News / Africa

Exuberant South African Football Fans Fired Up for 2010 World Cup

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The first football World Cup on the African continent has sparked a serious outbreak of football fever in South Africa. Experts say because it so infectious, the hundreds of thousands of visiting foreign fans are likely to catch this unique enthusiasm for the game.

South African football fans are among the most exuberant in the world. For them a match is a party and, win or lose, they celebrate with song, dance and noise.

Flag vendors are doing a booming business as everyone gets into the spirit. Flags from all 32 countries competing in the Cup can be seen waving from cars, homes and offices. The most popular? South Africa's, of course.

The 2010 World Cup mascot is called Zakumi. He looks like a leopard in a football uniform, only his wild hair locks are green. He has become an instant celebrity as he crisscrosses the country celebrating the game.

Saddam Maake bills himself as the number-one fan of the South African team. He attends most of the games dressed from head to toe in the team colors of yellow and green.

"I like soccer. I am a soccer slave," he said. "I drink soccer, sleep soccer, eat soccer. That's why I love soccer."

Among fans who like to dress up, a popular accessory is the Makarapa. It is made from a plastic "hard hat" used in the mines. Parts of the shell are cut in the shapes of balls, flags or football players, bended out and painted.

Artist Alfred Baloyi, another football fanatic, made the first Makarapa 30 years ago after he saw a fan hit on the head by a bottle thrown during a match.

"When I go to the stadium I wear it to save my head," said Baloyi. "So when days go on [as time goes by] I paint it. I go to the stadium, the people, they like it."

The hats became so popular that he began selling them. Baloyi works at his home in a shanty town outside Johannesburg. Dozens of artists imitate his work and produce thousands of hats a month for clients around the world.

Another local football fixture, though more controversial, is the Vuvuzela. It is a long plastic horn that produces a single note. But when thousands of them are blowing at the same time they create a din (noise) that opposing teams say can be intimidating.

Some foreign players and TV announcers have called for the horns to be banned. But football's governing body, FIFA, has refused saying they are part of the African football experience.

A special dance has been created for the World Cup. It is called the Diski after a local term for football. It mimics the moves by soccer players on the field.

A band of young steel drum players are practicing for opening night on June 11th in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium when South Africa plays Mexico.

Although some visitors find this exuberance a bit hard on the ears, many foreign fans say they love it because it celebrates football. And in Africa celebrating football means making noise.

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