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World Cup 2010: South Africans ready for 'Bafana Bafana' ready to 'surprise the world'

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Peter Andrew/Reuters

(Read caption) A South Africa fan cheers his beloved Bafana Bafana.

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“We are going to surprise the world!”

The statement, coming just days before the World Cup, could only be about football – or soccer as it is known in certain parts of the world.

The man speaking is wearing the yellow and green T-shirt of South Africa’s national team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana, so I can guess who the “we” is that he is speaking of. He’s sitting at a bar in northern Johannesburg with a big TV screen playing a “friendly” match between Switzerland and Italy that ends in a draw.

South Africa hasn’t been this optimistic and buoyant in years.

Since I arrived in South Africa, in 2006, the country seems to have gone from corruption scandal to high-profile trial in an endless tale of self-destruction.

In April, after the murder of a racist white politician that prompted threats of a “machete race war” and summoned up surprising levels of sympathy from white folks who shared few of the racist politicians ideas, South Africans seemed to think their country was on a fast path to Zimbabwe-hood.

One South African columnist, Aubrey Matshiqi, summed up the country’s mood perfectly by calling it “hysterical pessimism.”

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