South Africa saw different waves of European colonisation hit its shores over the centuries, from Portugal and Britain in particular, but none had a greater impact than that of the Dutch. In 2010, propelled by a tide of orange, the Netherlands football team are preparing themselves for a different type of conquest - securing their first-ever FIFA World Cup™ trophy.
Today, the numerous statues present in South African cities as well as the language used by many inhabitants are both evidence of the influence of Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck, founder of Cape Town, and his countrymen. For example, among the eleven official languages of South Africa, Afrikaans, a variant of Dutch, is spoken by 13% of the population.
And the Oranje fans’ arrival in the mother continent has not been without its benefits for local Afrikaners: “Unlike the French and Italian fans, I can understand them because Dutch and Afrikaans are very similar and that makes my sales pitch easier,” explained street-seller Steven Arendse in the aftermath of the Netherlands’ final group match with Cameroon in Cape Town.
Good Hope for the Dutch
Pieter Cronje, Cape Town 2010 spokesperson, also underlined the importance of the Dutch "invasion": "Many of the countries who’ve played in Cape Town have had some link with the city in the past and today it was the turn of the Dutch who have such an interesting history with the city."
The Netherlands’ colourful band of supporters will descend on Cape Town once again on Tuesday when Bert van Marwijk’s men face Uruguay in the semi-final of the showpiece event. Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the city’s status as a strategic way-station for ships on their way to the Dutch East Indies saw it become one the most important Dutch settlements of that period. Van Riebeeck founded the first South African colony there in 1652.
The Castle of Good Hope, built by the Dutch East India Company a quarter of a century later, is also a symbol of the strong bond between the Rainbow Nation and its former coloniser. The Voortrekker monument in Pretoria, constructed to honour Boer pioneers, is yet another example.
The Dutch footballers were also keen to recognise the special relationship enjoyed by the two countries. While most sides were training hard ahead of crucial group matches, the squad took a morning off to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned.
The taking of Cape Town
Given the historical and cultural links between the host nation and the Netherlands, what would a Dutch victory in FIFA’s flagship tournament mean to everyday South Africans? In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Catherine Snel, curator of the Afrikaans Language Monument (Afrikaanse Taalmonument), in Paarl, Western Cape Province, confirmed that the Oranje should be able to count on the support of South Africans: “At this stage of the competition, a Dutch win will be welcome because many South Africans are acknowledging the historical relation between South Africa and the Netherlands.”
“I believe South Africans somehow still feel connected to the Netherlands,” added Snel’s colleague Paul Faku.
This extra backing aside, it is in the interest of the Dutch to make sure that Cape Town does indeed belong to them again on Tuesday night. “I have heard people using the term ‘Die Kaap is Hollands’,” continued Snel, who explained that while the literal meaning of the expression – prevalent on many banners at the Netherlands-Cameroon match – is that Cape Town has come under Dutch control once more, it has added significance. “It means ‘All is well again’ - a very well known Afrikaans phrase.”
If one thing is certain, it is that Wesley Sneijder and Co will be hoping that all is well again with Dutch football come the end of the FIFA World Cup. Defeating Uruguay on 6 July would be a step in the right direction.