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Our 100-day window of opportunity

By Dave Harris

An ancient Chinese proverb states that “even the gods cannot help those who do not seize opportunities”.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup has ushered in a window of opportunity for all South Africans to seize with both hands! To put our best foot forward towards healing the old wounds of our tragic past. To reach out across the racial divide. To show our gratitude to the world for this gift of hosting the World Cup which cements our inclusion into the world of nations and has enormous potential to create buoyant economic conditions here in SA amidst a sea of recession that tightens its grip across the rest of the world.

It’s a chance to recapture that Madiba spirit which constantly threatens to dissipate like the morning mist over Table Mountain as we come to grips with the damage wreaked by apartheid on our social fabric. Another chance, in spite of our strained history, to warm up to each other like that balmy breeze over the Indian Ocean. A golden opportunity to establish SA as a world-class tourist destination to tourists who would otherwise not view South Africa as a holiday destination or to business investors who may not be aware of the upward mobility of a burgeoning middle class previously shut out of our economic system.

In the past few decades most held their breath and from afar cautiously observed SA as a Petri dish of human experimentation coming to grips with their false belief system of racial superiority. This caution turned to amazement through our ability to transcend past injustices, non-violently, through the power of forgiveness. Much of this was made possible by Madiba’s vision, which embodied the nobility of our human species.

However, recent developments in the media surrounding the World Cup revealed the divisive antics and harsh tones reminiscent of the old apartheid days of media manipulation, which leaves one truly perplexed of the role of our media in an emerging democracy like ours. A recent spate of media reports, all within the span of a single week, simply served to further whip up fear and hysteria surrounding the biggest international sporting event in the history of Africa! At the risk of seeing the wheels fall off, even Fifa had to step in to implement stricter controls to keep renegade journalists on a short leash in an attempt to quash the hysteria which had the potential to spread like a veldfire. The most stunning aspect of this fiasco is that most of these journalists and media organisations are South African! International journalists seem to be much more responsible in using freedom of speech responsibly compared to our own journalists who see nothing wrong in screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre or berating Fifa’s judicious media controls as too draconian.

Where does this macabre form of premature schadenfreude — revelling in the misfortunes of others — come from? What makes Mandela and the majority of black South Africans embrace the Rugby World Cup as portrayed in the movie Invictus while on the other hand many white South Africans spurn the 2010 World Cup and some even go as far as jinx this once-in-a-lifetime event with their outlandish negativity?

During apartheid, all media was strictly monitored and controlled in ways that would make the Chinese government blush. In order to lengthen the shelf-life of that poison called apartheid, the seed of fear had to be implanted into the limbic system of the white populace. Today we see some in the media employing similar dirty tricks, craftily engineered to instil a sense of fear in potential tourists. Sensationalised stories — like the “stab-proof vests” by an imaginary UK-based company — bordered on internet hoaxes and made headlines.

Another recent example of this hype designed to spread fear is the “controversy” surrounding the vuvuzela, a uniquely South African creation. Suddenly the vuvuzela is now depicted as an “instrument of war” and “scientific” studies, subsequently refuted by established scientific organisations, claim that the vuvuzela damages one’s hearing irreparably. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs, akin to pond scum, are capitalising on this using fear-based marketing to peddle costly ear-plug devices that promise to prevent “irreversible ear damage”. Firstly, what’s wrong with simple, disposable ear-plugs bought for a few cents and secondly why don’t these con-artists market these costly ear-plug devices at rock concerts — notorious for their ultra-fat speakers which cause tinnitus.

Yet another damper was the surge in air tickets and accommodation prices. Sometimes free enterprise needs to be reined in for the greater good of our society, for example, this is why ticket scalping is outlawed at venues in most countries and the watchful eye of consumer organisations serve to keep order in a free enterprise system that could so quickly go awry with unscrupulous businesses that seem to be rife in our nascent democracy.

We all know that rampant violent crime is a festering problem and has been for the last decade under the misguided leadership of the autocratic Mbeki regime. It’s also understandable that some in our society want to leverage the World Cup to get the government to take firmer action against crime but one wonders why crime has become this gargantuan, sensationalised issue during this World Cup and not other international sporting events like rugby or cricket also hosted in SA in the past decade. Also, in spite of Herculean efforts in completing the facilities and transportation systems in time, some bloggers continue to predict doom and gloom for the World Cup and come up with even more creative ways to abuse our free speech by spreading misinformation and fear about our World Cup — a once-in-a-lifetime event. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Football is perhaps the most international of all sports, with a thread that binds our world in the spirit of our common humanity and love of the game. Fortunately, these positive forces dwarf the ill-will that lurks in the hearts of some our very own citizens. As Gandhi wisely reminded us to “be the change” — it’s up to each one of us to make it happen.

Just like parents who lovingly support their kids’ sporting activities, so to, should our own citizens support the event by making some positive contribution:

  • Maybe attending or watching one of the matches with a friend from a different culture, religion or race.
  • Being hospitable and supportive to tourists.
  • Communicating with friends and relatives around the world eg via the web, to share the excitement generated by this event.
  • Building international business alliances with the exchange of ideas.
  • Attracting the attention of international students to consider South Africa as one of their study-abroad options.
  • Speak out against the naysayers and false prophets of doom and gloom, just as we spoke out against apartheid.
  • I’m sure there are many better suggestions out there, so don’t be shy folks!

    As South Africans, haven’t we learned enough from the tragic lessons of this win-lose mindset of the architects of apartheid? So let’s try playing a WIN-WIN game for a change!

    Imagine the benefits of the exposure SA obtains as sports lovers all over the world direct their attention to the games for an entire month. Giving tourists a close-up glimpse of the striking beauty of the African countryside, its majestic wildlife and warm, gracious people is a marketing dream for most country’s tourist boards and we should capitalise on this serendipity.

    So regardless of how the World Cup turns out for our team Bafana Bafana, the one sure thing is that this is a turning point in our history where we are finally offered a seat at the table of the world of nations — a truly remarkable achievement for a young country still finding its feet after centuries of darkness. Remember, in the long run, a successful World Cup guarantees that everyone wins in some way and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most South Africans, will either be missed by short-sightedness or seized on by people with the foresight to create positive change in our broader community and the world around us. At last, a chance for us to show the world what that famous “southern hospitality” is all about!

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