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.
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White South Africans, in the past wedded to rugby while soccer was and remains an overwhelmingly black sport, are starting to take ownership of the national team and willing it to victory despite its low international ranking.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Crazy World Cup fans
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Even before the opening game, the level of national excitement among whites as well as blacks was palpable.
And, tellingly, not just in South Africa.
In London, about a month before the opening game, eight South African stand-up comedians, representing a kaleidoscope of the country’s racial diversity, kept an overwhelmingly South African audience of more than 3,000 doubled up with laughter for three hours.
The show – called Befunny Befunny, which is a word-play on the South African national soccer team Bafana Bafana (the boys) – was an irreverent attempt to build national enthusiasm for the world’s largest sporting event among South Africa’s largest expatriate community.
It was actually a catharsis of the kind that has been kindled by the national convergence and unity of purpose thrust on South Africans by hosting the world’s largest and most diverse sporting event.
Inside the London hall where people had gathered to laugh, the comedians’ repartee slaughtered a series of favorite targets: FIFA, Malema, the police shoot-first policy, violent crime, and, significantly: race. Even a few years ago those topics would not and could not be talked about outside the comfort zone of their racial or cultural groups.
“The hosting of the 2010 World Cup will change the way the world sees South Africa and the African continent forever,” said President Jacob Zuma, who kicked a mean soccer ball while serving time for resistance to apartheid on South Africa’s notorious Alcatraz-like Robben Island prison.
Just as the 2006 World Cup had Germans smiling and waving the national flag en masse for the first time in 60 years, so 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.
John Battersby is a former southern Africa correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and a former editor of the Sunday Independent in Johannesburg. He is co-author of “Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs.” He is a trustee of the Aaron Mokoena Foundation, which supports young soccer players.
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