The ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup has exposed various flamboyant and fascinating football trends from football followers in South Africa: the country also set to host next year's FIFA World Cup™ finals.
While some of these phenomena have polarised opinion from global audiences, one that has been universally popular is the makaraba - a neatly decorated hand-made helmet worn with pride by most football fans in the country.
What may at first glance have appeared to be rows of people wearing a funny-looking towering helmet with branches attached, is in fact a age-old custom in South African football. The word makaraba was initially given to immigrant migrant workers many decades ago, and in the 1960s many of these workers lived in townships. With many of these newcomers football fans, and with footballing rivalries already intense between supporters in these areas, it is said that the makaraba was invented so fans could wear their team's colours and stand out from the crowd.
"The thing is, our football has always been about entertainment, it has always been about bringing joy to the people," said Pheko Molebo, who is a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Moroka Swallows, one of the country's oldest teams and a dominant force in the 1980s. "The makaraba is one of the things that people feel excited about when they see. It's unique, it's something we can call proudly South African."
Though not exactly sure where makaraba originated, as one who grew up in a football-mad community Molebo was an enthusiastic follower of the trend. Though there are a variety of reasons why a South African supporter may wear this accessory, it is usually a tribute to an individual's favourite player or team.
"Because our fans enjoy expressing themselves using art, they designed makaraba because there's no limit to its creativity," one of South Africa's best-known football fans, Saddam Maake, told FIFA.com. "You can basically write or draw anything on it. Some people use it to pass a certain message, while some teams use it as a platform to communicate with the players. It is a non-verbal communication that is understood by most South African players."
More prevalent in big games, such as the derby clash between arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, it is believed the first examples of this trend started appearing in the 1970s.
Soweto resident and a self-confessed Bloemfontein Celtic fanatic, Brendan Mokone has been wearing makaraba for a while. "The first makaraba I had, I made it with my own hands. However, these days it's easy to get one from the streets. It is part of our history, it's something we can be very proud of," said Mokone. "I think many other countries will adopt makaraba in 2010, because from what I have seen, people like it a lot."