The world cup and the spirit of South Africa
It is Monday and time for a sum up of the world cup of FIFA held in South Africa 11 June – 11 July 2010.
It has been a success in many ways and I have been a witness to this success in certain aspects as I have been back in the country since 22 June. There is also good reason to look critically at what took place.
Apart from the clogged up King Shaka Airport in Durban last week, when passengers of four aircraft missed the match between Spain and Germany, the logistics have been functioning very well. One should be proud of this in a country that has so many daily problems of service delivery to grapple with. For example, on Saturday 3 July, when Argentina and Germany played in Cape Town, there were more than 150 000 people doing the fan walk in down town Cape Town; all went well, it was very friendly and enjoyable and actually no queues in sight. The odd 65 000 who had tickets disappeared into the beautiful stadium in Green Point, the rest remained at the walk listening to music, were dancing or tried to get close to one of the big TV screens.
The friendliness and the relaxed atmosphere were striking. Visitors to South Africa would agree: not only the breathtaking landscape and the pleasant climate but above all the gregariousness and openness of people are what make a visit unforgettable.
But it was not only the friendliness that was there all the time (how easy it is to strike up a conversation, wherever you are, is well known to those who have tried), but another thing that adds depth to an otherwise perhaps too easygoing style: a sense of celebration. This has got very clear religious overtones and rightly so. South Africans know that there is a God who is worthy to be praised and that conviction is never far off, not even at a football match. This ability to celebrate has depth and goes hand in hand with the preparedness to deal with sorrow, suffering and misfortune.
Well, media have been ever present for the last month and what I just have said I think have been taken note of in many places.
The world cup has had an impact on the South African society that should not be underestimated. A sense of belonging, a sense of oneness as a nation, a sense of being part of the global society has been created. How far this goodwill will take us is difficult so say, but in a very simple way this is exactly what it is: the world cup is a means by which a lot of people, visitors from other lands included, have come together, enjoyed together, relaxed together. And such an activity has got a value of its own; so far, so good.
But that is also as far as one can go. It’s about a game, enjoyment, relaxation, excitement, about leisure and now it’s over.
A world cup does not address the root causes of poverty, joblessness, squatter camps, racism and xenophobia. They all remain. None of them has been resolved due to the world cup, nor has anyone said so. But it is more complicated than having taken a break from some of these problems. A cup like this could also be an excuse for putting some of the bad things under the carpet, for the time being.
We are back to square one. We have taken a break, but now we are back to reality. It is up to us to deal with the real problems. At best the world cup could have inspired us to work more closely together with whatever must be done. I hope this could be the case.
Finally, a slightly disturbing element in the whole thing has been the vuvuzelas, frequently used all over the place by all kinds, young and old, male and female. It is a smart thing that empowers people to make them heard. But the sound, and let’s be honest, is terrible, and if you are too close, could be detrimental to your hearing. This is not a joke, and some disc jockeys could testify to that, as could also some unwise people who spent too much time at a shooting range without ear plugs. It is not a pleasant thing to have your hearing impaired for the rest of your life.
In a way the vuvzelas are symptomatic of a history where people were made to use only the second best, or even with an anomaly; another such example is the tonic sol-fa note system. You get hold of a plastic trumpet that is not a trumpet but a toy that can make you blare, but somehow you are heard.
If it is a threat to people’s hearing it should be banned from public places. Vuvuzelas could also point in the direction of saying that football is anti-culture, playing on the most primitive emotions. To be honest there is a level of embarrassment about these vuvuzelas and my conviction is that there must be something beyond them. Last night, finally, it appeared that the singing overpowered the vuvuzelas for a while. The Spanish victory made an impact. Beyond this blaring sound must be mere singing and proper musical instruments. These cultural expressions will one day find their way into soccer matches. The potential for such expressions is great in this country and one would have wished that a few of the great choirs in Soweto could have played a more significant role in a few of the matches rather than the almighty vuvuzelas.
An all-European final in the FIFA world cup of football is also a mirror of political and economic realities of the present. FIFA itself is essentially a European construct. The soccer leagues in Europe dominate in such a way that players, not least from Africa, and who greatly benefit from these leagues, also become strangers to their own national teams.
But for a few weeks South Africa has indeed been heard and seen on the world stage.