How the Mixed Population of Cape Town Watched South Africa Lose

25 March, 2015

At 6 pm on Monday evening, after praying at the local mosque, Goolam, my landlord, came back to his home in Walmer Estate—located near the District Six area of Cape Town—waiting for the long morning of cricket ahead. “I prayed hard,” he said. “And I’m praying that South Africa loses tomorrow.” When someone wrongly mentioned that it was the India-Australia semi-final on Tuesday, he stopped short. “Oh,” he said, “then I will pray less. But for India to win.” When it was clarified that it was indeed the South Africa-New Zealand game, he thought again. “Okay, then back to praying harder.”

Goolam, now in his seventies, was born and raised in South Africa. His father moved from Gujarat to this country in the 1930s. Goolam played domestic cricket growing up in Johannesburg, and was 18 when apartheid was imposed. “It spoilt everything for me,” he said. “I can never support them.”

At 3.30am local time yesterday when the match started, Goolam kitted out in his red pajamas, settled down to watch the game. He came for the cricket, but was probably really there for the schadenfreude. For a few older non-white people like him, still begrudging the pre-1994 days, before South Africa transitioned out of apartheid, the loss was something to be savoured. But, for most, it wasn’t 1994 that came to mind, but 1992, 1999 and 2003—waypoints in a world cup map of misery.

Shouket Ahmed, whom I spoke to after the match, told me, “Before, during apartheid, we supported India, but the team is more mixed now, so we support our national team.” Ahmed, 57, runs a business in the centre of town, and his father migrated here from Ratnagiri, a district in Maharashtra. “After Mandela, and the struggles and the beginning of democracy, we are all behind South Africa.”

As the morning wore on, a television showroom in the city’s central business district became, as nature has always intended, a free-for-all living room. The crowd grew restive as failed run-outs and flailing fielding attempts mounted. “AB man, come on man,” shouted one man. “Put it in the blockhole man. Just one dot ball, come on.”

Appropriately, the showroom was called Morkel’s. Morne Morkel came and went without much ado, but Hashim Amla was not so lucky. The choicest abuse—audible to anyone who happened to be around the vicinity—seemed to be reserved for him. “Fire that (Jean-Paul) Duminy, just fire him now,” said another, when the hitherto blameless JP, went careening into Farhaan Behardien as an opportunity for a catch arose.

With the final five overs to go, more and more people collected around the television showroom, an assorted spectrum of humanity of varying colours, and varying degrees of joblessness. The rainbow nation was in attendance, but the sun was nowhere to be seen. A municipality van stopped outside, and a garbage collector ordered that no one move. “It’s bad luck,” he shouted, gleefully hanging out of his truck.

At the start of the last over, someone covered their eyes. Someone else continued to abuse softly. “If ’e ’it’s a six, I’m leaving, I am,” said one especially talkative gentleman, who had been camped outside the store for the past several hours. “Six’ve my mates flew out for the game, they did,” he said, apropos of nothing.

A costly trip for his mates, no doubt, given the way things eventually panned out. “Come on boychees,” said the talkative gent, in a last-gasp attempt at telepathic pep talk.

When the final New Zealand six went singing over the boundary line, disgusted men and women who had previously huddled around the showroom, marched off to return to their routines and the continuing national ignominy of never making a cricket world cup final.

Later that Tuesday evening, Goolam came back home from his evening prayers, quietly processing his delight.

“Today what I wanted has come true,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier.”