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From Kampala to Rustenburg

Mark Namanya/Twenty Ten

Location: Rustenburg, South Africa

The dream of two soccer mad Ugandan fans comes true.

When South Africa was declared the 2010 FIFA World Cup host six years ago, Africa united in celebrating a truly historic moment. The pain of missing out to Germany in the race for the 2006 tournament had been erased and promptly replaced with eagerness to countdown each of the subsequent 2,220 days.

Henry Njuba and Hillary Bamulinde, two soccer-mad Ugandans, promised themselves to be at the World Cup at all costs. They had never attended one before, like most African fans, but the two friends hatched a savings plan that would enable them travel to South Africa.

Having arrived from Kampala, Uganda, they traveled to Rustenburg in glorious spirits to watch Ghana lock horns with Australia. The 1-1 result is not what they had hoped for as Njuba has admired the Black Stars all his life, but it did little to dampen their spirits.

“My first World Cup was in on the television in 1982,” said 39-year-old Njuba. “If I had missed out on the 2010 World Cup, for whatever reason, it would have hurt me for the rest of my life.”

The trip to Rustenburg is three hours long, and accessing the Royal Bafokeng stadium has been a challenge for many visitors because of heavy traffic. For Njuba and Bamulinde, the experience and excitement of being in a World Cup stadium was all that mattered.

“I felt goose bumps when they played the FIFA anthem as the two squads emerged out of the tunnel. This is what we live for; to be there and tell the tale,” a joyful Bamulinde, 30, remarked.

The beauty of the World Cup is that the experience of watching one or two games equates to the notion of having attended the tournament: “Some experiences have to be felt. In many years from now, we will tell our children that we were there when the World Cup finally came to Africa. We were there in the Winter to see Ghana draw with Australia.”

When this interview was conducted, Njuba and Bamulinde were due to travel to Soccer City for the arguably greater Brazil-Ivory Coast match. Their phones were ringing frequently from friends and family who had just seen them quoted in a local daily: “One of my mates wants me to get him an autograph of Didier Drogba! I wish he knew the difficulties,” explained Njuba. “He says I should tell him (Drogba) he is carrying the hopes of not just a nation, but a continent.”

Although Uganda haven’t participated in a major competition since the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations where the national team lost 2-0 in the final to Ghana, the World Cup remains a grand spectacle in the country.

Like South Africa, the World Cup in Uganda has seen Fan Parks created, Makarapas worn, Vuvuzelas blown and the diski dance enacted in Kampala. Njuba and Bamulinde are sure to fit in seamlessly when they return on Sunday.

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