Charles Lee Mathews

Patriot games

The World Cup dream has arrived, but don’t forget to return to the hard work of fighting corruption and nation building when the world packs up and goes home.

“I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good good night”

Orlando Stadium in Soweto is rocking as the Black Eyed Peas infuse the crowd with Fifa fever for the opening ceremony of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. A beaming Fifa president Sepp Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma were on the stage earlier, and soon the show will give way to Freshly Ground and Shakira singing Waka Waka (this Time for Africa).

The flags, painted faces, open smiles and euphoria is reminiscent of 1995, South Africa’s halcyon rainbow nation days when SA’s rugby captain Francois Pienaar and then president Nelson Mandela held the Rugby World Cup trophy high in the air and our nation rejoiced. A pivotal moment that later became a book, and then a movie directed by Clint Eastwood; that memory of unity was deeply etched into South Africa’s collective consciousness.

Small wonder then that current President Jacob Zuma dedicated the World Cup to Mandela. The 91-year-old elder statesman was pivotal in bringing Fifa’s shindig to South Africa, but more so, he embodies a more carefree, hopeful, and less troubled time.

Bruised rainbow nation
It’s been a difficult few years. From Polokwane to Zuma’s election as president; to our first recession in 17 years; to the violent service delivery protests; to Malema; to Chancellor House; to the rolling electricity blackouts; to the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche; back to Malema and the realisation that we are a nation divided with deep racial wounds; to strikes, more strikes and the threats of strikes; to corruption scandal after corruption scandal after corruption scandal.

Like a battered wife reeling from all those beatings and desperately hoping for a better life, the World Cup has come right on cue, offering a dream that is all too easy to believe in. It is the romance of the game, the seduction of being in the global view, of the world’s celebrities landing at OR Tambo and kissing the African earth they call home. It is the advertisement that the 2010 Soccer World Cup unites us all under the banner of 1Goal — the promise of delivering education for all in Africa. It is the dream that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will make South Africa a better nation. After all, it is our time, or as the song goes, “this time for Africa”.

The extent of the euphoria experienced by South Africa as the games begin is significant, but it speaks eloquently to our desperation to divert our gaze from government’s lack of service delivery, mismanagement, greed and corruption. We have had such a hard time of it lately that we desperately need to let go, to party, to forget our collective troubles.

Sweet dreams
As Desmond Tutu said elatedly when he stepped towards the microphone at Orlando Stadium to speak at the opening concert before the kick off: “Can you feel it — can you touch it? It is unbelievable man. Wake me up, wake me up. What a lovely dream.” The World Cup has come right on cue, offering a dream that is all too easy to believe in.

Tutu has hit the nail on the head. The 2010 Soccer World Cup is a dream. It is a moment of fantasy that we can all retreat into for a brief period of time to escape the Selebi trial; the fact that the ANC Youth League is trying to make the Western Cape ungovernable; that the Blue IQ directors were milking the system blind; that we have a government that refuses to hold the criminal and unethical accountable for their actions.

It is a dream, and like all dreams it is not based on reality. Like all dreams, it will exist for a short period of time during which we will be able to get lost in it, until we have to wake up. And the end point of this dream will be the final whistle, and the world will pack up and go home.

That’s when we’ll be nursing a collective headache and will have to return to reality. That’s when we’ll realise that the benefit of the 2010 Soccer World Cup wasn’t as widespread as we’d hope it would be.

It will also be about the time the Mail & Guardian will receive 1 700 arch lever files of tender documents that have until now been kept under lock and key by the Soccer World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC). The Mail & Guardian recently won a legal battle to get access to the LOC’s tender documents, and as the final games are being played, the investigative paper will likely be poring over the documents to uncover who tenders were awarded to, who the ultimate beneficiaries of those tenders were, and whether there was an impropriety with the tender process.

Given South Africa’s corruption climate and Fifa’s tarnished track record, it’s likely that 2010 corruption stories will flow thick and fast after the end whistle, and many of these obviously will be broken by the Mail & Guardian.

So while it’s fine to feel the Fifa fever, know that it’s delusion and that a time will come to wake up and get back to the reality that is South Africa — the hard work of trying to make government accountable, and of fighting greed and corruption.

While we watch and get lost in the beautiful game, let’s not completely take our eye off the ball.

  • Stephen Browne

    I feel like such a killjoy when I think thoughts like these. The honest truth is that I see quite a close comparison between the Roman’s gladiator games and this world cup. Splurge in order to distract the masses from the real issues which aren’t going to go away.

    Also I really hate this manufactured patriotism. Is this instruction “to feel it” obligatory? I would try to feel it, but the cold in my shack has numbed my body so.

  • africa lover

    Let the best win!
    Now that it is here, even though my own cultural background prevents me from giving in to the enthusiasm, I do feel it.
    However I am distressed that I have not heard any one among the big figures -I am thinking more prticularly of Zuma and Tutu- remind us that it is a game of sports and that the best team should win…. regardless of whatever loyalty one may entertain for one’s own country!
    The petty nationalism promoted at the occasion is worrying…

  • Owen

    It’s no fun watching the games on silent and I just cannot handle why beautiful african voices are silenced by those incessant buzzing bees.

  • Sue

    Well said indeed and thank you for putting it all so clearly.
    Dreams are fabulous, great fun,and necessary sometimes, but they aren’t reality.

  • Sue

    Exactly so and very well said.
    Dreams are great, and necessary sometimes, but unsustainable in the real world without actual effort.

  • Siobhan

    Thank you, Mandy! “Keeping our eye on the ball” has become increasingly difficult as The Cup has been used as a barometer to measure one’s loyalty to SA.

    Really. How do sweat-soaked, mud-encrusted men using their feet to propel a ball around a field equate with commitment to anything other than…jock straps?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing people happy, enjoying themselves, singing and dancing. But our experience should tell us that this is all image and no substance just like the government that spawned it.

    Is it important for “Africa” to host a world event? I don’t know that it’s important for any country to do so unless that country is providing an exemplary quality of life for the majority of its people. That would be cause for celebration. But international sporting events inevitably leave the host cities and countries poorer rather than richer. The games always cost more than they generate as any Olympic host city can show. The only profits go to the “organising committees” and the ” official sponsors”. Fifa and the LOC in SA have been particularly crass and greedy in grabbing every cent they can get.

    Has it ever occurred to anyone to question the raison d’etre for “professional sport”? It is a spectacle, nothing more. Yes, the players may have great skill in the game, but it is a GAME, not a profession or an industry. Colossal stadia, bread & circuses, gladiators. Haven’t we learned anything?

  • MLH

    Feel it, it’s all around you.
    Touch it, it is within reach.
    Refuse to let fraud and corruption take what is rightfully yours…

    Excellent, Mandy!

  • John

    It was that great man of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels who discovered how effective large ceremonies and mammoth events were for a troubled nation. The Nazis turned this into a science. At the end of WW2, Stalin shipped the German experts in this field to the USSR. The subject “Propaganda” became an important part of the USSR university education.

    As you may know, many of our cadre studied at various Russian universities.

    These day, most governments use a little propaganda but the interesting point is those governments that have maintained power through extensive propaganda have universally failed their people, from the Nazis and the USSR to North Korea and Zimbabwe. Those governments who encourage their people to think “correctly” and to stamp out “subversive thoughts” always bring harm to the population.

    Is South Africa the next failed state with the government controlling the mass media (SABC) and using extensive propaganda to manipulate popular feeling. (Remember that 80% of our population is functionally illiterate in English so they have to rely on SABC for their news). I recommend that every South African should listen to a news broadcast in a Bantu language and ask the simple question “Is this the same country as the one I live in, does this news accurately reflect the reality of South Africa?”

    Its time to put on your ANC/Cosatu jackboots and go goose stepping in the main street. Does xenophobia then follow?

  • Po

    South Africans all have to worry and think about these problems every day of their lives and they all do. This is the time, a short time, to celebrate and rejoice in the good their is in the people and the place. We all need a holiday from our problems.

    So go with it!

  • Dave Harris

    Its a shame you misrepresent Tutu’s words to suit your myopic whinging agenda. 

    Additionally you left out the most important words that followed:

    “We want to say to the world: ‘Thank you for helping this ugly, ugly worm, or caterpillar which we were, to become a beautiful, beautiful butterfly,”

    Tutu expresses our gratitude to the world for helping us overcome our ugly past – that evilness of apartheid thats responsible for much of the ills we are experiencing in our society. We can only move forward if we take responsibility for our past and clean up the mess instead of pointing fingers at others.

  • Aragorn23

    Here are some more alarm calls for those still being lulled to sleep by all the empty PR rhetoric:,40,5,2037

    Be sure to download the Patrick Bond presentation, which summarises the issues well.

  • Belle

    Brave one, Mandy.

    I can’t help feeling that this frenzied desire to party ‘like there is no tomorrow’ is because we know that to be true …

    Tomorrow we have to stare into the hungry eyes of children and explain why the cupboard is bare.

    I feel sick whenever someone says ‘don’t be a party pooper’, knowing that tomorrow there will still be 12 million children battling deep poverty.

  • Robyn Doornweerd

    I enjoy your perspective of the games – and your courage to say so.Please read this blog (and others) from South Africans devoted to the communities that have gotten lost in the limelight of the games.

  • Bovril24

    Dreams are for fools and for kids who read fairy tales. (“Life is real, life is earnest”.) We all need to grow up – especially in SA.

    A few drunken street parties are not going to change anything. And, (as if that were possible anyway) Government corruption has not decreased, but undoubtedly increased during the FIFA reign. This was part of the deal (which is why Jordaan has refused to release supplier contract details to the M&G. (How dare he say that these are not for public scrutiny – who does he think pays him?)
    It is criminal that any country with 50% unemployment, where the average per capita income is somewhere around that of Bulgaria’s and the governing party is corrupt to the core, should even be allowed to stage something as extravagant and vainglorious as the WC. But of course, Sleuth Blather and his brownshirts couldn’t give a toss what country they bankrupt as long as they can seduce greedy & unperceptive politicians who are promoting a bread and circuses regime to keep the ignorant masses loyal – while putting a few more million $s into Sleuth’s & their personal coffers.
    It’s time for FIFA to go – completely. There are much cheaper and just as exciting ways to stage a world championship of soccer without FIFA joining local politicians in looting an economy.