‘These whites never come to our game. What do they know about our soccer?’ Soccer fandom, race, and the Rainbow Nation in South Africa
Fletcher, Marc William
South African political elites framed the country’s successful bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup in terms of nation-building, evoking imagery of South African unity. Yet, a pre-season tournament in 2008 featuring the two glamour soccer clubs of South Africa, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, and the global brand of Manchester United, revealed a racially fractured soccer fandom that contradicted these notions of national unity through soccer. This thesis examines the racial divisions in Johannesburg soccer fandom, exploring the continuing wider importance of racial identities in post-apartheid South Africa. Sport is not merely a leisure activity but a space in which everyday identities are negotiated and contested. Specifically, soccer in South Africa has been a site in which racial divisions have been both entrenched and subverted, spanning the colonial era to the present day. However, in focusing on race, this thesis seeks to move beyond simple binaries that have characterised the debates on identity in South Africa; particularly race versus class. Race, through the perspective of creolisation, becomes unfixed and fluid. However, despite reinterpreting race, racial divisions still scar the post-apartheid city. Extensive ethnographic fieldwork with the supporters’ organisations of Kaizer Chiefs, Bidvest Wits and Manchester United football clubs in Johannesburg draws out narratives of fandom often marginalised in Africanist scholarship. Drawing on wide-ranging sources including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and local newspapers, themes of racial difference and otherness emerge. The divided Johannesburg soccer landscape reinforced feelings of disenfranchisement and marginalisation in everyday life from the predominantly white Manchester United supporters while the exclusively black Kaizer Chiefs constructed the domestic game as a black cultural space. While Bidvest Wits offers a symbolic case of multi-racial interaction, certain supporters began to challenge such fractures; some United supporters showed interest in attending domestic games while the Chiefs supporters viewed the researcher as a conduit to attracting these white supporters. Furthermore, the national euphoria generated during 2010 World Cup did temporarily alter perspectives of the city and how the supporters travelled through it, challenging perceived barriers. Yet, themes of exclusion and division remained, brought back to the fore after the tournament.