JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Barbados native Simone Bartlett is in South Africa for a year’s fellowship with an NGO. She considered South Africa for her fellowship because it would be playing host to its first World Cup ever.
She had tickets to Ghana’s games as far back as March of last year. With no Caribbean teams in this year’s tournament, she said she was rooting mainly for the West Africans with Ghana as her first choice. The Black Stars have not let Bartlett down—they are the only remaining African country in the tournament. Today, Ghana plays Uruguay seeking to become the first African country in the history of the competition to reach the semi-finals.
“You’re from Ghana? Ay man, we are behind you,” Soweto resident Sakisani Mavuso said to me with a broad smile.
You want to be treated like a rock star these days in South Africa? It’s not about King James—but about players like midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. Wrap yourself in the red, gold, and green of Ghana’s flag, grab a vuvuzela and blow it as loud as you can.
The excitement is real.
The clamor for an African country, any African country to do well at the 2010 World Cup was intense as the competition started. It soon faded when it became clear that the stay of Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria would be short-lived. Add the failure for the first time of a host nation to progress to the second round and it was dropped shoulders all around.
The Black Stars’ berth in the quarter-finals of the competition has restored some of the confidence that an African country would go far. And the party vibe that followed the host team whenever it played has returned. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has led the call for the whole continent to back Ghana.
Mbeki has talked about the Black Stars’ “highly honorable and well-deserved responsibility to represent Africa and the African Diaspora.” Meanwhile South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, is urging the team to change its name to the “Black Stars of Africa.” Ghana’s flags are popping up on fences, cars and some buildings as they share the spotlight with the ubiquitous South African ones.
Mavuso’s switch from South Africa’s team, the Bafana Bafana, to the Black Stars was natural. When it dawned on him his boys were not going past the first round, he switched ‘sharp sharp’ as they say here in South Africa.
He was in Soweto after Ghana’s match against the US and it was “crazy.” “The mood was fantastic. It’s like South Africa won or something because they were blowing vuvuzelas. People didn’t sleep that day.”
The team’s play even drew praise from Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant who on his way out of the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenberg after the Ghana — US game said, “Ghana, they are fast, strong and skillful.” He singled out Ghana’s Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, as a player to watch.
Unfortunately, Ayew is suspended for today’s game.
From the son of a Ghanaian football legend to a new kid on the block who grew up in tough sections of Berlin and switched nationalities just before the tournament, a captain and goalkeeper who have been written off time and time again, this group of overachievers has captured the imagination of all. They play as a unit, with determination, and for each other. Off the field, they are a fun-loving, gospel-singing, drum beating bunch of free spirits.
Despite injuries and suspensions ahead of the game, the Black Stars remain confident.
“I don’t think there is any pressure on us because we are united,” said Asamoah Gyan, the team’s leading goal scorer.
The palpable sense of pride is not limited to locals as Bartlett can attest.
“My dad keeps calling asking ‘Did you get the Ghana games?’” Bartlett says. “People are definitely behind Ghana and I am thinking in the Caribbean in general people are definitely behind Ghana.”
And if the Stars continue their good run of form and win against Uruguay on Friday, Mavuso says, “I think a lot of guys are going to go buck wild.”
“Maybe there are going to be like fireworks or something. We gonna be celebrating for sure.”
From Accra to Addis Ababa, Cape to Cairo and Yamoussoukro to Yaounde and all across the Diaspora, there will be eruptions of joy.