There’s a section of the African Queen Arts store in the Johannesburg suburb of Bramley that’s a veritable shrine to one of Africa’s greatest-ever footballers, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba.
An illuminated wall in a corner of the shop is pasted with posters of the striker in familiar goal scoring poses in the blue of his club, England’s Chelsea, and in the orange of his national team, known as The Elephants - currently participating in the soccer World Cup in South Africa. Below the wall is an old television showing hazy highlights of Drogba’s illustrious career, and media interviews with the man himself.
The adulation for the often-scowling Drogba – this year’s leading scorer in the English Premier League and a hero throughout the continent – doesn’t end with the wall and battered TV. It’s even on the airwaves in the store, a radio constantly playing the hit Ivorian song, ‘Didier Drogba, King of Football’ in homage to the player.
The dealership’s owner, Osso Reine, says she admires Drogba for far more than his soccer prowess. He comes from her home village in Abidjan and does a lot to help the poor in Ivory Coast.
“Ah, people enjoy Didier Drogba because he put water in everybody’s house and he help them to finish (building) the house and he sometimes buy them the cars,” she says.
Carved World Cup players
In art circles in Johannesburg, Reine is known as “The Queen.” She explains that ‘reine’ is French for ‘queen’ and then giggles, “I’m queen of art – African art.”
In her capacity as a well known art dealer, Reine is arguably the most prominent member of South Africa’s small Ivorian community.
Lately, she’s become especially famous for her range of wooden figurines carved specially for the World Cup by her relatives back in Ivory Coast. The statues are all over her shop, painted in the colors of all the teams currently participating in the tournament. They’re proving to be very popular among many international football fans in South Africa.
“Yesterday we meet the Germany people. They come, they buy the soccer players, and they (are) very happy,” Reine says, adding that she comes from a family of artists.
After studying marketing at a college in Abidjan in the 1980s, she traveled throughout Europe and the United States to sell her relatives’ traditional Ivorian artworks, especially wood carvings and masks. “The ethnic people of Cote d’Ivoire, they make many special, ceremonial masks; the masks they have spiritual power,” Reine states.
She also visited South Africa in 1994, and the country “captured” her heart. “I decided to stay here. I feel safe here; I also enjoy the wide open spaces,” Reine says. In little more than a decade the original “tiny and poor” art shop she opened has now expanded to sell works from all over Africa.
‘Not sleeping’ because of bad African results
As an “adopted South African,” Reine says she’s “proud” to welcome the globe to Johannesburg for the World Cup extravaganza. She maintains South Africa’s so far performing “fantastically” in hosting the massive event.
“I was 20 years ago in Italy when it was also World Cup there. To tell you the truth, it was not the same (good) organization (in Italy). Here (in South Africa) it’s very (much) better,” Reine comments.
Unfortunately, she agrees, the same good organization can’t be applied to South Africa’s underperforming national soccer squad which is already virtually eliminated from the competition.
Reine describes Bafana Bafana – as South Africa’s football team is called – as “almost as special” to her as her beloved Ivory Coast Elephants. She’s saddened by Bafana’s poor showing thus far in the tournament. South Africa could only draw 1 – 1 with Mexico and was hammered 3 – 0 by Uruguay in its opening matches.
“I’m not even sleeping because Bafana Bafana is my heart, you see. To see them in that condition, I was very disappointed,” Reine says.
She’s also “not so pleased” with Ivory Coast’s play thus far. Although Africa’s great hopes to lift the trophy have managed a creditable 0 – 0 draw with highly-rated Portugal, the Elephants then slumped to a 3 -1 defeat to Brazil - a result Reines says that left her “numb … but not without some hope ...”
‘Portugal can beat Brazil’
Ivory Coast must now beat North Korea by an avalanche of goals on Friday in their last group match if they’re to stand any chance of progressing to the next round. This follows Portugal’s 7 – 0 drubbing of the Asians.
The art dealer insists that Drogba and company will “fill their part of the deal” by “smashing” North Korea. “I wish them that, because I want to see my country go up,” she says.
To further guarantee Ivory Coast a place in the last 16 of the World Cup, Brazil must beat Portugal on Friday – an outcome Reines says is far from certain, despite the South Americans’ brilliance.
“All the soccer players, they are professional, so I can’t say [Portugal] can’t beat Brazil. No, they can beat Brazil,” she says.
If the results go against it later this week, Ivory Coast will become the latest African team to be knocked out of the competition. Reines says this would be “humiliating” given that many prominent people from her homeland are presently in South Africa to witness the Elephants adopting the mantle of “the pride of Africa” and making the semifinals at least.
“All our ministers are here; everybody – even our president! We can’t just go back like that (having being knocked out of the World Cup in the first round); no. We come from far; we come here to win,” she asserts.
But, even if Ivory Coast falls at the first hurdle, Reines will not be tearing down her Didier Drogba posters. “I’ll put more up,” she declares defiantly. “This is Africa and we do not turn the back on people who have fought for us.”