Ghanaians celebrating Ghana

2008-02-12 00:00

Now, I am a sissy. Everyone knows that. So what the hell was I doing in a place like Ghana? Well, you see, it’s my job. I am the person who has been given the somewhat onerous task of “running 2010” for the Western Cape. Well, not so much running as, hopefully, enabling lots of running about, kicking balls to and fro, and then hugging and kissing and jumping on each other’s backs and pretending to be an aeroplane when a goal gets scored.

So, I suppose that it is fair that I should be there to support our boys when they play in a major tournament, such as the African Cup of Nations, in Ghana. I don’t want to talk about our boys, nor about their performance, which, the serious soccer watchers tell me, was approaching adequate, even though they lost. I want to talk about Ghana.

I had to look it up on the map, so ignorant am I, and it took me quite a long time to find. But there it was, on the bulge of Africa — very west coast, very Equatorial. Very far away. It took a full six hours to get there from Johannesburg. We arrived late at night. Accra was still, however, buzzing. The airport had some interesting, but fairly incomprehensible marketing of the games. MTN, a major sponsor of the tournament, was everywhere. At the airport, on the roads and at the stadia. There were the flags of the participating countries nailed fairly haphazardly on trees and fences. It looked jolly, but unprofessional. But at midnight, who cares?

The opening ceremony was big on culture. To those of us who were not Ghanaian, it was once again, incomprehensible. First, people ran on to the pitch with large white horns, which they sort of waved backwards and forwards. This carried on for a very long time. Then other people arrived with umbrellas of various sizes and colours. Followed by one or two people on horseback. Then what looked like bodybuilders carrying a bed.

Everyone jumped around wildly. An aerial shot of the event showed us that some of the dancers had formed themselves into the shape of Africa. Then those with the umbrellas formed themselves into the flag of Ghana. I was sitting too low down to see any of this. It just looked like a whole lot of people running around to the beat of drums.

The next day, I had a date with Professor George Hagan, the head of the Cultural Commission in Ghana, an extraordinarily erudite, wise and likeable man. He explained that Ghana had, like most colonised African countries, simply been carved up with the stroke of a pen and the whim of the warring European powers. So, Nkrumah somehow had to make a nation out of a range of disparate tribes, the heads of which all wanted to be the biggest chief. So he started out by banning political parties, because these, in any case, were founded mostly on ethnic or tribal realities, and simultaneously, by accentuating the idea of Ghanaian belonging, above everything else. So, ethnic reality, tribal reality, language, colour — all of these were to be recognised. The existence and powers of the chiefs was to be guaranteed in the constitution, but they would not be permitted to behave in any way politically. So it was that all the differences were to be prized, upheld and valued, but only insofar as they enhanced being Ghanaian. The trick was, said Hagan, to create a Ghanaian national sense of identity which superseded tribal or ethnic identity.

And we certainly saw this in action. When the president entered the stadium, it erupted in cheers and shouting. People were deeply proud to be Ghanaian. Black and white. Yes, indeed, we saw many whites there as well, dressed up in Ghana’s national colours and supporting the national team to the utmost.

And I, who have always been deeply suspicious of any kind of nationalism, had to admit that there was something profound in what I saw. I could not ever imagine myself dressed in red, white, blue, black, green and gold (have I got them all?) — or painting my face those colours. I would call myself a patriot, but patriotism usually makes me cringe. I think the reason is that it usually goes with a kind of mindless lack of critique, a sort of blustering, mindless devotion, which almost always seems to end up in killing people. But I had to admit, that in Ghana, there I encountered something special and worth emulating.

• Michael Worsnip is programme manager for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, run by the Gauteng Department of Finance and Economic Affairs. He writes in his personal capacity.

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