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Orlando Blooms

by Dave Durbach / 31.05.2010

Shades of 1995. Forty thousand rugby pilgrims descended on Orlando in Soweto on Saturday to watch what most would’ve told you was a foregone conclusion – a Bulls victory. And so it was, their third in four years, in an all-SA final against a talented but ultimately inferior Stormers side.

Though the semi-final last week against the Crusaders set the precedent, Saturday’s final was the game that will live in people’s memories. Although the Stormers had plenty of supporters at the stadium, home ground advantage undoubtedly belonged to the Bulls, for whom Orlando has fast become their “tweede kraal”. They kuiered, they suiped, they conquered. Yet for those who made the trip, the tone of the day was one of nation-building euphoria that had little to do with which side of the 25-17 scoreline one’s sympathy lay.

Residents of Orlando were proud and welcoming hosts, with many grabbing the opportunity to cash in on the big day by selling quarts of beer, boerie rolls, vuvuzelas and Bulls paraphernalia to the throngs of eager fans already willing to fork out big bucks for a seat. Other locals simply sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. Streets were buzzing, shebeens were pumping, street vendors hustling, vuvuzelas blaring.

Lyndon Molefe was selling t-shirts he’d designed and printed himself, a new business he’s only recently started. He had been disappointed at the same venue earlier last week during Bafana’s 2-1 win over Bulgaria. “I was selling t-shirts when there was that match here on Monday. I had about 100 shirts; I only sold one.” Today at the rugby, by the time the game starts, he’s already sold 110 shirts, at R100 each.

“I myself, I’ve just started. I’ve never had money like R10 000 in my life! I’m very excited! It has been good, the Bulls coming to Orlando. Because they give a lot of us the opportunity to do something for ourselves, business-wise, like selling t-shirts, selling food; everybody can sell flags, whatever, just to make a living. People should come to Soweto not to help people with money, but to help them grow their business, because there are a lot of people here who have got ideas, but there’s not that platform to sell your stuff. This is helping a lot.”

“Soweto is a place which welcomes people. It’s a nice place to be. And there are no longer borders between Soweto and the suburbs. As long as we are living in this world, we are all one nation. People should come to Soweto, not just because there’s a rugby match. We’ve got a lot of things to attract people.”

Orlando in particular, it seems. “It’s the New York of Soweto. We are very proud of Orlando.”

Mdumi Tshabalala was helping at her mother’s new restaurant, selling pap and vleis outside their family house, a stone’s throw from the stadium. “This is my grandmother’s house. It’s called number one, the first house.” Orlando being the oldest township in Soweto, she believes the house is one of the oldest in the area. She remembers the first student uprisings in Orlando East in June 1976 and sees today as part of a new phase in Orlando’s proud history.

“I don’t know if it was well thought out strategically, whoever did the brainstorming to choose a stadium, but it’s not only benefited a community, it also benefits mankind. There is more harmony, there’s no colour, there are no boundaries, and there is no fear. There were invisible boundaries, because we didn’t know… It’s rarely we interact like this. There’s this unknown distance, and false conclusions, that they don’t understand us, we don’t understand them, they won’t eat our food.”

Those divisions seemed as strong as ever after the death of ET last month, following which a handful of right-wing crazies attempted to hijack public interest and speak on behalf of all Afrikaners. “After Terre’Blanche’s death, I told my mom, ‘I don’t think any white man can come and support us here.’ But this proves that one person can’t spoil it for all of us.” Compared to those scenes from Ventersdorp, Saturday was a far fairer reflection of the average open-minded, fun-loving, proudly South African Afrikaner.

With tickets for Saturday’s game sold out within hours, the cheapest of which cost a cool R350, not many locals made it into the stadium. Both Lyndon and Mdumi want to see more rugby being played here in future, not only for the benefits it brings to local business, but for the good of the sport itself and for the nation as a whole. “Rugby must be a sport of all races,” says Lyndon. “I should be able to go to watch a bulls match, but the tickets are expensive. What I would wish is to see some of the rugby matches played here during the season.”

“It’s the start of a good thing,” agrees Mdumi. “Let them come here, because there’s harmony. Everyone is very free and relaxed. There’s no boundaries. We are supporting each other, and they have boosted the community. Let them not go far, where we can’t get to know each other as a rainbow nation. Blacks are more accustomed to soccer. We are new to rugby. We don’t have it in schools. But it’s something that our youngsters are getting into. My grandfather said he used to play rugby in his youth – he’s in his 60s. So it was once played here. I don’t know how or why it was taken out of the schools, but it stopped. Now it’s starting again.”

With the Super 14 now out of the way, soccer fever will continue to mount unabated. This year’s Currie Cup will kick off on July 9th, two days before the World Cup finals. Orlando Stadium might not be hosting any World Cup matches, but Saturday’s game was also very much a dry-run to test Soweto’s new public transport system. The bus trip from Nasrec to Orlando was hardly plain sailing and took close to an hour before and after the game, for a distance that wouldn’t usually take more the 15 minutes. Be that as it may, those who bitch about the traffic are failing to grasp the true significance of the day.

With FIFA regulations set to outlaw informal trading within a 1km radius of the stadium, however, perhaps Saturday’s festivities were not a sign of what is to come in the weeks ahead as much as a sign of would could have been, or, more hopefully, what will be, as soon as FIFA clears out in July.

All images © Dave Durbach

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