PRETORIA (Reuters) - Wrapped in large blankets, long coats and hats pulled low, some 2,000 homeless people streamed into a vast church in a wealthy suburb of Pretoria on Wednesday night to hear a spiritual message and watch Bafana Bafana in the World Cup.
The guests at the Moreleta Dutch Reformed church came from a nearby squatter camp, where small fires could be seen burning in the pitch black, to watch South Africa take on Uruguay, eat a hot meal and drink warm drinks on a bitterly cold night.
After listening quietly to a talk from a visiting pastor, the homeless queued up to have their faces painted in South African colors before sitting in long rows in the modern church in front of two large screens to watch the Group A match.
Many of the homeless came from Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
As a clock counted down the minutes before the start, the crowd started cheering and blowing on vuvuzela trumpets and whistles while a small boy ran from one end of the church to the other carrying a large South African flag above his head.
The South African national anthem was observed with respectful silence, before the crowd erupted in noise and cheering as the game kicked off.
An organizer told the audience they should feel free to celebrate any South African goal but asked them not to charge the stage.
Head minister Dirkie van der Spuy told Reuters they had opened up their church, which can seat 7,200, so they could provide a warm base to feed and help those who would not otherwise be able to watch the game.
“We’ve got people here from the vicinity who haven’t got TVs and are really mad about soccer,” he said.
”Many of them are squatters in informal houses here around our church and we have a responsibility to reach out to these people, they haven’t got much.
“The World Cup is really a wonderful time in our history as South Africans to reach out to people from all nations.”
One man from Zimbabwe called Delight, wearing a large woolen hat and wearing a long, orange coat, said he had come to pray for South Africa.
“I pray for Bafana Bafana but I‘m also here to support African teams as a whole,” he told Reuters before the game started, looking nervously at the TV camera.
The first goal, a stunning shot by Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, briefly silenced the crowd, while a penalty awarded late in the game to Uruguay prompted them to throw their arms in the air in disgust.
As Uruguay scored a third minutes before the end, many in the church collected up their few belongings and left.
Editing by Jon Bramley