Wednesday, June 16, 2010

South Africa: Let's give ourselves a break, we're ok

Before the 2010 FIFA World Cup came to town, I used to think of South Africans - myself included - as having a tendency to whine. But right now we are the centre of the universe and, remarkable as it may seem to us South Africans, we're ok.
Hardly a day goes by in this fair land when you don't read a letter in a newspaper or hear a fellow South African bemoaning crime and corruption. I'm not saying we should accept crime and corruption as the normal state of affairs but all the complaining and finger-pointing can get one down.

Written weeks before

But then I came across this story by The New York Times written in the weeks before the world cup 2010, about how South Africans have valiantly pushed back against FIFA's corporate interests - to get easier access to tickets, for instance, and to see more of our musicians in the lineup for world cup concert.

"...[T]his is South Africa, the country that ended a vicious system of racial segregation 16 years ago to create a noisy, fractious, vibrant democracy," reported The New York Times. "Poking a finger in the eye of authority is part of the national DNA."

Quite right too, I thought. We're uppity for a reason - because we know our rights and we demand to have the freedom to exercise them. Which is also why, on the eve of the world cup, the SA media was filled with riveting tales of infidelity in the extended presidential homestead and no hacks were being arrested or newspapers threatened. We are indeed one of the most amazing tales of hard-won democracy on the planet. We're alright.

This, to me, is one of the most fascinating aspects of hosting an event such as the world cup - that we get to see ourselves through the eyes of foreigners, a highly instructive exercise for a country that is still new to finding its common identity as a nation, rather than defining itself along racial lines.

What's the world media saying?

So what has the world's media being saying about us? Well, many, including the BBC, plugged into that very search for a common idea of nationhood, with interviews ranging from Bakkies of Boksburg to Sipho of Soweto. I didn't spot on the BBC any seminal insights from the populace but then maybe that's too much to expect when touting a vuvuzela at the Bafana Bafana bus amid the crowds in Sandton.

Predictably, the vuvuzela quickly became the clarion cry for our national identity as foreign fans and players started complaining about the obnoxious piece of plastic. Notwithstanding former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya's insightful piece a few weeks back about the vuvuzela being a relatively recent addition to our soccer culture (he complained it has routed the traditional singing at soccer games), South Africans have rallied around it as a point of national pride. I can't count the amount of tweets and Facebook updates I've seen this week declaring: "Viva vuvu" and "Don't touch me on my vuvuzela" [and look at how many Twitter accounts or bios contain the word, or a simple search on the word vuvuzela - managing ed].

Just love the vuvuzela controversy

The international press just love the vuvuzela controversy as, frankly, it's a heap of fun and even the Daily Star, the British tabloid that warned a few months back of machete bloodbaths and earthquakes in SA during the world cup, had a whale of a time with the lead story on Tuesday, 15 June 2010, that began: "The England supporters' band declared war on vuvuzelas yesterday, telling African trumpeters: "Anything you can vu, we can vu louder!"

This good-spirited jingoism is in evidence in many quarters throughout the world cup coverage although Sky News reporter Emma Hurd may be unamused to discover that one smart Alec who took exception to her less-than-upbeat report on SA in the week before the tournament has created a bogus Twitter account in the name @emmaturd. Naughty send-up tweets such as "Off to get some shots of some poor black kids crying now that god-awful honking has finally finished. Splitting headache" had netted Ms Turd 669 followers by the time of subbing this piece on Tuesday afternoon, while Ms Hurd stood at 39. Soon there will be handbags at dawn.

And, in fact, this seems to be the general timbre of international press's view of this SA World Cup: that it feels different to any of the previous ones and that's because it's a load of fun.

Waving at the camera

Most declared the opening ceremony to be unpretentious and joyful - which it was. My favourite moment was spotting one of the dancers under that delightful dung beetle waving at the camera. The Guardian pronounced it to be: "An unusually limber, oddly unstilted and bafflingly entertaining introduction to South Africa 2010. There was something atypically loose about the whole spectacle... We learnt only one thing here: R Kelly is not as much fun as a dung beetle.

"...[I]t was a nice surprise to find the opening knees-up pleasantly unsynchronised after recent memories of the frightening mass-robotics of the Beijing Olympics," the paper wrote. "The people appeared to be actually enjoying themselves."

Even the feared British footie fans seemed to be keeping in the spirit of things on the day of the big grudge match with the US. Have a look at this story from The Sun , from which you may be forgiven for thinking that Rustenburg and the Poms were made for each other.

"I'm amazed that although so many of us were boozing from early in the day, there was no fighting or people lying in the gutter," Richard Rose, 45, from Birmingham, was quoted as saying. "It was like all of us were on good behaviour, and didn't want to let the side down... The African music and food, especially the barbecued meat, made it extra special."

"A melting pot"

Meanwhile police spokesman Vish Naidoo had this to say: "The England contingent can certainly put away a lot of beer, and by the time the match was over some of them were very merry indeed... But it was all done in good spirit. The different supporter groups mixed brilliantly with the South Africans. It was a melting pot."

One cannot underestimate the power of this kind of PR for our country and of the kind of coverage that the likes of The Boston Globe did in this beautiful picture essay of South Africa.

Let's hope the tournament stays this way but, even if there are trouble spots, it'll be OK. We don't have to be cardboard cut-outs for the rainbow nation. It's clear the world thinks we are a fun, friendly, fractious, interesting nation - and I think we can all give ourselves a break and start believing it, too.

Original article: Bizcommunity.

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