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Opinion: Why Zimbabwe missed out on World Cup benefits

No foreign tourists or investment spillover from South Africa to its northern neighbor.

Zimbabwe soccer
A boy plays with a soccer ball in the Mbare neighborhood of Zimbabwe's capital Harare on May 27, 2010. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Robert Mugabe's attempt to associate Zimbabwe with the good publicity of the soccer World Cup in neighboring South Africa has proved fruitless.

There had been hopes that some of South Africa’s luster would rub off on Zimbabwe as it struggles to recover from a decade of misrule and political plunder. Mugabe, 86, referred to the South African team as “our boys” when he returned from the opening ceremony in Johannesburg.

But even the photo op failed to sparkle. Pictures of Zimbabwe's “first couple” in the Soccer City stadium showed a distinctly gloomy president and his equally unsmiling wife Grace.

This could have had something to do with reports that most of his entourage of 40 was turned away at the VIP stand. That included young Robert Junior, 17, who is being touted in Zimbabwe's state media as a potential sporting hero.

But the Mugabes could also have been frowning because of the weather. South Africa can experience bitterly cold winters and pictures of the Mugabes wrapped up against the elements and surrounded by what looked like nondescript regional officials wasn’t exactly the image of authority the veteran leader likes to project when calling on his neighbors.

Back home, Zimbabweans have been doing their best to join in the World Cup fun.“Fan parks” have sprung up all over Harare as entrepreneurs set up plasma TV screens and barbecue stands.

Most fans favored England, where Zimbabwe’s vast diaspora of some five million is based, until it was sent packing by Germany.

Read more GlobalPost World Cup Coverage

They then switched their loyalty to Brazil which had earlier defeated Zimbabwe’s Warriors in a friendly match before the World Cup in Harare. The state media intriguingly billed that game “How Zim won the World Cup.” But the fans here are accustomed to such excesses in the official press. They have largely ignored the propaganda and have made the most of saturation television coverage of the tournament beamed up from South Africa.

Freddy Tafara in Harare’s Mabvuku township has experienced a sudden spike in his popularity ratings. He has a television set.

“Now everybody wants to know me,” he gripes. That means a full house every evening when the big matches are played.

“They will all be gone after July 11,” he said wistfully, referring to the date of the final match and closing ceremony. “They are welcome but they must bring their own bottles.”