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Gees: the Spirit of South Africa

15/07/2010

The World Cup is over. The flags are slowing disappearing, tv schedules are rearranging themselves, the vuvuzelas are finally quiet and life is returning to normal. Except that in South Africa I don’t believe that life is ever really going to be the same. Tourism is likely to be revived, the infrastructure has been revamped, and the engineering wonders that are the stadiums will stand as testament to South Africa’s technical and structural arrival in the modern world. But more than this, I think that the world is beginning to see South Africa- and Africa generally- differently. It is one giant step in a journey that started twenty years ago when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Many doubted that South Africans could pull off such a huge event; they worried that a developing country lacked the technical capabilities and logistical experience, and feared that high crime levels would make it impossible. Such fears were clearly deceptive and have been discredited. And, yes, the roads and the airports and the stadiums had something to do with that- but they were comprehensively over-shadowed by the South African people themselves. You see, South Africans have a word- a short, but difficult to pronounce word- that sums up their nation’s attitude over this past month.

Gees.

Gees essentially means ‘spirit’. It is the spirit of openness and fair-play, of welcome and hospitality, of hope and belief, and- above all- passion and energy for life. It may be difficult to reconcile such a small word with so many large concepts but South Africans have no trouble understanding it. They have demonstrated every facet of ‘gees’ over the last month and taught us all something in the process. Because football-fans and soccer-sceptics alike have felt the effect of this tidal wave of passion and I can tell you from personal experience that it is a hard thing to ignore. And every experience of it is personal.

My own moment that really brought the gees to life was actually a series of moments that combined to create a spectacularly memorable world cup weekend. A heart-stopping last-second goal by the USA meant that the ticket I held was now to see MY team- England – play our old foes Germany in what promised to be a truly epic re-enactment of an ongoing battle for honour and glory. Such a spectacle deserved a particularly special display of support and passion I felt. So, dressed head to toe in red and white- complete with wigs, scarves, angel wings, tutus, leg-warmers and face-paint- my friends and I drove the thousand kilometres from Cape Town to Bloemfontein to participate in our moment of history. While, the spectacle ON the pitch may have fallen short of our expectations- the action OFF the pitch exceeded all my imaginings. It was simply impossible to be sad surrounded by an all-singing-all-dancing Fabio Capello tribute troupe, or a German man dressed as a giant soccer ball- especially when posing for photos with Eddie the parking attendant, or the friendly policemen or, most excitingly, the absolutely brilliant German fans! I feel I made great strides for international relations that day…

One moment on our way back home could have changed all these memories though. A tyre on our BMW blew at 120kph, spinning us off the road and flipping us over numerous times. After I crawled out of the wreckage, surrounded by patriotic remnants of wigs, wings and tutus, I recall people commenting what a miracle it was that any of us survived. Thank goodness for advanced engineering and in-built safety systems- I now had one more reason to thank the Germans that weekend. As I was wheeled through the hospital, a nurse took my hands and understanding seemed to dawn on her face as she looked on my St George Cross-decorated fingernails. “Oh… I see… you are still crying because your team lost!” How could I not laugh as I nodded?! While we queued for x-rays the whole waiting room was engrossed in the Netherlands-Slovakia match. I gave my place in line to someone else just so I wouldn’t miss an exciting part. I noticed a little boy in a wheelchair looking at me curiously and as I caught sight of myself in a window I saw bright blue bruises had formed around my eyes. “Don’t worry” I whispered “It’s just face-paint”. He grinned, “I’m also supporting Argentina!” and he pointed to the blue and white flag painted onto his cast. Even in a hospital waiting room, normally one of the most cheerless places in the world, this once in a lifetime event was affecting people- giving them strength, hope and, above all, something to smile about. How about that for Gees?!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Adele permalink
    24/08/2010 11:44

    Fantastic article. You should send these in to newspapers and magazines!!!

  2. Michelle permalink
    29/08/2010 22:26

    wonderful article 🙂 South Africa has a spirit like nothing i’ve ever seen. I think this article definately did ‘gees’ justice 🙂

  3. 09/04/2011 14:52

    I love this – especially having just been to the country and soaking up the atmosphere that is so prevalent even after a big event like the World Cup, so spot on!

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