Which is Africa's biggest derby?

JOHANNESBURG - When Orlando Pirates welcome bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs at the  spiritual home of South African football (Soccer City) this afternoon, it will mark the 157th time the Soweto giants will be entering into the trenches against each other.

Chiefs has had the better of their arch-rivals since the birth of the Soweto Derby in the mid-70s following a move by a certain section of  Pirates players to form a splinter group led by former striker Kaizer Motaung.

That domination has been curbed recently though, but results of the 70s  and 80s, still give Chiefs, by far, a massive lead on head-to-head encounters.

Today’s clash of the Soweto giants again saw the issue of “which is Africa’s biggest Derby ” dominating sports headlines in Mzansi and was picked up by a few journalists from across the continent.

Some say, because of the television exposure, the global audience might give the Soweto Derby the bragging rights on the continent but most countries still have their own traditional derbies that, given the same exposure, would shame the Bucs/Amakhosi one.

For example, Egypt boasts one of the oldest Cairo derbies in Al Ahly  and Zamalek while the brutal enmity between Ghana’s Asante Kotoko and  Hearts of Oak has been a subject of discussion around the continent.

In Morocco, the clash involving Raja Casablanca and Wydad is steeped in its own tradition while in Ivory Coast, matches pitting Asec  Mimosa and Africa Sports, temporarily halt relationships even among close knit families.

In DRC, they talk of the AS Vita versus DC Motema Pembe as the real  fight of the Congolese while in Zambia it was the Nkana Red  Devils against Power Dynamos encounters that used to be the talk of the  country.

Some of these derbies have had their impact lessened by either the ‘death’ of one of the teams or just the decline of football standards in the country.

A good example is our own derby  between Dynamos and CAPS United, which used to attract most fans across Zimbabwe.

But a combination of low attendances caused by economic hardships and CAPS’ shock decline in form has seen the derby  becoming a no contest of late.

The same applies to Kenya’s Gor Mahia/AFC Leopards Derby  which used to be based on tribal inclinations. The former is followed heavily by the Luos, a tribe from Lake Victoria while Leopards is for Luhyas of  Western Kenya.

Even in countries like Botswana, matches pitting Township Rollers and Gaborone United are followed across the country so are Simba/Yanga matches in Tanzania.  That said, both Orlando Pirates chairperson Irvin Khoza and his Chiefs counterpart Kaizer Motaung insist that nothing on the African continent comes closer to the Soweto Derby .

Because whenever the two clash, those who cannot find a ticket to cram into the 94 000-seater Soccer City prefer to watch the match in beerhalls, around braais and other social clubs.

Families are normally divided right down the middle and it is the only time when the expansive township of Orlando in Soweto shows literal division between the East (for Pirates and West (for Chiefs).

There is a winding railway line that runs between the East and West of Orlando Township and if you want to know the result of the day and you are travelling by train, just listen where the most deafening noise comes from.

Of late, a pay per view channel which has exclusive rights to the derby has expanded the broadcast view for the Soweto Derby to across the Atlantic Ocean in the Americas, Europe and parts of Asia.

“The media hype and colour that goes into every Derby  has distinguished the Soweto Derby  from all other African derbies,” said respected journalist Mark Gleeson.

“The Soweto Derby is glamorous and  it makes politicians from the same party take sides.”

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