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• Saturday, March 24th, 2012

By: Wandoo Makurdi & Clarece Polke

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• Monday, October 11th, 2010

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• Sunday, August 01st, 2010

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• Thursday, July 08th, 2010

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When South Africa won World Cup hosting privileges, it worked to clean up the negative perception that had been formed about the country. Many of these problems like security, transportation and clean water have by most accounts been improved in time to accommodate fans. But as visitors take in soccer matches and other popular attractions, many of the issues affecting South Africans, particularly in rural communities, still remain. One community center quietly continues to save its residents.

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• Friday, July 02nd, 2010

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JOHANNESBURG – Long after the Uruguayans left the field of Soccer City Stadium Friday night, the Black Stars of Ghana remained on the turf unable to accept that their World Cup run was over. Some, like forward Asamoah Gyan, covered their faces to hide the flowing tears.

The dream was so close, but a missed penalty in the final minute of extra time, and two more in a penalty shootout, ended Ghana’s hope of becoming the first African team to reach a World Cup semifinal.

The image of a sobbing Gyan, who emerged as Ghana’s go-to scorer in the absence of the injured Michael Essien, and two teammates consoling him captured the hearts of fans who showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

Gyan missed the penalty kick in the final second of extra time, which would have put Ghana into the history books. He converted Ghana’s first penalty in the shootout, but skipper John Mensah and substitute Dominic Adiyiah had their attempts saved. Moments later, the Uruguayans gathered around Sebastián Abreu, who clinched the victory with his penalty. Uruguay will face a powerful Dutch team in the semifinals Tuesday in Cape Town, after the Netherlands knocked off tournament favorite Brazil 2-1 earlier Friday.

Most of the 84,000 in attendance in Soccer City Friday night were silenced by Abreu’s goal, as the realization set in that there would be no record set by an African team on the continent.

Then came the applause, which was reciprocated by Kevin Prince-Boateng, the only player who held his head high on the Ghanaian team.

“We are all Ghana tonight,” said Teofilo Chau, a Ghana fan from Mozambique, after the match. “We are sad, but we are very proud that they did well.”

Hafsa Kipozei from Uganda said it was difficult walking away with the loss after Gyan’s missed penalty, but the Black Stars should still be commended for their effort.

“We should be proud of the African team because they’ve tried the best,” said Kipozei. “We’ve lost. There’s nothing we can do, but we had to fight.”

Ghana fought to take the lead at halftime when Sulley Muntari scored at the end of the first half. But its midfield, which got off to a good start in the first half, began to struggle, as Uruguay began to dominate the match.

Forward Diego Forlán put his team back in the match, scoring a goal that completely beat goalie Richard Kingson in the 55th minute. Both teams traded several good looks at goal until the end of regulation time.

In overtime, Ghana found its rhythm once again and had more opportunities to score. The last came in the final minute when Luis Suárez was sent off for a hand ball on Adiyiah’s header, giving Gyan the penalty kick, which sailed high and bounced off the top of the crossbar.

A lot could be said about what could have been if Gyan had not missed or if key midfielder Andre Ayew had been able to play (Ayew sat out the game with two yellow cards), but few left Soccer City disappointed at Ghana’s overall performance.

“It fills my heart with pride to know my team’s made it to the semifinals and we might go to the finals and win,” said Uruguayan fan Alejandro Malan. “Ghana played superbly, then it’s just we got lucky, because penalties are just like skill and pure luck. But Ghana really played a good game.”

The Black Stars may find consolation in improving on their previous performance at the 2006 World Cup, where they lost in the second round. For many fans, the quarterfinal placing is an indication that the team could advance to a final four spot in Brazil 2014.

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• Thursday, July 01st, 2010

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Video by Kristen Swilley

Nearly 3 million fans have attended World Cup matches up to the quarterfinal round, and even more have tuned in at FIFA fan parks in various cities. As a result, South Africa has experienced a $1.2 billion boost to its economy.

Those were the words of Danny Jordaan, CEO of the World Cup organizing committee, at an informal FIFA press briefing Thursday to update the media on the progress and impact of the tournament so far.

Jordaan expressed his confidence that the tournament will surpass the 3 million stadium entry mark by the completion of the tournament, making it the best attended World Cup since the United States hosted in 1994.

The influx of fans also means a boost to South Africa’s economy, which Jordaan said has exceeded expectations reset after the global economic crisis of 2008 threatened the original number of expected visitors.

“In the first two weeks, the Department of Home Affairs released figures of numbers of people that came through and they released a figure of 364,000,” Jordaan said. “Within those two weeks we had 6.5 billion rand injected in the economy. I think now it’s over 9 billion rand.”

He said the projection at that time was 11.2 billion rand, or $1.5 billion, spent in South Africa by tourists or fans during the World Cup. “So we are on track, going back to the original projections in terms of the economic impact of the event on our economy,” Jordaan said.

Former Brazilian star Cafu made a surprise appearance at the briefing and echoed Jordaan’s comments on the success of the event.

“I believe that you’ve gone beyond expectations, and this is great,” Cafu said through an interpreter. “This is just to show that if you’ve got the determination and you continue striving for what you want, you can achieve what you have achieved.”

The briefing was moderated by Rich Mkhondo, chief of communications for the South African World Cup organizing committee, and gave the press an opportunity to ask questions specifically about the country’s performance as host nation.

One of such concerns included how South Africa would handle the transportation of visitors to games in a timely manner.

“There have been some glitches, but as the World Cup matches progressed, we were able to move people into stadia on time,” said Bheki Nkosi, the Gauteng Province transport minister. “And that for us is the most central thing. That when the games begin, each and every one of those games must have at least 90 to 96 percent of the people seated in the stadia.”

The premier of Gauteng, Nomvula Mokonyane, commended South Africans for rallying behind the flag and national anthem, urging residents to sustain their patriotism after the Cup is over. Mokonyane also challenged the country’s public and private sectors to continue working together to improve the economy.

“The other thing that we want to carry is to work in a manner that promotes partnership between government, the public and the private sector,” Mokonyane said. “There’s never been this kind of response.”

With the income generated from the tournament, Jordaan said South Africa will continue to focus on improving infrastructure and increasing tourism. He said there has already been talk about hosting the Olympic Games and other major events.

“With the incredible experience of hosting this World Cup, I’m sure the country will translate into future actions,” Jordaan said.

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• Thursday, July 01st, 2010

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Video by Kristen Swilley

Premier Nomvula Mokonyane of Gauteng Province embraced South Africa’s new name for the lone African team remaining in the World Cup while beckoning the country to rally behind Ghana.

“We are mobilizing residents of Gauteng, people of South Africa to rally behind Ghana,” Mokonyane said at a press briefing Thursday. “We will be wearing our T-shirts tomorrow and raising the flag of Ghana, and also giving a message that says we will want to see Ghana going to the finals.”

Fans are not lost on the significance of Ghana becoming the first African team to reach the semifinals of a World Cup, and doing so in South Africa would signal an even greater impact on the progress of soccer in the continent.

After defeating the United States to advance to the quarterfinals, defender Samuel Inkoom ran a victory lap on the field waving both a Ghanaian and South African flag. South Africans have since renamed the team “BaGhana BaGhana,” a play on South Africa’s nickname Bafana Bafana. And many Africans have also started referring to the team as the Black Stars of Africa, slightly altering its own nickname.

Mokonyane said she believes in Ghana’s potential to go all the way.

“This has been a World Cup of miracles and surprises, and Ghana might surprise either Argentina or Brazil,” Mokonyane said.

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• Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

By Clarece Polke and Wandoo Makurdi

JOHANNESBURG ─ They came out to give their fans a memorable match. Although the South Africans did not qualify for the next round in the World Cup, they dominated France with a 2-1 victory, their first win over that opponent.

For a moment, it seemed like the match had all the makings of a Cinderella story for South Africa: A French team sidetracked by controversies within its camp, taking the field against the home country, desperately in need of a multiple-goal win. Twenty minutes into the match, defender Bongani Khumalo lifted his country’s spirits with a header from striker Siphiwe Tshabalala.

When France’s Yoann Gourcuff was handed a red card in the 26th minute, Bafana Bafana – as the South African team is known – started to create more scoring chances. One of the many chances South Africa had throughout the match was converted by striker Katlego Mphela in the 37th minute. Steven Pienaar also found the back of the net for his country’s third goal, but referee Oscar Ruíz disallowed the goal.

South Africa’s run came to an end when Florent Malouda scored France’s only goal of the tournament in the 70th minute; eliminating South Africa on goal difference.
Instead of exiting with disappointed faces, undeterred Bafana Bafana fans remained in the park to continue celebrating their role as World Cup hosts. Here are some fan reactions after the match.

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• Monday, June 21st, 2010

When I found out I’d be heading to South Africa for the summer, I was elated. One more country I could knock off my list of must-visits. That was until my professor told me we were actually heading into the winter season. Choosing to forget all I learned in geography donkey years back, I wondered why the southernmost country on the continent couldn’t be as hot as Lagos, Nigeria, is year round. I know, people in the United States are facing one of the hottest summers in recent times, but imagine experiencing two winters in one year!

I’m not the only one who’s noticed how cold it’s been. This World Cup has officially been recognized as the coldest one ever, which isn’t hard to imagine since this side of the world may be the only region where soccer is a winter sport. Journalists cram the press box decked out in wool coats and jackets like they are at a hockey game and many of the players seem to be feeling it, too. Brazilian players have played in gloves and turtleneck jerseys underneath their shirts and even players accustomed to playing in Europe have acknowledged how the cold is affecting their play. Fortunately we left Cape Town before the worst hit the city. Reports of iced-over roads, snowfalls and even flooded pitches have led to the cancellation of at least one team’s practice.

Here in Johannesburg, temperatures have dropped to as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit during some matches. But you won’t hear me complaining. For the first time, I’m getting to do something millions of people worldwide can’t do, and that is watch a World Cup match live. But I’m also experiencing another first: the coldest summer ever!

Signing out from South Africa, with love!

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• Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

You could hear it many times, but the story never gets old. You cannot talk about the history of South Africa without mentioning the dark days of apartheid. And what you find out once you get talking to anyone 25 and over in South Africa, is that everyone has a different story to tell about the same subject.

On a trip to the food vendor stalls while catching a first-round match between Denmark and the Netherlands at a fan park in Soweto, I met Chris Retsos, who now runs a Greek food vending stand called Taki’s. But in 1984 he was a new enlistee into the South African Army charged with preserving white minority rule, which was facing opposition from various black groups.

As the child of Greek parents, Retsos was raised by his grandmother, unaware of the disparity between South Africa’s whites and blacks until he honored a mandatory call to join the military at 17. He told me at the time he never had any problems with blacks, which I’m inclined to believe based on how easily he relates to everyone he works with. However, believing he was doing his duty to his country, Retsos said he became chauffeur to the many soldiers who killed, brutalized and arrested blacks opposed to apartheid.

Today marks Youth Day in South Africa, a national holiday in honor students like Hector Pieterson, one of the youngest killed June 16, 1976, during the Soweto uprising. Retsos, now 43, tells me that he wasn’t one of those sent to monitor the protest, but he remembers the story vividly. Pieterson, a 12-year-old who accompanied his sister on the protest, was gunned down. Mbuyisa Makhubu, an older student who carried Pieterson through the streets, was gunned down as well.

Photograph by Wandoo Makurdi

It’s hard to imagine the horror black South Africans faced. But it’s also hard to imagine the guilt that washes over Retsos as he remembers doing things in the name of his country. As I listened to him describe how a sjambok, a rubberlike whip that cracks your skin on first touch, I started to think back to my native Nigeria’s own history with its colonial masters Britain. Just like the Dutch did with South Africa, the English swooped in on my forefathers’ ignorance and claimed Nigeria’s rich natural resources. Through history books I know Nigerians were not subjected to the torture of the South Africans; nor were we forced to abandon our mother tongue.

Eight years ago, Retsos relocated to Greece, but still returns occasionally. He says he harbors no shame in telling his story because it will always remain a part of his life. He considers himself lucky to have only been a driver, and not an enforcer. He talks about a friend who was deployed to the country’s border where many blacks were, who wakes up every day with nightmares. He thinks about his three children — two girls and a boy — who thankfully never have to experience what he did. And he vehemently proclaims he will never allow his son to fight any war. Visiting his son in prison is a much better option that risking his death for senseless wars, he tells me. Mostly, Retsos thinks about how Nelson Mandela could forgive those who murdered and terrorized his family, comrades and community so easily; a decision he admits he would never have made if given the choice.

Since I arrived in South Africa, I’ve continuously pointed out all the reasons this country is better than Nigeria. What I never stopped to think about was how lucky I am to have been born in Nigeria and not here. At 26, I would’ve been a child in the final years of apartheid; maybe one of those whose skin was cracked by the likes of Retsos. But then I look at this man, full of joy and a likable persona, as he talks and laughs easily with his black workers, and I realize that I, too, might be able to forgive a man who did nothing more than what he was ordered.

Signing out from South Africa with love!

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