Anyone familiar with South Africa knows that its impact with the Dutch produced a contentious past-– a historical collision that had enough momentum to produce repercussions in the present. But you wouldn’t guess any of that if you landed here in the Cape on Tuesday night.
Hours before the Dutch national team and Uruguay faced each other in the Cape Town, it looked as if the whole coastline – from the Cape Flats (the windswept, marshy areas to which those of “mixed” ancestry were forcibly removed during the 20th century) to the Atlantic seaboard (location of multimillion paeans to modernist architecture) – was swept in orange. Tuesday’s 2010 World Cup semi final was the last game to be held at the Green Point Stadium, and Capetonians and Dutch visitors alike flooded the streets of the city in orange afro wigs, orange miner-style overalls, orange oversized clown spectacles.
Vuvuzelas, the new South African contribution to the world’s cultural economy, and duck whistles – the Dutch fans’ contribution – blared out ear-splitting duets of mutual respect, support, and love to each other. If this were a Bollywood film, there’d be fields of tulips and proteas in which this love struck inter-national romance could bloom.
My friends and I took a circuitous route to avoid the crowd, beginning on the road named for Jan van Riebeeck – and re-joined the main wave on Somerset Road as they crossed the pedestrian walkway over the major intersection with Buitengracht Street.
In the civilized crush of the Fan Walk, I spotted a lone Uruguayan wearing a Forlan jersey. I greeted her, and she was ecstatic at being recognized. But for the most part, the local support is for the Dutch: two koesister-plump tannies from the Flats (above), in orange ankle-length dresses and scarves, are here to support the Dutch team, never mind that they are Muslim, and descendants of East Indians brought as exiles and slaves by the Dutch to build this city, work the vineyards, mind the children of the madams and sexual needs of their masters, and cook for entire farms and households.
But the dangerous liaison between the Netherlands and South Africa is hard to forget. The Fan Walk to Green Point Stadium is littered with signposts of that collision: a statue of Jan van Riebeeck and his wife remains proud on Adderley Street, the central throughway that connects the Cape Town Station – itself built as a monument to highlight the exploits of the Afrikaner, replete with tiled murals of the Great Trek – with the rest of the city.
The walk begins at the newly refurbished station, the facelift all but effacing the building’s apartheid history for those Capetonians who have been privileged enough to never use public transport outside of World Cup glitter. The flawless walls and flooring provided by the architect Mokena Makeka of Makeka Design Lab erase the dirty secret for the benefit of the visitors: it is those who were forcibly removed from this city – with the strategic use of the Group Areas Acts to make way for those of solely European descent – that regularly use this station on their hour-long commute back to the city to service the homes and businesses of white inhabitants.
My Capetonian friends have mixed feelings about the Cape’s support of the Dutch national team: one points out that the Netherlands, for whatever colonial guilt/responsibility reasons, were the first country to support South African football, providing money and support for training programs in black townships; and Kermit Erasmus and Daylon Claasen, who made the South African squad, had the benefit of playing in the Dutch teams – Excelsior Rotterdam and Ajax Amsterdam, respectively. In cities like Cape Town, which had historically supported the “white” sports, rugby and cricket, lack of access to facilities once hampered football training. Dutch investment changed that history.
So there are lots of reasons why South Africans should support the Dutch team. “But,” contends Cindy, a fine leather-goods designer, “it’s not an educated choice. I don’t know why Cape Coloureds still support the Dutch, as if it were the National Party they were voting for, all over again.” We were breaking things down, after Germany met its tactical match in Spain on Wednesday night. Like many South Africans, she had been all for Ghana, though her brother had questioned her choice: “Why support Ghana?” he asked. “They are half a world away. We have no connection with them. At least, our family history is half Dutch.”
Gerald Jacobs, a Youth Development Programme Manager at Mamelani Projects, explains it to me in simple terms: “To many in the older generation, the Dutch are still ‘die Bass’, Neelika. Coloured grandmothers who lived to be over a 100, on their first opportunity to vote in ’94, voted for the National Party. And were proud to say it on national television.” Many in the younger generation also have a hard time questioning some of the long-term effects of that historical hangover on their psychology; it shows up in the oddest places, like in the choice of the nation that the Cape goes all out to support in the World Cup.
Though the modern inhabitants of The Netherlands may make a concentrated effort to separate themselves from the architects and upholders of apartheid, the Dutch are still linked, in the minds of their descendants, with power and access. And people who have historically been on the margins of power – especially those located in the middle ground between the powerful and the powerless – are especially susceptible to continuing to worship old systems of power. While most Dutch people I know would be horrified that it is this very hangover from the apartheid-era that produces the “orange wave” in Cape Town, it is what it is.
Gerald, however, has always been a person who sees situations for all their complex beauty. “In the Cape, we have this saying: “Die Kaap is Hollands!” It doesn’t necessarily mean, “The Cape is Dutch”; instead, he explains, the phrase denotes energy, chaos, change. “We say it when the wind is blowing, when the Cape Doctor (the Sou’ester wind) arrives in the summer, blowing the skirts of ladies.”
When “die Kaap is Hollands”, there’s room for possibility amidst the chaos, the breakdown of societal propriety allowing for generation. Perhaps that’s what the carnival that arrived with football (or if you want to be “real”, this hyper-transactional version of the beautiful game), a game once dismissed and vilified in South Africa as a “black” sport, that no self-respecting head-scarved Muslim auntie from Mannenberg would be caught dead supporting, has brought to the Cape.
* This post introduces Neelika Jayawardane as the newest member of the Africa is a Country conspiracy.– Sean Jacobs