Tanzania’s fiery Kariakoo derby between Simba SC and crosstown nemesis Young Africans on Saturday evoked all manner of memories in me.
From childhood memories when I’d be so consumed with the game of football – albeit on a dusty ground with bare feet – that I would forget to eat, to my first Soweto Derby right through to the FIFA 2010 World Cup – the first on African soil. Electric. Nostalgic. Sentimental and by all means rousing.
It actually gave meaning to the expression that football is the world’s most beautiful game. I can’t think of anything that unites people across nationality, colour, language and faith. Equally so, I can’t think of anything that divides families like our derbies in Africa where a mother supports Simba SC and a father backs archenemy Yanga.
So, flying into Tanzania on Friday night, fresh after the recent elections whose results many have contested, we had expected the mood to be somber and drab.
You have many people – including our 21-year-old host – who feels the election results may have been ‘engineered and concocted’ to give President John Magufuli a ‘supposedly resounding’ 84% roaring victory.
And then conspiracy theorists claimed the entire country couldn’t enjoy surfing the internet because the government had disrupted cyberspace countrywide to restrict the free exchange of information, videos and images about the elections.
Of course, my colleague Ofhani Munyai and I struggled to navigate the internet, often having to explain to our editor Tiyani Mabasa why we couldn’t send the ‘killer videos’ we had been shooting outside the stadium as vociferous fans of both sides trooped to the stadium to rally behind these two big East African giants.
But one thing for sure – the people we saw sing, shout the name of their favourite team outside the 60 000-seater Benjamin Mkapa stadium as early as 11:30 (for a 5pm kick off) – totally forgot about that dubious election victory. Their minds were totally fixated on what was about to happen at the stadium.
And oh, the Kariakoo Derby also reminded me of the fact that there was a day you and I could go and cheer on our favourite teams at the stadium. And Covid-19 has taken that away from South African football fans and the media alike.
By 16H17 as I was typing this piece, just about 43 minutes before kickoff, Benjamin Mkapa Stadium was at 88% full. As I looked around me, with my FARPost branded mask covering my nose and mouth, I noticed I was literally the only one wearing a mask. Tanzanians have made coronavirus look like a hoax.
It’s business as usual in this East African country. In fact, in our three days in Tanzania, we probably saw less than five people wearing masks.
But anyway, I was here as a football journalist and not Judge Jury Dube. I, therefore, immersed myself in this highly charged game.
And the two teams did not disappoint. Of course, the referee had his moments, but then again, I consoled myself and chose to see the brighter side of Tanzanian football by saying he’s a human being and errs like all of us.
Nonetheless, it was thrilling to see both teams show intent to go forward and get goals. It was some nice see-saw affair.
Had it not been for both goalkeepers who pulled off some good saves we could have witnessed more goals.
But after trailing 1-0 just after the half-hour mark, it was interesting to see Simba SC come out firing from all cylinders in the second half.
Their relentless efforts and, of course, their voluble fans, who never stopped rallying behind them, were finally rewarded with just four minutes before the end of the game.
I thought it was a well-deserved point and a nice ending to a highly charged derby.
Without a doubt, it was certainly worth the several flight hours we still have to endure as we return to Johannesburg via Addis Ababa aboard an Ethiopian Airways flight later this afternoon.
Cheerio Tanzania, FARPost will certainly be back here as we look to conquer Africa!
By Mthokozisi Dube
in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania