It has been an interesting week as South Africans, hungover after a month of complete focus on football and hosting duties, debated the effects of the World Cup and pondered the future now that it’s over.
The weekend brought another emotional milestone – the 92nd birthday of Madiba. What a fitting tribute to one of the greatest men in history to have seen his country host such an important global event so warmly and professionally, and, no doubt more importantly to him, to see his nation truly united again.
A friend remarked to me that we should not be seduced or misled by the “Ayoba-ness” or euphoria of the World Cup. As a committed South African, he expressed concern that we may lose focus on the challenges that plague our country. If underlying divisions in our society and a lack of a sustained, genuine desire to achieve transformation are major contributors to our inability to solve these problems, was the World Cup not merely a distraction, or perhaps even a deception?
So let’s take a more critical look at what the tournament really means to South Africa as it enters the next phase of its life. With no major event to build towards and get excited about, it’s back to normal life for the first time in many years. As emerging economies become more powerful than at any other time in the modern era, South Africa has never been more prominent. Africa is finally beginning to rise and South Africa is acknowledged as the ideal bridge with the world. How will we fare in this role? Will the World Cup have any enduring effect?
GDP will spike an estimated 0.4% in 2010 but after factoring in the R40 billion bill to prepare and host, the tournament was not the money-spinner many had hoped for. The spike in employment in the construction industry (66 000 workers) was temporary, with most workers having been subsequently retrenched. The 40 000 additional police officers who were recruited and trained for the tournament (and served so effectively) will largely be retained, to the relief of all citizens. Most of the new or upgraded infrastructure will prove hugely valuable to our growing economy, although the magnificent new stadiums will probably be unable to cover their ongoing running costs without some form subsidisation. It is impossible to place a financial value on the enormously positive media coverage the country received and the international goodwill we created.
So it’s a mixed bag. The World Cup was not the panacea for all of our problems but overall the scales definitely tip to “successful”. Whilst important to balance the books, this analysis misses the key point – people solve problems, not soccer tournaments.
More than anything, a country’s success is determined by the talent and commitment of its people. If natural resources alone determined success, Africa would be the richest and most dominant continent on the planet, not it’s poorest. Historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that a civilization’s success or failure was determined as much by its ability to respond to challenges as by the magnitude of the challenges themselves. JP Landman picked up on this when considering the depressed mood in early 2008 (especially amongst white South Africans). Capitalism and democracy, whilst imperfect, create wealthy and powerful nations because they are designed to empower ordinary people to use their abilities to better their own lives and, in the process, their societies.
It is the task of our leaders to create an empowering environment for the people to act within. Madiba showed how crucial effective and visionary leadership is by convincing South Africans to build their nation, rather than destroy it. Any student of history, politics or psychology would have predicted a far more tumultuous revolution when the minority finally relinquished power to an oppressed majority. Gratefully, Mandela was a student of a different side of human nature. He had the vision, magnanimity and calculated pragmatism to tap into the spirit of reconciliation that most South Africans probably did not know they had. Leadership, however, comes in more guises than just the president or the government. Our communal success in the magnificent World Cup can play this role of inspiring and uniting.
South Africans are a passionate and talented bunch, but prone to emotional rollercoasters. For us its either depression and despair about our doomed country or unbridled pride in the greatest place in the world. South Africa defied history and the critics with the 1994 peaceful transition to democracy and traversed many difficult times since then. Yet we regularly slip back into self-doubt and pessimism.
It is very encouraging to see great initiatives such as Keep Flying the Flag perpetuating the goodwill and desire of South Africans to build the country. Mandela Day’s 67 Minutes to Change the World campaign saw more people than ever involved in charitable and upliftment activities in their communities. Yesterday we really took on board Madiba’s plea: “It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all”. People were more generous and committed then I have seen before and the effect of the World Cup in this regard cannot be discounted.
So is this a turning point or will it all be fleeting? As the weeks pass, many South Africans will once again focus on the seemingly insurmountable problems we face. The fickle international media, so scathing about our problems and inability to host the World Cup before it started, will just as quickly revert to the easy reporting line of South Africa as just another troubled African country. This is both the opportunity and the challenge we face post World Cup. We need to capitalize on the prevailing wave of patriotism and unity to galvanise South Africans in their commitment to build this country – both to grow it and share it fairly. We must commit ourselves to this not just for a month or two, and not just on Mandela’s birthday.
The country’s severe problems require the genuine dedication and initiative of all South Africans to tackle. Government has a huge role to play in creating a safe and functioning society and they must do this even without mighty FIFA breathing down their necks. Beyond government, however, this is incumbent on all of us, especially the “haves”. We possess the resources and influence to develop the country for the good of all citizens but do we have the unwavering desire? The World Cup must be seen in this light. It was nothing more or less than the greatest pep talk to the people of South Africa. If we can pull off an event of that magnitude to unanimous international acclaim in such a unified, focused and proud fashion, surely we can continue on our unlikely journey towards a united country that punches above its weight in all respects.
The World Cup was indeed only a dream. It was a month separated from reality where we shone brightly and did it together. We do not always inhabit the safe, unified country that was the darling of the international media in June/July 2010. But here’s the point – everyone tasted this dream and loved it. So rather than dismissing it or playing it down, this is the spark that needs to be nurtured and amplified to inspire all of us to make that dream a reality. How fitting a birthday gift for Mandela would it be if we all recommitted ourselves to building Mzansi to the great heights we know it can reach.
Happy birthday and thank you, Tata Madiba.
And well done Louis Oosthuizen, our new British Open champion. Keep the flag flying.