Watching Bafana Bafana in a South African Bar in South Florida

Yesterday, June 16, was Youth Day in South Africa, the national holiday commemorating the Soweto Riots--when the world discovered the brutality of apartheid. Yesterday was also the South African national soccer team's second game in this year's World Cup, against Uruguay. The Kalahari Bar, in Fort Lauderdale, claims on its website to be "the only authentic South African bar in the USA," so I thought it'd be an interesting place to watch the Youth Day soccer game. (And maybe drink enough to make that vuvuzela sound tolerable.)

If you haven't been following the politics of the World Cup, it goes back to the rugby events that inspired the Clint Eastwood movie, Invictus, when the country was unified around an all white rugby team supported by Nelson Mandela. The soccer team--affectionately nicknamed "Bafana Bafana," or "the boys, the boys"--is entirely black, and there has been some question about how much white South Africans will support them.

There were about 20 people planted in front of the four TVs (all showing the game) in the dark bar when I got there and took a seat at the bar under a real zebra skin. They were myriad nationalities and races, though none were black. Everyone in the bar was excited to see the game, even the Brit who insisted "somebody shut off those fucking horns." The $2 domestic bottles aided the enthusiasm. Before kickoff, as ESPN hammered home the potential political implications of such a big game (without at least a draw, South Africa would have serious difficulty advancing out of the first round), the patrons of Kalahari clanked bottles and mugs, and a few women discussed how attractive professional soccer players are. The concensus: very.

As South Africa moved down the field in the first few minutes of the game, the group gathered at the bar was a sea of moans (when a South African took a shot) and groans (when it missed). Several people noted how interesting it was to see tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond men from South America taking on generally shorter, thinner men from South Africa.

Now make no mistake. The Kalahari Bar is primarily a rugby bar. This is one of the few places in South Florida to watch South African rugby live. And when rugby games are on, the bar is a packed, riotous party. A spectacle of fun accents and forgien sports. Yesterday though, the small crowd was firmly rooting for Bafana Bafana.

It was midway through the first half when the air went out of the room, so to speak. That's when the Uruguay striker hit a shot off the back of a South African defender and watched it float just under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead. The entire bar, even the regulars who weren't planning on watching soccer but sucked into it (because that's how it goes with sports in bars), was dejected. There were some gutteral sounds of displeasure, but no cogent sentences.

It was a few minutes later that one woman noted: "The horns are even louder now." Indeed they were. The South Africans in the stadium, an even mix of white and black, were blowing the vuvuzelas even more enthusiastically with the team down.

By halftime, most people in the bar were on the second or third drink. This meant more hope perhaps than the team should have inspired, since the South Americans had dominated the game almost completely up to that point.

As the clock ticked up (it's soccer, that's how the clock works), the spirits in the bar went down. The brightest spot of the second half came when a replay showed a South African defender covertly punching a Uruguayan forward, knocking out a tooth and creating a disgusting mess of blood. Any joy was cut short though a few minutes later though, when the South African goal keeper, Khune, was given a red card, ejected from the game (and likely the tournament) for what looked like a pretty clean play. The same Uruguayan striker who scored the first goal took the penalty kick to seal the game 2-0.

That's when most people began paying their tabs. Another crowd--just off of work, not interested in soccer--started seeping in from the daylight outside. There was some brief collective grieving and consolodation. We watched the South Africans walk to their locker rooms, getting a standing ovation from the stadium crowd.

"Man, they really need that win," I said to the white South African man sitting next to me.

"Nah," he said. "They just needed to put forth a good effort and make the country proud. That, they did."

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Michael J. Mooney