With a foaming glass of Castle Lager beer in one hand and Tanzania flag in the other, Martin Peter sits in western terraces of Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in safe company of two South African friends. He has nothing to hide and nothing to fear—at least for 90 minutes.
A pint of beer and watching football are his love. Tanzania’s Taifa Stars and Sihlangu of Swaziland are about to get their Group B Cosafa Cup for 2015 campaign started under a heavy grey cloud cover of the 2010 World Cup venue on May 18 2015.
A big fan of Yanga FC back home in his city of origin Dar es Salaam, Martin, has a rare smile and platform to express himself freely about his nationality in a Rainbow Nation whose colours have, of late, taken a slight stain due to damaging immigrant attacks.
Many foreigners have been maimed and others killed for an abstract sin of being of different nationality. Over 3 000 Malawians have since been repatriated back home for their safety with six dead.
In fact, on any other day and occasion, Martin would not risk uttering statements such as asante sana [thank you very much] for such Kiswahili phrases would give hints on his being foreigner. On the other end of the stadium, Zimbabweans could be seen donning their green and gold colours freely.
In fact, Martin has travelled all the way from Johannesburg to the North West Province; a distance which takes three hours of driving and has cost him R100 (about K4 000) in bus fare. He was joined by many Tanzanians who sang and danced freely in the terraces.
“If you slice my arm, you will see blue, yellow and black blood flowing proving I am proud Tanzanian. I do not even know any particular Tanzania player as this is a new generation of players. Still, I had to come and support them. I have spent my money, so they better win the cup,” Martin said.
Martin’s South African friend Daniel Mogoeng of Rustenburg had entered the stadium waving a small Tanzanian friend to preach peace. Mogoeng is, like Peter, a Kaizer Chiefs fan, so the football language unites them.
“I watch Tanzania games and I am impressed with them; hence, I am supporting them. My message to all, who love football, is that let us stop xenophobic attacks,” Mogoeng said.
Johannesburg was also a centre of such immigrant attacks whose epicentre was coastal city of Durban where King Goodwin Zwelithini’s speech over unskilled migrants depriving locals of social and economic opportunities provided the spark.
“Here, they don’t like foreigners, but the situation is okay in most parts,” Zimbabwean lady calling herself Gugulethu Sibanda told The Nation.
Therefore, the regional football showpiece, powered by Power Horse and Castle Lager, has given foreigners and locals in South Africa a rare platform to express themselves on contentious issues including such immigrant attacks. Tanzania captain John Bocco and Sibuniso Mvalambe read out prepared anti-xenophobia messages.
It was on that basis that Seketu Patel, president of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa), felt the 14-member football competition could help heal the wounds caused by the xenophobic acts.
“Cosafa is a zone of multicultural backgrounds and we fully condemn the shameful xenophobia we are seeing in South Africa. [We] are looking forward to the Cosafa Cup 2015, as an opportunity for all countries in the region to come together in peace,” Patel told cosafa.com before the start of the event which ends on May 30.
Cosafa organising team volunteer Khumiso Modisenyane of Moruleng town here in North West Province told The Nation that the Cosafa tournament has also offered the people of the area an opportunity to preach peace.
“We are all Africans and I ask my fellow South Africans that we should stop abusing other people just because they come from other countries,” said Modisenyane, who is a Kaizer Chiefs fan, but she has fallen in love with Zimbabwe’s displays.
Sadly, for Peter after a promising start, Tanzania lost 1-0 to Swaziland who scored through Sifiso Mabila. By the time the game ended, Peter’s speech had become so incoherent as he was switching from English, Swahili to Isizulu freely while running up and down the terraces.
Of course, when Martin returned to Johannesburg, he was expected to apply self-censorship to such freedom of expression.