed in blue from head to toe survey the surroundings. “Dis stunning hierso, bliksem,” says one spectator, gazing up at the stadium.
Another one remarks: “Kyk, hierdie’s geskiedenis op die maak” (“Look, this is history in the making”).
Two Soweto residents pose for pictures. They’re carrying hand-lettered signs that read “Black Bulls”. A face painter enthusiastically markets his services: “If you are in Soweto today, we are blue!” he says, grinning.
But there’s lots of yellow too. Sporadic splashes of Bafana Bafana shirts: some emblazoned with the slogan “Gauteng rocks!” Every time Crusaders flyhalf Dan Carter steps up to take a kick, the roar of the crowd and the blasts of the vuvuzelas—football’s traditional weapon—make the stadium vibrate. No wonder he keeps missing.
Afterwards, fans congregate in the beer garden or party in the local shebeens. The ridiculously cheap quarts might have something to do with it. Or maybe it’s the spirit of 1995.
Nobody really believes a single rugby match is a magical panacea for our countrys ills. But for a few hours, at least, it can bring us together to celebrate our sameness.—Tarryn Harbour