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Uniting Grahamstown

2010-07-08 11:24
I knew that Grahamstown, as the host of the National Arts Festival, would provide shining examples of Africa’s finest art and music. I did not know that it would also provide a beautiful example of African unity.

Like so many things during the last month, it’s a soccer story. The setting is a popular pub near Rhodes University called The Rat and Parrot, which had been buzzing since before Friday’s first match, Brazil v. Netherlands.

I enjoyed some fresh air after the Netherlands’ startling upset of Brazil, then found myself back at the pub several hours later. When I arrived, the game had just begun and every eyeball was fixed on a TV screen.

The crowd was young and diverse, as one would expect in many college towns. The extraordinary part was the affection shown for Ghana as they battled the favored Uruguayans. Several young women took turns painting Ghana’s “Black Stars” on one another’s faces while most of the room chanted the country’s name.

When Ghana’s Sulley Muntari put a wickedly powerful ball into the back of the net in the 45th minute, it was possible believe that the people in the room cheered with an entire continent - and then some.
When Uruguay’s Diego Forlán countered with a well-placed free kick early in the second half, the hundreds of supporters sighed together.

They screamed in anger and disbelief when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez stuck out his paw and deflected a certain goal off Dominic Adiyiah’s head, forcing a penalty kick that Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan bounced off the crossbar for a miss.

And of course, our hearts stopped, were shocked back to life, and then stopped again during the shootout that closed the game. The women held hands and the men huddled together. We, the Americans in the back of the bar, shouted our support for the team that had knocked us out of the World Cup.

It was not enough. Africa’s last hope for a World Cup champion went down fighting, doomed by two consecutive misses during the shootout. Interviewing people after Bafana’s elimination, I had gotten the sense that South African support for Ghana might not be particularly strong.  In fact, it seemed that Brazil had far more South African supporters.  In Grahamstown, at least, that proved to be incorrect.

I saw tears in the eyes of some of the women with Black Stars on their cheeks.  The room went silent for a few seconds when it became clear that Uruguay would advance and Ghana would not.  It grieved for its adopted team.

Then, the bartender turned off the commentators’ postgame audio and turned the music back on.  Glasses were raised once again. The women started dancing. And the party continued. Ghana was out, but life went on. After all, there was fun to be had. It was Friday night, and there was a Festival on.

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