The early exit of the French team from the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is the subject of national debate in France. Here in South Africa, it’s largely forgotten, except in the postcard community of Franschhoek.
When the South African side played France in their last match of the opening round, people in Franshhoek figured there was no way they could lose. As South Africans, they were pulling for the home team, but they also have a special place for the French team.
“I do hope they do well, but it would be best if South Africa wins,” said Jacques Roux at the start of the tournament. Roux is a marketing director for the Boschendal Wine Estate and the only descendant of the first European settlers – the Huguenots who arrived in the 17th century.
Bafana Bafana did win 2-1, but neither team advanced to the Round of 16. So, the celebration was muted in Franshhoek, like elsewhere in South Africa.
When people here do celebrate, they usually do it with wine, as this is the heart of South Africa’s vineyard country and home to many excellent wines. The rugged mountain range that cloisters the town is spectacular, and hardly the landscape I expected to find in South Africa
The town is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, When we arrived to shoot a feature for CBC TV in the early days of June, it was draped in red, white, and blue in honor of the World Cup. Usually the banners only go up in July to celebrate Bastille Day.
Franshhoek is Afrikaans for “French Corner”, the name given to honor those early settlers. Today, many streets, farms, and properties carry French names, as well as the town’s most famous restaurant “Le Quartier Francais,” rated one of the top 50 in the world. The restaurant is run by Susan Huxter, who it turns out is the cousin of a Montrealer I know. Small world! And thanks to Susan for letting me sample some of her excellent reds.
The town has a mountain resort feel to it, and is surrounded by many large wine farms. Those farms have hundreds of laborers who live in outlying areas, and in at least one case, on the property.
The children of the workers are in area schools, and receiving a helping hand from a group called the Anna Foundation. They’ve got a program being run on nine of the farms, where 260 kids participate in an after-school program designed to improve their learning, and to keep them active and out of trouble.
For the World Cup, each farm formed a soccer team and trained for weeks before playing in their own tournament. Each adopted a nation. At the Solms-Delta farm where we visited, the kids had adopted the French team. It was a treat to see them with their French flags, and we even filmed them singing “Allez le Bleus”.
I was really impressed with kids and their teachers. My favorite moment was when they crowded around our cameraman Richard Agecoutay (who must have seemed like a teddy bear) to have a peak at what he had shot.
Long before the Europeans arrived here, the San (Bushmen) tribe of hunters and gatherers wandered the Franshhoek valley. The Khoi tribe is believed to be the first to start herding in the area.
Traces of those times are hard to find outside of the Museum van de Caab.
These days it’s easier to find reminders of the French settlers, and of the fact that there was one place in South Africa which had reason to cheer for both sides when Bafana Bafana played its last match of the Cup.