JOHANNESBURG - Johannesburg’s inner city Yeoville area is one of the centers of South Africa’s massive African immigrant population. Here you’ll find people from Senegal to Somalia, Mali to Mozambique, and many more nationalities. And there is no shortage of soccer fanatics watching the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) currently happening in Gabon.
Yeoville’s Rockey Street is a glimpse of pan-Africanism like few others.
Stores selling everything from cassava to cellphones blast kwasa kwasa music. Exhaust fumes blend with smoke from fish and chicken charcoal-grilled on sidewalks by women from Kenya, Liberia and Angola.
Groups sitting on crates converse in French, Portuguese and Swahili.
The Supa-Bet Gambling Palace is packed with hundreds of people, all wagering on AFCON soccer matches.
One of the punters is South African Thabo Motsepe.
“I’m betting now; I was going to write my ticket to bet for Ghana. It’s a strong team in Africa. And they play the great football,” he said.
Men order drinks in the Fanelgod pub. A sky blue flag with a yellow star and diagonal red stripe hangs on a wall. It shows the bar’s a stronghold for Democratic Republic of Congo nationals.
But Congolese electrician Freddy Lendo isn’t impressed with the soccer he’s seen so far. He complains about too many dour draws and low-scoring triumphs.
“Ah, the quality is not like the European team. The game sometimes is boring. One – one, two – one; nil – nil," he said.
Yet he remains enthusiastic about the Congolese squad, after The Leopards beat Morocco in their opening game.
In the bar Lendo grabs another beer and treats his compatriots to a Congolese soccer chant.
He says DRC will also overcome the mighty Elephants of Ivory Coast on Friday to progress to the quarter-finals.
“DRC now is number one in the [qualifying] group stage for the  World Cup," said Lendo. "We have the good players playing in Europe, the good coach. In Gabon, we gonna take the cup!”
Lendo maintains just one other team is capable of destroying the DRC dream.
“Only Senegal [is possibly] gonna beat us, finish! Ivory Coast now, there’s a new [inexperienced] generation… Algeria now is going down, you see,” he said.
But Thabang Moyo says it’s Zimbabwe, with “potent” attackers, that’ll cause an upset by making it to the semi-finals, at least.
His Warriors surprised by drawing two-all with pre-tournament favorites Algeria in their first game. In their encounter Thursday, they face another formidable opponent.
“Ah, Senegal; it’s nothing, Senegal; I’m not scared [of] it. Ivory Coast — yeah, maybe, maybe," said Moyo. "Because Ivory Coast, we mustn’t forget that, they take that (AFCON) cup last [in 2015]. [But this time the winners will be] Zimbabwe, or Ghana, or Egypt.”
Ghanaian fan Asamoah Mbun says three teams are capable of winning AFCON 2017.
“Ghana! Ivory Coast! Cameroon! These West African teams," said Mbun. "My friend, it’s not easy, to take West African teams out!”
But ultimately he says Ghana won’t be stopped because they’ve some of the world’s best players.
“For the Black Stars, [Striker and captain] Asamoah Gyan is there! [Midfielder Samuel] Tetteh is there! [Midfielder Christian] Atsu is there!” said Mbun.
But, in Rockey Street at the moment, no matter who wins or loses, the party’s on, with Africans divided by language and culture united in their love of soccer.