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This weekend, South Africa will be brought to a standstill on Saturday, as Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates collide in the latest edition of the Soweto derby—the biggest match in the national football calendar.
Despite being one of the most intense rivalries in African football, the collision between the two old foes is a match not quite like any other, as supporters sit side by side and approach the contest with a sense of fraternity and fellowship.
It’s the kind of unity and camaraderie that would be completely alien to supporters of Al-Ahly and SC Zamelek, for example, Egypt’s big two, who contested a fearsome derby of their own on Friday evening.
Similarly, fancy suggesting to fans of Boca Juniors or River Plate, or Glasgow duo Rangers and Celtic that they ought to sit next to one another when derby day rolls around!
Yet despite the violent scenes and mutual animosity that all too regularly accompany these fixtures, the Soweto Derby bears none of this hostility among supporters, and the occasion in fact represents a day of great unity rather than division.
You’ll see plenty of makarapa—the miner’s helmet, adorned with eye-catching decorations—that both fans will wear, there will be vuvuzelas, Pirates’ skull and crossbones, and the black and gold of Chiefs, but there won’t be any of the bitter footballing tribalism that typically characterises derbies across the world.
“As a player, this derby carries the hopes of a nation, we carry the responsibility of the masses” Chiefs legend and Leeds United great Lucas Radebe told Goal back in 2020. “It’s two giants fighting for bragging rights, to determine who stands at the pinnacle of Soweto clubs.
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“It goes from the townships to the players and creates a fantastic atmosphere. In some families, there is a lot of division on the day, people sleep without eating and go to bed very sad; that’s how deep and rife the rivalry is between the two teams.
“However, the game is turning into an event more than a match itself,” he added. “People go there to enjoy the atmosphere, or to network, they sit together and it’s not as tenacious as it used to be.”