The South African national team today drove through the streets of Sandton, north of Johannesburg, with the fans coming out to support the team and show Bafana that they are behind them, in what was called the ‘United for Bafana Bafana’ campaign.
Huge crowds thronged the streets of the Sandton business district to hail Bafana Bafana – the nickname for the team, which loosely translates as Our Boys. Office workers also took to the streets across the city to blow vuvuzelas and wave flags while passing cars tooted their horns. Some wore clown wigs in national colours, others had makarapas – hard hats carved and painted into the shape of footballers and flags.
The organisers were estimating some 250,000 people had flooded the streets of Sandton (more conservative estimates halved that) but the helicopter camera shots made it look like New Year’s Eve. Only it was lunchtime on a work day.
Other similar street parades in support of the national team took place in various South African cities including Port Elizabeth, Soweto, Cape Townn and Durban. At noon today all South Africans were instructed to blow their vuvuzelas and hoot their car horns.
South Africa are not widely tipped to progress a long way in the tournament but a recent run of good results has boosted what was already wildly enthusiastic support still further.
The players on the bus looked emotional and were also stunned by the turnout of supporters. Before the players returned to their hotel, a number of celebratory balloons were released into the air and they will fly across the city, as they are programmed to do so and land in the goalmouth of one of the goals at Soccer City stadium, where the opening match and final will take place.
Resident Zanele Ntuli, among the enthusiastic crowds gathered outside parliament, said: “Never in my life did I think this would come to Africa, let alone South Africa.”
South Africans were ecstatic 14 years ago after the team won the African Nations Cup on home soil, but the national football association said Wednesday’s turnout beat all records. “This is the biggest show of public support for our team in the history of the professional game,” said chief executive Leslie Sedibe.
“We urge the 90,000 spectators who will be coming here to exercise restraint when it comes to using their own cars, because there are buses and there are trains which will drop them right at the door,” said Rich Mkhondo, a spokesman for the local organising committee.
The South African national team will meet the South African president, Jacob Zuma, later on Wednesday, as Zuma wants to wish them well.
The family of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, has also indicated that he will appear at the tournament’s opening ceremony on Friday. There had been fears that the legendary leader, now aged 91, would be too frail to make it. [via The Goal and The Daily Telegraph (UK)]