WORLD CUP JUNE 11, 2010
In South Africa, soccer is black while rugby is white. That's what makes Invictus work—it's a shock, even a betrayal, for Nelson Mandela to trot out onto a rugby field sporting the Springbok jersey. I had a ticket to tonight's France-Uruguay opener in Cape Town, a city that sometimes seems to be populated primarily not with white nor black South Africans but unctuous Europeans surfing their generous unemployment, but an illness kept me stuck in Bloemfontein, a city in the historically Afrikaner farming plain in the center of the country. The only bar I could think of with big screens was the Bush Pub, which is perhaps the most Afrikaner place in Bloemfontein, where every day whole boiled sheep's head is the special and the drink is the Springbokkie, a disgusting green-and-white shooter created in tribute to the colors of the national rugby squad. I called ahead to see if the Bush Pub would be showing Bafana Bafana versus Mexico. A woman with a heavy Afrikaans accent answered. When I asked about soccer, she transferred me immediately to an obviously black member of the wait staff, the only person fit to handle this information.
The Bush Pub is actually on the grounds of a game lodge, and its mud road winds so long through empty underbrush I thought nobody had shown up for the game but me and a couple of the bizarre little local antelopes the size of Bassett hounds. But once inside, I couldn't find a seat. It's the eternal World Cup question, whether the games produce any lasting effect on a host country after Ronaldo flies home, and it's the big South Africa question, whether the Cup can instill any lasting sense of national unity in a place still riven by color and class, and I don't want to extrapolate from the Bush Pub, but the place was as packed as any rugby game. My companion claimed white South Africans will merely embrace any excuse to drink Springbokkies, but most of the Bush Pub fans were wearing Bafana jerseys, which many of them presumably bought sober. Okay, at the beginning, only the black waiters were hooting on the vuvuzelas, but after halftime one patron took out his own and went around to every table, showing how to blow.