By Bernadine Jones
Fifa has been implicated in a scandal of note — bigger than Giggle-in-Chief ‘s Nkandla apparently.
The South African 2010 World Cup tournament was punctuated by euphoria. South Africans forgot their flaws, their divisions, their classifications, and for one brief moment, we really were the rainbow nation, hosting “Africa’s first World Cup”, for the “first time on African soil”, awaiting the “economic boom” that host countries often experience.
I put these statements in quotes because that’s what the global news media did. The narratives of the 2010 World Cup reflected predominantly this euphoria and South Africa’s global stage. We had apparently legitimately won and successfully hosted the “best World Cup in history”.
Ah yes. Africa’s first World Cup. Global news media jumped at the chance to bring the far-flung and mysterious continent and its famous country to various predominantly Eurocentric audiences. South Africa was determined to negate these horrible stereotypes: we tried everything in our power to show this critical Western gaze that we could, and should, be worthy of hosting global events.
And here’s the rub.
South Africa’s media narratives during the 2010 World Cup and subsequently over the years revolve around the idea that the country legitimately won the right to host this event. We “showed the world” we could “do it” — that we could play by their rules and be a team player (excuse the pun).
Now it turns out that we didn’t in fact win that right legitimately. Not according the US justice department. Africa’s “first World Cup” was paid for in the largest bribe for votes indictment, and with a brief report, Attorney Loretta Lynch undid over 10 years of joyous celebration of Africa’s “crowning moment” in global event-hosting history.
It now seems, connotatively at least, that South Africa — and many other non-Western countries (see the Russia and Qatar allegations) — can’t attain global glory and Western worthiness without paying millions of dollars for the privilege. One could argue (and many have) of course that that privilege is worthless. Only the hegemons would want to play each other at their own game with their own rules. Should South Africa attempt to get in on the act? Or create our own game with our own rules? But that’s for different arguments. Right now, we have to deal with the big, bleeding hole ripped through the heart of our Fifa 2010 euphoria that we spent so much, sacrificed so much, to “win legitimately”.
So where does that leave South Africa’s euphoric narrative? We need to look to other events in this country to answer that question.
Former 2010 Fifa World Cup local organising committee CEO Danny Jordaan is in the process of being sworn into the Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral role. He was chosen, so say ANC bigwigs, for his organisational ability during the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Jordaan’s appointment occurred a week or so before the Fifa scandal, when South Africans still believed in the euphoric 2010 World Cup narrative. Jordaan successfully organised the “best World Cup in history”.
That was before. Now? Now the connotations change. Now Fifa 2010 might become synonymous with corruption, bribery, and criminality for which the US justice department wants accountability.
And so Jordaan walks right into an ironic hole. As he lifts his hand and is sworn into office, so Lynch calls out the Fifa executives involved in bribing officials for votes. Irony, hit me with your rhythm stick. Whether or not the South African Fifa executives or the government had anything to do with this indictment, Jordaan is linked to the scandal simply through signifiers of name.
All of this comes at a turbulent time for South Africa. With Operation Fiela claiming fiery backlash from human-rights groups, xenophobic attacks in isolated areas spreading, violent police clashes, and a transformation culture that “agitates, rather than debates”, South Africa is yet again in a bluster of metamorphosis.
We are held together by the glue of our past — the good and the bad — and the World Cup makes up one of the high points in our history. To have this US justice department indictment crash land in our laps, at this time, might produce one of the biggest craters we as a nation have to traverse. It sweeps away those narratives of “legitimacy”, “worthiness”, “success”, and most of all the euphoria we felt as part of the globalised nations. We might feel as if we faked it. We might feel undermined.
And we should avoid thinking like this. Those euphoric feelings were genuine — the 2010 World Cup generated South African patriotism. We are a changed country because of it.
As Fikile Mbalula goes into epic damage control mode, we must remember that we are not our government, and we are not the Fifa scandal. The global spotlight is yet again on South Africa — this time for all the wrong reasons. It’s up to us — ordinary citizens — to continue building this country in our own image. The real problem here is that we learnt about this scandal through the global news networks — we still do not tell our own stories, yet rely on the Western news bureaus. That must change. And that is something that will allow South Africans to create their own identities.
Bernadine Jones is a PhD candidate with the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town.