Can South Africa keep tapping World Cup spirit?
After successfully hosting this summer's World Cup, the challenge for South Africa's government is to make a serious dent in urban crime, tackle corruption, lessen poverty, and shape South Africa as a model for a continent wracked by economic and political problems.
In 2007, the US State Department asked me to go to South Africa to meet with leading newspaper editors. With the 2010 World Cup looming, they wanted to hear the experience of an editor who had managed coverage of a major sports event, as I had in Salt Lake City with the 2002 Winter Olympics.Skip to next paragraph
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It helped that I had some knowledge of South Africa. I began my journalistic career in that country. Years later, The Christian Science Monitor based me there for six years as its Africa correspondent.
When I visited in 2007, I found a country drastically changed from the one I had known in the days of racial segregation and apartheid, when a white minority basically suppressed the black majority.
White-only government had been supplanted by the black-majority government of the African National Congress. There was upward mobility for black Africans in government, commerce, and journalism.
And then-President Thabo Mbeki was continuing to preach goodwill and partnership between the races, following the model set by his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, who emerged unembittered after 27 years in prison.
But it was also a country with dangerous levels of crime, and unfulfilled expectations of millions of blacks still living in shanty towns.
Black and white newspaper editors and TV directors expressed concern that the infrastructure needed to handle hundreds of thousands of World Cup visitors could not be ready by 2010. Airports needed to be remodeled, hotels built, rail lines laid, ambitious stadiums constructed in different cities.
There were questions as to whether huge, crowded multiracial gatherings of blacks and whites could take place without violence. (There was concern, too, that the government would exert subtle pressure on media outlets to produce only “happy journalism” and downplay the problems.)
As we learned in 2010, the fears proved groundless.