As Spain lifted the 2010 Fifa World Cup on the chilly evening of 11 July, South Africans across the country were filled with a sense of pride in a spectacle well hosted.
While Soweto’s Soccer City stadium, where Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0, was packed to capacity, thousands of other fans flocked to public viewing areas elsewhere in Johannesburg to witness history being made in their own backyard.
Celebrations after the match at Innes Free Fifa Fan Fest in Sandton, where I watched the match, had a rich South African flavour, with music, dance and much vuvuzela-trumpeting. With such a distinct local vibe, you could be forgiven for thinking that Bafana Bafana had beaten the Netherlands in that final.
“The World Cup has been a great success,” said Sifiso Mazibuko from Soweto. “People who expected it to go badly have been proven wrong. Even though Bafana lost in the first round, we proved ... that we can host a world-class event.
“There are many events, like the Olympics, that South Africa can now host,” he added.
The final match buzz could be felt in the country from the time Germany lost to Spain in the semifinals, days before the 11 July finale.
A colourful carnival kicked off on the streets of Soweto on 9 July, with about 500 entertainers showing off their skills along a 5km stretch from Maponya Mall to Kliptown Square. These festivities helped set the mood for a thrilling countdown to the final match and closing ceremony.
Vincent Nkosi gathered with his family in Pimville, Soweto, to witness the impressive display on the streets. He later commented that the carnival’s success reflected how well World Cup-related events were managed.
“It is part of a package that shows that everything has been well organised. Organisation of the World Cup was really up to scratch,” he said.
Nkosi also spoke about the tourism boom in the township during the tournament: “I’ve been seeing many tourists everyday here in Soweto. It was nice hype.”
The noted decrease in crime and hospitality shown to World Cup visitors swelled Nkosi’s pride in Africa’s first World Cup.
“It’s been a success and enjoyable, especially the safety and accommodating our visitors ... We’ve shown good courtesy to our visitors.”
To minimise crime during the tournament, government deployed 31 000 local police officers and called on international security agencies, including Interpol, for back-up.
Christian Jutte, from Denmark, is one of the visitors who felt safe and welcome here, although he is no stranger to the country, as his wife is originally from Soweto.
Speaking from Kliptown Square during the carnival, he said: “It feels like home in South Africa ... I feel safe.
“I now hope that investors will come and see that anything is possible in South Africa,” he added.
‘Putting the country first’
President Jacob Zuma announced on 10 July that government will soon launch a programme to thank South Africans for their impressive World Cup spirit.
“South Africans are the stars and champions of this tournament,” Zuma said in a statement.
“We extend a special thank you to South Africans for the passion and excitement that has kept the tournament alive for the past weeks. We thank you for putting the country first,” he added.