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How I wish we could postpone the Soccer World Cup

It is rather late in the day but methinks the matter is important enough to warrant a last-minute mention, if you will indulge me for a page or half. This thought has hitherto existed in the form of a stone-like lump at the bottom of my gut. From time to time it rises up to my Adam’s apple to interfere with my speech.

I do not mean to derange Safa at this their greatest moment in history. Nor is it my wish to embarrass the Fifa Local Organising Committee. I am a hopeless soccer fan myself. There were two types of soccer in the Soweto of my youth: street soccer and radio soccer. Street soccer in the mornings, radio soccer in the afternoons and street soccer in the evening. For radio soccer we had Thetha Masombuka and Koos Radebe — legendary SABC Radio Zulu sport announcers. For street soccer they had me and my friend. We were called “Teenage” and “Kaizer” respectively and respectfully. Especially gifted at inventing soccer balls out of old rag and pieces of paper, our real claim to fame — Kaizer and I — was our ability to transfer skills learnt from radio soccer to street soccer overnight.

I do not just like soccer. I have lived on it since Meadowlands — Soweto. The decision to broadcast my until-recently-secret desire for Fifa 2010 World Cup to be delayed was not taken lightly. It is easier to do the patriotic thing: cash the unit trusts, sell the Telkom shares, sell goats and cows, squash the pension; all in order to build the best 2010 B&B joint in the country.

But there are several compelling reasons why we could consider a postponement.

To say Bafana Bafana appear not to be ready is not only to state the obvious; it is to grossly underestimate the terror of the obvious in the minds of many soccer-loving South Africans. But that is not the main reason for my postponement plea. Teams like ours have been known to find miraculous strength at the last minute when playing at home. Ever since our miraculous transition we have been pretty good with miracles. There is no reason why we should not conjure up one more. Our sights are not set that high anyway — we just want to go through to the second round. It is also possible — when all else fails — to enjoy the World Cup with or without Bafana Bafana, especially if one happens to be the owner of one of the abovementioned B&Bs. Yet still, I ask that we postpone.

Not even the crime situation (coupled with our poorly explained [or is it inexplicable?] “shoot to kill” police strategy) should interfere too much. Crime is indeed bad in this country. It is one of the things South Africans of all shapes and shades truly share. A terrible thing to share. But South Africa is not the only country faced with this problem in the world. Some visitors may become victims of crime. That has surely been factored in both ourselves and our potential visitors. There is an old South African tradition of shielding and protecting visitors from the developed world — the kind of visitors whose crime victimhood might make world headlines. With more than fifteen years of practice, we have almost perfected the art of shielding such visitors and hiding unseemly South African realities from them. I would not be surprised if police Commissioner Beki Cele and General Nyanda were to order that our visitors be escorted by armoured vehicles from ORT airport to their hotels and B & B joints. But still, I would suggest that we do not rule out asking for a little postponement.

It is not the transport chaos that some are predicting that worries me. True; every single South African road that is on a map, is currently being degraded, regraded or upgraded. It is not impossible, but most improbable, that these roads will all be ready by June 2010. Nor will the Gautrain constructors have returned Rosebank to us by the time our thousands of visitors arrive. We have less than a year in which to enroll our taxi drivers in a “courtesy and driving-skills 101”. The rude sounds of taxi hooters and the joyful sounds of Vuvuzelas may yet combine to contest the title for the most memorable soundtrack of the Fifa 2010 South Africa.

Do not mistake me for the doubting Thomases inside and outside SA who suggest that South Africa may not have what it takes. Of course we have what it takes. Our track record in organising and running big global events speaks for itself. Except perhaps for the 2016 World Cup in Brazil, ours will be the best World Cup to date. Both President Zuma and president Mbeki were correct about that.

Between the Vuvuzelas and the Kruger Park we have a lot more to offer than Germany did. We also have a winter that can be easily mistaken for summer, especially in daytime. And eish, the great South African smile will ensure that everyone has an ‘ayoba yo’ time. S’true’s God, my China. All of these and more will be on offer.

Nor am I unaware of the developmental economics argument against the World Cup in South Africa. It goes something like this. The poor never benefit from World Cup events. This is especially true when the hosting country is poor and/or developing. The very decision to bid and to host such an event is anti poor and anti developmental. The money being “wasted” on stadiums could have built many and stronger RDP houses. Four more million South Africans could be on welfare. A few more under-the-tree schools could have been transformed into classrooms and schools. What of the terrible legacy of white elephant stadiums and other institutions that will remain long after the Fifa family and inner-circle members have invested their spoils in the tax haven of their choice? True, true, true. I hear all that. But for the many little boys kicking a ball in the streets of the world’s townships and squatter camps, football is the stuff of dreams. I know because such a boy still shares this 40-year-old body with me. For many of them the football field is the only level playing field they have seen and participated in. Each team and player has a fair and equal opportunity to impress and to achieve. I will not deny millions of boys in Africa and all over the chance to watch their idols strut their stuff on African soil. I will not deny them inspiration. 2010 is about much more than money and text-book definitions of development.

For me, 2010 has been like the lake towards which the rivers and streams of national hopes have been flowing. It all started ten years ago when old Charlie Dempsey scuttled our chance to host the 2006 World Cup. For ten years we looked forward to 2010. For ten years 2010 has been the defining national milestone. In 2004 when South Africa was confirmed as host, Madiba, who was in attendance in Zurich, shared a tear. Millions of other South Africans cried with joy. Since then 2010 has become the definitive national milestone. The corporate sector is full of 2010 strategic plans. It is the great “turn around” year in the fight against HIV and Aids, the housing backlog, the economic recession, the fight against crime and the struggling municipalities. Many individuals see 2010 as the great turn around year for their own life projects.

My fear is this: what do we do after 2010? The power of 2010 lies in its advent and not its arrival. When I look around, I do not see similar national milestones and projects in the next 10 to 15 years. Despite establishing a planning department, Zuma’s government is yet to give us a long-term national project of 2010 proportions. Nor has it come from the opposition. Service delivery is very important — South Africans want to move on from the 15 years of policies and promises. They want delivery. But beyond that there is a hunger for a riveting national project in the medium- and long-term; one that will cohere and harness our national dreams and our energies for the next 10 to 15 years. That really is the reason I would like push 2010 back a little.

Author

  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

    Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.