Friday, July 02, 2010

My World Cup Runneth Over

I was quite concerned before the World Cup started. When overseas friends asked me how safe it was for them to come to South Africa for this event, I always included a proviso that they should take great care at all times. It didn’t help that one of the biggest stories going around the UK pre-World Cup was that tourists were more in danger of being attacked by baboons than criminals, thanks to a really irresponsible journalist blowing a few incidents at Cape Point out of proportion. So after I’d disabused my friends of the fact that baboons didn’t exactly amble along Jan Smuts Avenue looking for a pale foreigner to attack, I did suggest that they shouldn’t advertise the fact that they were tourists. For example a dead giveaway would be to dangle expensive cameras around their shoulders or talk loudly on-state-of-the-art iPhones while walking down the street. I prayed that there wouldn’t be a rampant free-for-all by our unscrupulous criminals during these four weeks.

I shouldn’t have worried. Apart from a few opportunist in-house robberies in hotels and B and B’s, I’ve been overwhelmed by the welcome the people of our country have given to visitors. The excitement of seeing world class soccer has encouraged South African citizens to draw on our best behaviour. And when we are at our best, we are without equal in hospitality and generosity of spirit. Our very special Arch (Bishop) epitomises all that is good about this continent, jiving with joy to T.K. Zee during the opening ceremony.

I’ve also been made proud by South African technology. In spite of an internet speed which was beaten in an experiment with Winston the Carrier Pigeon in Howick last year (yes, really), South Africa has built the most spectacular stadiums in the world. Even the ubiquitously patronising British commentators conceded that the Calabash at Soccer City in Soweto – unbelievably, the site of the horrific Soweto Uprisings a few short decades ago - was one of the most magnificent stadiums in the world. Closer to my home, the Moses Mabida stadium in Durban with its exquisite arch curving into the sky is a marvel of technology. I could not be more proud that these were designed and made only with home-grown expertise. What I really love about these creations is that they show off African creativity in ways which have never been seen in the rest of the world. Only we could decide to build a stadium in the shape of a calabash. And only we could design an arch of such decorous elegance. For once, ‘Only in Africa’ is a cause for pride rather than denigration.

Our creativity also exploded in the spectator seats. The makarapa head gear has come into its own. It’s been the talking point of many commentators and photographs of fans showing off their individual flair have been compiled into a book. Again, I love the fact that South Africans have taken something potentially full of negative connotations, such as migrant mine workers’ hats, and created an inimitable statement of individuality. ‘Only in Africa.’ Again, in a good way. And I’m not even going to mention the vuvuzela…

My car is still covered with South African flags which I won’t remove. Even though Bafana Bafana were knocked out in the first round, we met their defeat with good grace because our boys played with heart and like a cohesive team. It’s good that the nation still supports them. Rather that, than the blood-letting greeting the English players as they head home to face the savage press.

Lastly it’s wonderful that South Africans are getting behind Ghana as the final representatives of our continent. I don’t want to tempt fate but I hope this means that the xenophobia we experienced a short time ago is a thing of the past.

Here’s hoping that the tremendous positives that have come out of the World Cup stay with us for a long time. We felt it. It was here. We showed the world we could do it. Now we must show ourselves that we can become one of the best countries in the world.

To be published in The Sunday Independent, 4 July 2010 and The Witness, 5 July 2010.