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The Sound of Cow Bells

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Durban advertises itself as ‘the warmest place to be for the 2010 Fifa World Cup’. It’s been a sunny 20 degrees here, while the temperatures in Bloemfontein, for example, have plummeted at night to minus five. The esplanade is crowded with tourists, as well as groups of Zulu dancers dressed in ‘traditional’ clothes (no shirts, lots of chest muscles, wooden shields and spears) and local artists making sand sculptures of crocodiles eating people (with the inscription: ‘please donate money and help save the poor man’).

The bars are full of foreign men and local women. Thousands of tourists have descended on the city – most of them European, most of them men – and the European-African (mis)match is evident. Every evening we have been approached by groups of young women: ‘I am from Zimbabwe, I do not care about football, but I came for a month vacation during the World Cup.’ Everywhere you look, large sweaty white men are buying drinks for attractive black women.

On Tuesday, two hours after Germany defeated Australia 4-0 at the local Moses Mabhida stadium, the employees of the venue’s security company went on strike. A dispute over unpaid salaries led to clashes with the local police. Avoiding any disturbance to the World Cup is paramount, so tear gas and rubber bullets were used to see off the demonstrators. The next day, according to some local newspapers, all the security company’s workers were out of a job.

When we arrived yesterday at the stadium to watch a supposedly easy game for Spain, the European champions, against a nondescript Swiss side, the police had taken over security. Two helicopters flew above us, and large groups of armed police pointed the way with their stares. A policewoman checked our ticket, a policeman briefly body-searched us, and another showed us the way to our seats. Altogether, 4000 cops took part in this sporting event – on one of South Africa’s national holidays, marking the 34th anniversary of the 1976 June riots.

My English friends were all praying for a Swiss victory, even though none of them believed it possible. And then a red-and-white goal at the beginning of the second half silenced the drums and castanets of the red-and-yellow supporters. The sound of cow bells reached our ears from across the stadium through the vuvuzelas. Switzerland had provided the first real upset of the tournament.

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