Monday, July 26, 2010

World Cup Creates Unity in South Africa and the World

Crowds of people dance in the streets, waving their country flags proudly and wailing on vuvuzelas. The loud, incessant horns seem never ending as I enter the stadium to witness my first ever World Cup match. But while this is an important moment for me personally, it's even more monumental on a universal scale. 

South Africa is the first African nation to host the World Cup. For the longest time the country was divided by prejudice and hate during the Apartheid era. But since Nelson Mandela came to power, South Africa has worked to be a more peaceful and united country. And now the whole world is watching. The World Cup is a way to show everyone how far they have come, and it needs to go off without a hitch. But unfortunately media outlets across the world created false impressions of how dangerous South Africa was. Many people decided not to come, fearing terrorist attacks and violent crime. I'll plead guilty to having doubts, I was definitely apprehensive when we first arrived in Africa. Since all I had ever heard was negative hype that claimed tourists would be robbed, mugged or murdered on the street, and terrorists would roll out with machine guns. It was and still is pathetic that I ever had these thoughts, but it was what was flashed in front of me for so long. I had studied Apartheid, knew the horrors or Uganda and Rwanda, fear was pitted in my stomach.

But South Africa is nothing like people made it out to be. Or at least, the South Africa that I saw. Durban is full of friendly, helpful people just trying to get by. It's no less safe than America, and in fact, there were times I felt safer in Durban than I did in some neighborhoods of Chicago. Of course, thanks to the World Cup, police swarmed the city like flies hovering over food. But I have a feeling that even without the increase in security, Durban would have been peaceful. The people want to be respected, the country wants to burn their bloody past, and Soccer is the way to do it.

Durban built a brand new soccer stadium for the tournament, The Moses Mabhiba Stadium, complete with seating for 70,000 spectators. The impressive arch that sweeps over the pitch features a cable car that runs on non-game days, taking visitors up over the stadium, giving them unparalleled views of Durban.  When the stadium is packed with people, it's even more impressive. This is where everyone, from all over the world, is joined together, experiencing the same match. Every game, we sat in a different part of the stadium, and this provided us with various viewpoints of the field as well as the fans. We made friends with people sitting around, bonding over nothing more than the fact that we all had a ticket to a World Cup game. It no longer mattered what country we were from, everyone was a soccer fan, everyone was there for the same reason. The World Cup brought everyone together, and I believe South Africa accomplished what they wanted all along: Unity.

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