Wearing green overalls and a beaming smile, Jerry Madziwana approaches a group of Japanese visitors in the royal blue jerseys of their national football team. He thrusts Japan scarves and blue vuvuzela trumpets towards the chattering tourists, and shouts, “Here! Japan, for you! Japan, number one!”
The Far Eastern football fans, in South Africa to support their team in the World Cup, laugh among themselves, and buy two of Madziwana’s scarves. The salesman reacts, “Business is good here in Parkhurst (in Johannesburg), because of all the restaurants and shops and bars in this area.”
Hundreds of thousands of international soccer fans have descended upon South Africa for the biggest sports event in the world. Many are based in and around the country’s largest metropolis, Johannesburg. The city is the only one with two World Cup stadiums, and is therefore hosting more tournament games than any other.
‘People buying like crazy’
Here to welcome the foreigners – and to take their money - are hordes of people selling all kinds of football fan paraphernalia. Many of the salespeople, like Madziwana, hail from Zimbabwe – South Africa’s politically and economically repressed northern neighbor.
“In 2004, when it was announced that World Cup was going to be in South Africa in 2010, I said to my wife, ‘No, I must leave Harare as soon as possible and set myself up in Johannesburg,’” says Madziwana. “The opportunity was just too good to miss.”
He moved to the city in 2005. With profits raised from selling curios, Madziwana began buying “anything to do with World Cup and football and the fans. I bought scarves, jerseys, trumpets, whistles; everything!” he exclaims, fingering a replica of the World Cup made of gold beads and wire.
Madziwana started selling his goods in Johannesburg three months ago. “At first, business was slow. So slow that I thought I had made a mistake. But about a month ago, people started buying like crazy,” he says with enthusiasm.
All over Johannesburg, Madziwana’s story echoes through the streets, his fellow Zimbabwean traders telling similar tales of escape from utmost poverty in their homeland, to earning some money on the streets of South Africa - thanks to the World Cup.
Zimbabwe will ‘never’ qualify for a World Cup …
As the competition gets into full swing, Madziwana says national flags are proving to be his most popular items, closely followed by scarves – “because now it’s wintertime (in South Africa); people they want something which is warm.”
He says he’s “very much enjoying” interacting with football supporters from all over the globe. “We are meeting people from as far (away) as Canada, Holland, Germany, and some of them they are from Japan; we are meeting them and they want to look for their (team’s) jerseys and for their scarves and flags for their countries.”
Walter Kanyegoni is another Zimbabwean who’s selling soccer gear in nearby Parktown. “I also came here because of World Cup,” he says. “I just decided it was better to do my business here in South Africa, because nowhere else would I get the chance to sell goods during such a big occasion.”
Kanyegoni laughs that Zimbabwe’s football team didn’t qualify for the tournament “and probably never will” but he’s nevertheless “happy” to be supporting South Africa. “Also I have started my business now – arts and crafts; wire (art) – and more customers, more tourists … are buying (from me). I’m selling a lot of flags, covers for car mirrors that look like flags of the (participating) countries. So I am happy.”
On another Johannesburg street corner stands Blessing Mdunge, his gold front tooth flashing in the sun, swathed from head to toe in the South African national colors of red, black, green, yellow and blue. The Bulawayo-born young man is covered in a silky robe designed to resemble South Africa’s flag; a frizzy multicolored wig adorns his head.
“We see different people – from Brazil; Italy; all the people, they’re here now, buying from me,” he says.
Mdunge quips that he even sells underpants resembling South Africa’s flag. “But I’m not wearing them for now!” he jokes, adding, “But I’ve got them at my house; (they’re) only for my girlfriend (to see)!”
So many police and soldiers
Some Zimbabwean street sellers in Parkhurst pay South African car guard, Lizo Lukela, to keep a watchful eye over their products. It’s a job he says he does “with pleasure” … And not only because of the money.
“These Zimbabweans are my African brothers and sisters. They deserve to benefit from the African World Cup just as much as I do,” he states. Lukela himself journeyed a long way, from South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, to base himself in Johannesburg for the duration of the tournament.
“There’s no such thing as a World Cup in Queenstown, my hometown, so I decided to come here to Johannesburg to work here,” he tells VOA, while whistling to guide the driver of yet another vehicle into a parking space.
“Doing this particular job, I am having a lot of contact with all the overseas soccer fans,” Lukela explains. “Some of them have hired vehicles, and they are very worried that their cars will be stolen. They tell me it is very strange for them to see a person being a car guard; they tell me there are no car guards in their countries!”
Lukela acknowledges that his mere presence on the street is evidence of “serious crime” in South Africa but adds “I have never seen so many police and soldiers in my life in this place as I do now. I am sure that most foreigners are going to be so, so safe during the World Cup.”
Most of the people working Johannesburg’s streets as the tournament progresses are big football fans themselves.
“In the World Cup I’ve got two countries which I’m supporting. Of course, I’m supporting South Africa, and the second one I’m supporting (is) Ghana. I’m praying to God they might go to the final,” says Madziwana.
He maintains he was “most impressed” with the Black Stars’ opening match victory over Serbia. “We want this World Cup to remain in Africa,” he stresses. “It doesn’t matter which country (wins it), as long as it is in Africa.”
“No chance,” says Mdunge, who’s convinced the 2010 title belongs to habitual winners, Brazil. Kanyegoni wants South Africa to win the World Cup, but thinks it’s between Brazil or Germany to take the trophy.
Lukela, however, has “no doubts” about which team will claim the cup. He seethes between clenched teeth that South Africa’s set to cause one of the biggest upsets in football history.
“I hope everyone across the globe will be just staring (at) their TVs and watching, because this is going to be an experience that they will never forget in their lifetime,” he says.
Unlike most of his colleagues, Madziwana’s already thinking of the inevitable post-party hangover, when the World Cup’s over and South Africa returns to normality … and a corresponding drop in spending.
The entrepreneur’s undaunted. “I’ll open a new business,” he says nonchalantly. “There are always new opportunities for those who use their brains.”
Then, he adds, “Besides, I hear South Africa wants to bid for the 2020 Olympic Games …”