South Africa and the 2010 World Cup: the great leap forward
The first African World Cup in South Africa is already having a dramatic effect on social cohesion in a country with a legacy of deep racial inequality.
In recent months, South Africans of all races have been donning their country’s national team shirts on Fridays, flying the national flag from their car windows, wrapping their rear-view mirrors in socks sporting the national flag, and chanting slogans about how Africa’s time has come – “It’s here. Can you feel it?” There is a rare inclusive outpouring of patriotic fervor.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Crazy World Cup fans
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This has risen to fever pitch since the national team, currently ranked only 90 in the world but assured of a place in the 34-nation cup because of South Africa’s host status, held Mexico to a draw in the opening match and scored the most spectacular goal of the contest so far.
Now that the Cup is well under way, South Africans are undergoing a seismic shift in terms of social cohesion and identity.
Readers weigh in: World Cup Soccer 2010: What does it mean to you?
Just months before the World Cup began, there was a protracted and heated public debate that threatened to open Pandora’s box. In March, Julius Sello Malema, a South African politician and the president of the African National Congress Youth League, was found by a South African regional high court to be singing and advocating the singing of a song that was held “unconstitutional and unlawful” and amounted to hate speech.
He was subsequently served with a court order preventing him from singing the song pending a hearing. Mr. Malema, who is black, was singing an old liberation song which calls on its cadres to “kill a Boer” after it had been ruled to constitute hate speech.
Boer was the label used to define the descendants of the Dutch colonialists that settled in South Africa in the 17th century. The term refers to conservative Afrikaans-speaking South Africans as the enemy during the apartheid era. The ANC has lodged an appeal against the ruling.
At the height of the row, a half-forgotten extreme right-wing Boer leader, Eugene Terreblanche whose name means “white earth” in French, was murdered by two black farm workers.
But that is generally the exception to the rule. After decades of apartheid, South Africa has for the most part become a model of racial reconciliation, with a burgeoning black middle class. And there is a healthy ongoing debate about whether the large numbers of poor and unemployed South Africans will benefit from the expenditure of some $5 billion on stadiums and related infrastructure.
But the most enduring benefactor of the World Cup will be the national psyche and the quest for a common national identity to transcend a deeply divided past.
As former President Thabo Mbeki said when he spoke at the handing over ceremony in Berlin in 2006, the German World Cup succeeded in restoring some of Germany’s self-respect after its legacy of National Socialism.
“We are confident that the 2010 soccer World Cup will do the same to consolidate our self-respect and dignity gained when we attained our freedom and democracy in 1994 and, in a unique way, also help our own nation and the continent of Africa,” Mr. Mbeki said.