After Ghana’s exit from the World Cup, a gathering of heroes, Heineken, and hope in suburban Johannesburg
Under a bruised sky and a gathering chill — as un-African a tableau as imaginable — a crowd gathers. Fourteen barely clad tribal dancers pronk around a stage in an artfully cobbled square, ringed by wine bars and meze bars and high-end food outlets. This is Melrose Arch, a luxury outdoor mall compound in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. Built during the peak of the city’s post-apartheid violent crime wave, it has the simultaneous feel of a hyper-modern shopping emporium and a walled medieval city. Over the course of the World Cup, Melrose Arch has played host to one of Joburg’s most popular fan parks — or fan jols in FIFA-approved local parlance. Ghana’s Black Stars — recently defeated by Uruguay in a nasty quarter-final match that was stolen from them by the devil’s hand — are scheduled to drop by and say, “Thank you, South Africa, and adieu.”
The Black Stars have organized this encore appearance because locals, since the first-round elimination of Bafana Bafana, have embraced the team as their own. Indeed, it seems as if the whole continent has banded together, donning Ghana’s gold, red, and green, blasting those accursed vuvuzelas in an approximation of the Ghanaian national anthem. This pan-Africanism, having nothing to do with leaders the likes of Muammar Gaddafi or Ghana’s first post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, feels like the genuine deal. Such is the power of football; it has united a disparate continent, at least for a week or so.
Melrose Arch is the second of two scheduled stops on this impromptu whistle-stop tour, the first being Soweto’s Orlando West district. The drive the Black Stars are undertaking is weighted with symbolism. From Soweto to the northern suburbs: a half-hour trip through the South African divide. From the have-nots to the haves, and everything in between. (more…)