Waiting for Ghana in Soweto
Black Stars receive warm welcome in historic South African township
Baqwa and Vilakazi is a quiet street corner on ordinary days, the sort of place where the people of Soweto casually hang out and trade neighbourhood gossip.
Sunday was not an ordinary day.
Hundreds of South Africans took over the street corner and swelled the other roads of this historic suburb of Johannesburg on a cold afternoon, waiting for the arrival of their beloved heroes — not South Africa's national team, affectionately known as Bafana Bafana, but the Black Stars of Ghana.
Ghana won the hearts of soccer fans South Africa when it became only the third African nation in the history of the FIFA World Cup to reach the quarter-finals.
The Black Stars managed to salvage a bit of pride for the continent after the other five African countries at the tournament — Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the host nation — bowed out in the first round.
Ghana lost a heartbreaker to Uruguay in a penalty shootout in Friday's match at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium before more than 87,000 spectators cheering them on.
The Ghanaian national team visited Soweto, one of the key battlegrounds in the fight against apartheid, on Sunday to show its appreciation for the support it received from South African fans.
And despite the chilly conditions and the long wait — the team's bus pulled through the narrow streets of the township more than two hours late — Soweto residents received the Black Stars with welcoming and warm arms.
Young children enthusiastically tooted their vuvuzelas, Ghanaian flags were hung from every inch of the neighbourhood and teenagers painted their faces red, yellow and green, Ghana's national colours.
One love-struck woman was particularly excited after Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew blew her a kiss from his seat on the team bus.
"My day's been made," gushed Bonsile Mvubu, a Soweto resident in her early 20s. "We were standing here for two hours. He saw me, I saw him, I got a picture, I'm happy. It was worth it.
"I don't know where they're going now, but they're heroes. They're the heroes of the tournament and in my heart they are the winners."
Bonsile also took a picture of Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian forward who could have won the game in the last minute of extra time against Uruguay but smashed his penalty shot attempt off the crossbar.
"He played his heart out," Bonsile said. "I was absolutely heartbroken for him, but he's my hero."
A lot of South Africans, Bonsile included, believe that Ghana's strong showing at the World Cup has brought the diverse people of this massive continent together.
"They have unified Africa," Bonsile said. "When they scored a goal, the vuvuzelas were sounding off here. [People on mopeds] were spinning their wheels in celebration.
"If that doesn't say how united were are. … They honestly united us. And I think they deserve the title the Black Stars of Africa. God bless them."
But Mosa Seloane, a human resources consultant, believes African unity remains a dream, despite Ghana's achievement.
"On some level, it was a good thing because a lot of us now know about Ghana, about what they do and what they're capable of and where it's even located," Mosa said. But there is still a lot of work to be done."