My neighbour’s gardener, a Malawian called Charles Banda, lives in a shack in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s biggest squatter camp. ‘It was really dreadful after South Africa lost to Uruguay,’ he said to me yesterday. ‘Most of my neighbours were watching the game on TV, either at a shebeen or at a friend’s. They were drinking as they watched, of course, and by the end they were very angry and disappointed. They’ve always said they would avenge themselves on foreigners once the World Cup was over but now they didn’t feel like waiting for that. So groups of them started going house to house looking for foreigners. They caught two of my friends and shot them. I ran away and slept at a friend’s last night.’
No news of this has yet appeared in the local press but I believe Charles. Almost any amount of mayhem can happen in Khayelitsha without the outside world being much the wiser. The real question is simply whether this sort of xenophobic violence will start in earnest now or later. The next week will tell. At present South Africans can still hope for a miracle in which their team beats France by, say, 4-0, allowing them to progress to the next stage of the Cup. When that fails to happen, I fear for Charles and his friends.
I also feel sorry for my English friends. Their team’s performance thus far has been wholly pathetic. At present Slovenia and the USA both look much better teams and it’s not even clear that Algeria isn’t better than England too. Even the presence of 30,000 English supporters at the match in Cape Town’s Green Point stadium last night didn’t tilt the balance although it was nice to note that for once the sound of singing (God Save the Queen, mostly) actually competed with the wretched vuvuzelas. There weren’t enough Algerians present for their singing to be heard but they had no need of such sustenance to hold England and even enjoy most of the ball possession.
While it is true that Robert Green on his own has cost England two points, it is extremely hard to look at England and say they deserve to make the last 16. The revelation that the FA lost the Jabulani balls sent to them before the tournament, preventing the team from practising with these difficult objects, could yet attract much of the blame for this wretched situation. This is one of the things which a more vigilant press would have brought out much sooner. Similarly, it is only now that South Africa’s football cognoscenti are pointing out that their FA fouled up in their preparations by arranging for South Africa only morale-building games against minnows like Lesotho and Thailand, rather than against teams of the standard they face now.
Thus far no Latin American team has lost a game and they are also scoring most of the goals. But, less noticed, this World Cup has also been good for the Slavs so far. Not only did Serbia actually beat Germany but both Slovenia and Slovakia are looking competitive, though the total population of all three countries is far less than, say, England. The Swiss are looking good too. Maybe we should have paid more attention to tennis. Switzerland has produced both Federer and Hingis, and there are legions of good Slavic players in both the men’s and women’s game. If there is any correlation between prowess on the tennis court and at football that would also explain why England look so hopeless.