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South Africa: Tonight, it's not just a game

Bafana Bafana take on Uruguay tonight in their second Group A clash in FIFA 2010 World Cup. Bloggers as well as South African citizens are saying that the clash tonight is not just a game. June 16 is a special day for South Africa. It is Youth Day, which commemorates the Soweto Uprising that took place in 1976. It is also Zakumi‘s birthday.

The Soweto uprising grew out of protests by black youths against the apartheid regime, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans a medium of instruction.

Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena is quoted by Safa explaining the importance of June 16:

The match will be played on a special day for South Africa – Youth Day – and it will be very good to win on the day. This is a day which all South Africans remember and playing this match on this day means a lot to us as players and some of us would not have been here were it not for the sacrifices of many who came before us.

One Man and His Football says that the significance of the match lies on the fact that it is being played in one of the biggest holidays in South Africa:

What is more significant is the day that this match is being played on. June 16th is Youth Day, one of the biggest public holidays in South Africa. It commemorates the Soweto Uprising on the same day in 1976 when over 20,000 students in the now-famous township protested against the use of Afrikaans (seen as the language of the oppressor) as the medium of instruction in schools. Clashes with police and the ensuing violence during the following few weeks saw approximately 700 hundred people killed. The image of a mortally wounded young boy named Hector Pietersen being carried in the arms of another man. became internationally recognisable as the world woke up to the horrors of apartheid. The uprising is often heralded as the catalyst for change that set South Africa on the road to democracy. Star player Steven Pienaar has said that Bafana squad feel “the weight of responsibility resting on them”. If Bafana, who are ranked 83rd in the world can beat 16th-ranked Uruguay, there will be massive celebrations nationwide, even with temperatures expected to hit -3C!

Is this match a mere coincidence or a set up to boost national pride?:

It can't be a coincidence that Bafana are playing today. As hosts, they were automatically team A1 in the draw. Perhaps it was set up like this by the organising committee in an attempt to foster national pride? Or maybe I'm just being cynical.

Leonard Thomas says, “Tonight, it's not just a game”:

How fitting then that Soccer City Stadium is a stone's throw away from Soweto, where the famous uprising of 1976 unleashed a black consciousness that would eventually lead to the destruction of the colour-based class system of the country.

How fitting that the foundations of the magnificent football arena will reverberate to a wall of sound tonight when the majority of the 96,000 fans in the stadium raise a vuvuzela call – the prospect is so threatening it has sent many journalists here scurrying for ear plugs – so loud to remind those that perished in the massacre of 1976 their sacrifice was not in vain.

This is really a special day. Nelson Mandela is expected to be at the stadium:

I wonder what will go through Nelson Mandela's mind when he makes a brief appearance at the stadium tonight.

Fans of Bafana Bafana are praying he inspires the team, just like he did 15 years ago when the Springboks stunningly claimed the rugby World Cup on home soil.

Soweto: from blood to flags, notes David Smith:

The streets that once ran with blood are now bedecked with the flags of competing nations. A generation after students joined the Soweto uprising, today’s young people are wearing Bafana Bafana shirts and playing football in the park. Pekwa All Stars are a young team in Soweto’s thriving amateur leagues, where teams enjoy unlikely names such as Pimville Cameroon, Woodpeckers and Emdeni Naughty Boys. Some of their members are so poor they go to school on an empty stomach. None can afford a match ticket for Africa’s first World Cup. But don’t try telling them it is a bad idea.

He goes on to describe how football is becoming the soul of the nation:

South Africa has described the World Cup as its most important national moment since the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as its first black president. Soweto was at the heart of the liberation struggle that made possible the country’s return from global pariah status – and ultimately its place this year at the centre of the sporting world.

Football was a political weapon against the apartheid regime. In the 50s, South Africans of all races formed the South African Soccer Federation and mounted a campaign to force the expulsion of the South African FA from Fifa. The pressure for boycotts, with the mantra “No normal sports for an abnormal society,” probably helped turn white public opinion.

34 years after Soweto Uprising, it's make or break for South Africa, writes another blogger:

Can the Bafana Bafana reach for the stars on their home turf? 34 years after the Soweto uprising, Carlos Alberto Parreira and his boys cross swords with Uruguay. World Cup hosts should have a clearer idea of their destinies after what promises to be a hotly contested encounter in the heartland of Pretoria.

Today is Zakumi's birthday. Zakumi (age 16)) is the official mascot for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Happy Birthday Zakumi!:

Did you know that Youth Day is also the official mascot of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, ZAKUMI's 16th birthday?

Nor did I.

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