Soccer fans blow vuvuzelas following the World Cup group A soccer match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg. File photo: Hassan Ammar


Johannesburg - Football craze is raging in South Africa, as the Fifa World Cup in Brazil has reawakened pride in having been the first African country to host the event in 2010.

“On the first night of the cup in Brazil, bars here were packed with people wanting to watch the match between Brazil and Croatia, but the electricity went out,” said Lucky Gilbert Nau, 35, an unemployed garden designer who lives in Soweto outside Johannesburg.

“We were frantically trying to find out from Facebook what was going on in the match. We don't want to miss a single one,” he added.

The World Cup in Brazil is accompanied by constant reminiscence of the same event in SA in 2010. Television stations broadcast footage of 2010 matches while the name of the emblematic song of the event, Waka-waka, has become a motto.

“The 2010 World Cup put us on the world map,” Nau said.

When the ailing former president Nelson Mandela made his last official appearance at the final celebration of the 2010 World Cup at Soccer City stadium, 16 years after the end of apartheid, SA had changed its image.

The efficient organisation of the sport event and the testimonies of visiting football fans contributed to changing its reputation from a racist and crime-ridden country to a modern and dynamic one.

“The cup allowed the world to see what Africa had to offer,” says Dominic Chimhavi, spokesman for the South African Football Association.

The 2010 World Cup also strengthened a sense of unity in the nation as no other event could.

“As Mandela said, there is nothing better to unite people than sports,” Chimhavi told dpa.

Visitors to the World Cup discovered SA as a tourist destination, with tourism growing since then, he pointed out.

About 15 million tourists visited South Africa in 2013. South Africa also invested about $3 billion in football stadiums, airports, roads and other infrastructure. Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo Airport was upgraded and the city was given the Gautrain, which takes passengers to the administrative capital Pretoria and other business districts.

Today, however, most of the new or upgraded stadiums are running at a loss.

In Cape Town, maintenance costs of a $600 million stadium have outstripped revenues by far as local matches attract few spectators. A momentary increase in employment in the construction sector subsided after projects were completed.

Some of the projects were tainted by corruption, with 15 construction entrepreneurs currently being investigated on charges of illegal deals.

After billions of rands in outlays, the World Cup only generated revenues of about $500m, according to a figure given by SA former political activist and journalist Ross van der Linde.

“People like me cannot afford to take the Gautrain,” said Lebohang Sello, 38, a tourist guide in Soweto.

“Economically, the 2010 World Cup only benefited the rich.”

The main impact of the 2010 World Cup may have been psychological rather than economic. Not only did it boost national unity, but it also contributed to changing the image of football, which is now the top sport in SA, Chimhavi said.

“Football used to be regarded as the poor man's sport, something for black people,” while whites preferred rugby, he said. But now “everyone is taking football seriously,” with new fields being built all over the country, the spokesman added.

“I have loved soccer since I was young,” said Agnes, a 64-year-old black household employee.

“In my home village in (in the province of) Mpumalanga, we watched local players on the field.

“But today, we see matches on television - and the entire country watches them,” she added. - Sapa-dpa