Winter School
Winter School

Who will 2010’s losers be?

Submitted by Thandanani Mhlanga

OK, so there we were at Game, every race known to the southern hemisphere. A rare moment indeed — this is Nelspruit, after all, a place where the winds of change hadn’t fully reached yet at the time.

But there we were, washing detergent forgotten, glued to the different screens at the electronics department, all of us waiting for one announcement: to find out which country would be given the honour of hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup. As the announcement was made, race, differences and plastic bags were tossed aside for a celebratory moment I haven’t seen since.

Many made plans about how they’d use this rare opportunity to make money and maybe even become rich. Most celebrated the wealth of entertainment that would come to South Africa, the rare opportunities to meet celebrities and the boost to our economy. With the prospect of life-altering fortune and wealth for the country, it seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough.

But weren’t we a bit naive?

I found that out when I attended one of the Winter School debates in Grahamstown where Ashwin Desai was speaking on Who Will Be the Winners in 2010? He used the upcoming World Cup as a metaphor for the not-so-great implications of globalisation.

We’ve all been affected by it. We watch live soccer matches and award shows, and with the phenomena of the internet and related technologies, you can chat face-to-face to a friend in Tokyo while sipping cocoa at a pub in Durban. The truth of it is that the world is getting smaller and smaller, and nowhere is it more evident than in soccer.

I can’t recall ever seeing men, and women nowadays, so animated than when Manchester United or Real Madrid are playing a live match on TV. It’s the foundation for many a social life. Never mind that we’re hemispheres apart; globalisation has made people feel that they can relate to anyone from across the world. The bonds of nationalism are slowly fading. But at what cost?

According to Desai, the deteriorating standard of South African soccer is partly globalisation’s fault. Our players are recruited in their teens for European clubs and sold off before they can help develop their home-grown teams.

Then there’s the shattered 2010 dream that promised riches for many and jobs for the masses. Desai pointed to the loss that ordinary South Africans have suffered with their taxes being used to build sometimes unnecessary stadiums, which we’ll probably have no use for after 2010. We can’t even comfort ourselves with the knowledge that many underprivileged people got jobs. According to Desai, most are jobless since the completion of some of these stadiums. The truth is, the only one that will profit from the World Cup is Fifa.

We aren’t reading about this in our newspapers because, quite frankly, the illusion is too tempting. How will 2010 really make a difference to a township family headed by a single mother? We listen to what we’re fed, not realising that we’re pawns in the Fifa-plus-allies’ profit-making machine.

Even nationalism is so yesterday. Our soccer team are so shameful that we make jokes about them with our mates while drinking a toast to our favourite English teams — the very same teams that poach our players before we can even get our hands on them, with the result that we cannot build a strong enough squad.

Desai calls it “Europe worship mentality”, which basically sees locals taking anything European as gospel without question. We leave ourselves to be exploited with no chance to grow in the name of globalisation.

Desai’s intention at the Winter School was creating an open discussion, using soccer as a metaphor, about the inequality that makes small countries losers in the globalisation era. Take our crumbling clothing sector. China yearly dumps clothes worth billions of rands on our shores. These clothes are then sold at such a cheap price that our local manufacturers can’t compete.

Desai suggested that as Africans we use 2010 and the media attention it will draw to South Africa as a catalyst for protest. This protest should be aimed at confronting the fraud in large organisations that leads to inequality, and which is aided by globalisation. As the media we need to get real and start telling people the truth: all that’s Europe … so ain’t gold.

Thandanani Mhlanga is a student on the Future Journalists Project during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown