Rian Malan, South Africa’s serial traitor of the heart put it eloquently in the Telegraph this week:
“South Africa has an extraordinary ability to make fools of those who attempt to predict its future. As I coasted into the airport’s shiny new parking lot, I realised that I’d shot myself in the foot yet again. I whipped out my cellphone and sent out an all-points SMS conceding my error and announcing that our organising committee’s slogan – “We’re ready” – seemed against all odds to be coming true.”
You will remember that the same Malan had said that the World Cup was like a loaded gun against South Africa’s head. And if we did not deliver, we’d be dead meat. Now exactly the opposite is happening. Malan says: “…when South Africans pull together, we can move mountains.” I agree.
I have been swept up in the optimism.
How incredible it wont be if South Africa made it to the last 8 of this World Cup?
Until fairly recently I thought that was extremely unlikely. It still is not very likely – but – recent performances, an unbeaten run of 12 matches – the last being against Denmark – and the tide of optimism sweeping the country makes you want to believe.
And to think, just two months ago, with the murder of Eugene Terreblance, we were fearing the country would tear itself apart. Then came the wonder of the Orlando Bulls. Boers being fetted as long lost brothers in black Soweto.
Add to that the aforementioned and previously hapless Bafana Bafana – the national squad -playing progressively better!
And now the stadiums are ready, the Gautrain – a high speed link between Johannesburg and the airport – has opened. A plan is clearly coming together.
The last few days I have been conversing with Sisiwami, proud owner of the Reprezent blog and lover of all things South African. She lives in Belgium and she’s been bugging me about how I found my recent trip to South Africa. You see I’ve been promising a blog post about it.
Said blog post was however, so negative, that I could not bring myself to publish it. Then I thought, I’ll wait till after the cup. I did not want to be the spoil sport of South Africa’s great moment.
Now I’m so glad I did not.
South Africans have been out on the streets today and yesterday making a terrible racket on their irritating Vuvuzelas. And I am happy!
We have gushed, a little mawkishly, and asked silly questions like this:
“Do you still doubt your love for this country?”
In a way the massive & emotionally charged outpouring of support by many South Africans are a sure sign of the insecurity amongst South Africans about the countries future. Many instinctively see the success of the World Cup as the countries last chance to halt its decent into the abyss of dysfunctional statehood.
Some – like Esebius Mackaiser – say we are deluded and point to the 1995 Rugby World Cup:
We just do not learn from history. The 1995 Rugby World Cup is falsely remembered as proof of sport’s ability to be a catalyst for bringing out lasting social cohesion. Films such as Invictus perpetuate such lies. The 1995 Rugby World Cup is, in fact, proof that sporting events can at best offer a temporary reprieve from disunity, not unlike the joyous feeling of slipping into a warm bath in the middle of winter. After a while, of course, the water gets cold and you are yanked back into reality, especially when Eskom has made it too costly for you to add more hot water.
I want to believe.
I really like Rian Malan. He writes from the heart and he understands South Africa’s heart and its head. He is a romantic like me. But… although Malan’s wordsmithery and sentiment is class A, his analysis and forecasting has unfortunately been patchy, like often happens when you fret about the future of something or someone you like way too much.
We easily forget when the shiny Gautrain passes is the disgraceful treatment of the poor by our government. We forget that while many roads have been upgraded, the average South African road has fallen into disrepair. We cheer the first world cup hosted on the African continent while we sweep under the carpet the fact that African foreigners are living in fear for their lives in our country. We turn the blind eye on how Julius Malema is subverting our democracy.
But unlike Esebius I do believe in the power of symbolism. Perhaps from a black South African perspective the rugby World Cup did not help nation building. But for whites and Afrikaners in particular, seeing Nelson Mandela wear the Bok jersey meant a great deal.
But we need this World Cup to do something very different than to forge our racial groups into a whole.
When I was working for the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1998 the World Cup was on in France. Our office went to watch the opening match between us and the hosts in a pub. And along came even the burly rugby loving Afrikaans cops of our investigation unit.
We had our arses kicked 4 – 0 if I remember correctly. My black colleagues laughed and joked every time France scored. That irked me a great deal.
The burly cops on the the other hand were distraught at the hiding we received, it was a disgrace for our country. We had walked into the pub together. We left separately.
I was puzzeled and worried. It was around this time that the seed was planted in my head that what Africa needs is not NGO workers or Bono or love or Aid, but a bit of Nationalism. A bit of that ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country vibe. A bit of Garibaldi. We need South Africans to turn from tribal, family and personal loyalties into citizens.
To change attitudes like that is very hard to do. But perhaps we can make a start if Bafana can kick some ass a la Bakkies Botha?
So may Bafana do well. May it turn us into a community of South Africans.
If we start irritating you because of our mawkish fawning this month, please forgive us. Its because we’ve had fairy tales come true before. Its because we have a lot to loose.
May Bafana help bring us together so that we can come together after the cup, because God knows, were are going to need to if we are to solve our problems.
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