It's difficult to describe just how important Nelson Mandela (or Tata Madiba as he is more affectionately known), is in South Africa. He's a national hero, an inspirational figure, someone who changed the world. He is so many things it's difficult to know where to start. His name is often attached to many events, such as Mandela day which is dedicated to volunteering and donating your time to the community, Mandela Month and Mandela Unite which has similar fund-raising intentions and is dedicated to sports and culture.
On the weekend of 17th August there were numerous events in Joburg held under the Mandela Unite banner - by far the largest was the Sports and Culture Day at the FNB Stadium (also known as Soccer City) in Soweto. The day boasted a 'legends' football match where great Italian players of years gone by, played against their ageing South African counterparts. This was followed by a pretty lack lustre match between the Bafana Bafana (South Africa) 2nd football team and Burkina Faso's 2nd/3rd team players. Bafana Bafana won 2-0. We missed it. Nobody was disappointed.
The real highlight of the day which everyone had turned up for though was the rugby - the South African Springboks versus Argentina. The match was part of the Four Nations tournament (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and this being a rugby obsessed nation it was not difficult to fill the massive 95,000 seater stadium.
We arrived at the FNB after having a few drinks in town by taking the free Metrorail train shuttle which had been organised specially for the event. The Metrorail has a reputation for being a bit dangerous at times (apparently), although thankfully (unless that is you were trying to sneak in a can of beer on the way) the train was full of cops.
|Metrorail view: The colours of the stadium match quite well with the wintery Highveld|
|Gah, so excited to be here!|
I've seen a few famous stadiums in my time (San Siro in Milan and the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow stick out particularly in my mind), but the FNB is by far the most beautiful. It was built for the 2010 World Cup and is designed to resemble a calabash (a type of African pot or gourd). It is seriously impressive and has one heck of an atmosphere. It's typically South African - festive and friendly. Practically everyone was kitted out in the vibrant Springboks colours, and yes there were a lot of vuvuzelas around. We skipped on the chance to buy one, but did instead have ourselves branded with Mandela Unite/Springboks face paints.
In the end the match itself was so hopelessly one-sided as to become just a backdrop for friendly banter and beer drinking. The Springboks won 73-13. We enjoyed the fried chicken and the cold beers in clever stacking cups. There were Mexican waves and a lot of jumping around and flag waving. In fact the atmosphere was so fun it took us a while before we noticed that someone had gently been through our pockets and stolen our phones...doh!
|This man is carrying 8 pints in one hand - what a pro!|
|In Africa you're never far from fried chicken|
Following the sports came the culture. The sound was unfortunately atrocious and we left after about 20 minutes. There were apparently some reasonably famous musicians from across Africa in attendance, but an hour past the sports and the stadium was already half empty.
Getting back to town was not as straightforward as arriving. The next train wasn't leaving for another two hours, so we instead hopped on the Rea Vaya bus. The route took us through the CBD before turning off to travel through Troyeville, Yeoville and Hillbrow. It seemed to take forever and for a moment when we were the only people still on it we were starting to worry we would get dropped in the seriously bad part of town. Fortunately we eventually tumbled out of the bus in the dark at the safety of Park Station and stumbled off for a drink in a nearby bar.
We still haven't decided which local football team we want to support - the Kaiser Chiefs or the Orlando Pirates. However, one thing is for sure - we have to choose soon! The football season is starting up again and I cannot wait to go back and enjoy the electric buzz of the FNB Stadium again.