Afrikaners embrace football during World Cup

With the World Cup in full swing in South Africa, many

rugby-obsessed Afrikaners are embracing football like never

before.

But because rugby is so deeply rooted in the Afrikaner culture,

its pre-eminent status will surely be restored after the world’s

most popular football tournament ends on July 11 at Soccer

City.

“I just know more about rugby so I would naturally rather watch

a rugby match,” said Zanele Smit, an 18-year-old student in

Heidelberg, a small town of mostly Dutch-descended Afrikaners near

Johannesburg. “But I am feeling it. The spirit of the people and

the vuvuzelas that the World Cup brought are truly brightening up

my days.”

When South Africa won the bid to host the World Cup in 2004,

many Afrikaners didn’t care. But as the tournament drew closer,

more and more South African flags started to pop up on

Afrikaner-owned cars and people even started wearing the Bafana

Bafana shirt.

“The fact that South Africa is hosting the World Cup has

increased my interest in football,” said Francois de Kock, a

20-year-old law student. “Usually, I could not really be bothered

if the United States and England played against each other as

Germany is my team. But since the World Cup is being hosted in

South Africa, I find myself watching every match.”

The World Cup opened on Friday at Soccer City, a rebuilt stadium

closer to the black township of Soweto than downtown

Johannesburg.

Soccer has always been more popular among the majority black

population, but it was former president Nelson Mandela that is

credited by many for making South Africa a multiracial country when

he attended the 1995 Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park and

congratulated former captain Francois Pienaar while wearing a green

Springboks shirt.

That win opened a new era for South African sport, with the

expectation that whites and blacks would participate in and support

different sports together.

It’s certainly working for the World Cup.

“I definitely care more about football with the World Cup here

in South Africa,” said Jaco Swartz, a 33-year-old lawyer. “I

would rather watch rugby than soccer, especially if it’s the

Springboks playing. But I’m proud of Bafana and I will keep

supporting them even after the World Cup is over.”

Since the end of apartheid and the Afrikaner-led National Party

in 1994, when international sanctions against South Africa’s sports

teams were lifted, the country appeared to be divided among racial

lines, with most white people choosing rugby. But interest in South

African football is growing among Afrikaners.

“I would rather watch football than rugby if I had to choose,”

said Anneke Gouws, a teacher from Heidelberg. “I am definitely

more aware of what is going on in football with the start of the

World Cup in South Africa.”

After their opening match, a 1-1 draw with Mexico, Bafana Bafana

– as the national team is known – still have a good chance to

advance to the knockout round. And many Afrikaners have even been

seen blowing on their vuvuzelas – the loud plastic trumpets that

have become a symbol of the World Cup.

But the national football team will be hard-pressed to live up

to the standards of the Springboks, who won the Rugby World Cup in

1995 and 2007.

“The Springboks perform much better than Bafana Bafana

internationally,” De Kock said. “Rugby is a much more exiting

game as there are more goals scored regularly.”

Whether the sudden Afrikaner interest in football will live on

remains to be seen, but it’s already not looking too good.

“My interest in football has not increased at all,” said Ernst

Wolfaardt, a retired Heidelberg resident out doing his shopping at

a local supermarket. “I will always rather watch the rugby.”