SA is happy for now

2010-06-15 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s hosting of the World Cup has been a resounding success so far. It has been the most emphatic testimony to the country’s capacity to host the world’s largest and most popular event. Fifa officials have publicly declared that preparations exceeded expectations and were better than what Fifa had witnessed before.

Of course, Fifa is understandably excited by this for it also means that the multinational corporation will pocket a handsome profit from this event, estimated at billions of United States dollars. This will come mainly from broadcasting and sponsorship rights, which have been made easier by South Africa’s excellent preparations.

So, a good performance by Bafana Bafana will be a bonus with South Africa already a winner for demonstrating exceptional hosting capacity. The country is to retain as a legacy of the World Cup the state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities built for the event. The economic benefits will be various and will last for a long time.

But the most enduring and profound legacy of the World Cup is going to be advances in nation- building and national unity. In the run-up to the kickoff, we have witnessed an overwhelming sense of national pride and unity among the divided people of South Africa. The outpouring of patriotism through the ubiquitous public display of the national flag and the spontaneous blowing of vuvuzelas is inspiring.

A country emerging from a grim past of injustices meted out on the majority by a minority with the systematic infusion of an inferiority complex needs to have its spirits lifted up from time to time. While South Africa has made remarkable strides en route from apartheid to democracy, the psychosocial effects of apartheid live on.

These effects emerge from time to time in the form of social anger directed at the state, business, the wealthy and at immigrants. Racial disharmony remains very high. Nowhere is this more acute than on many commercial farms. The recent elections also exhibited this tendency with political parties consolidating racial constituencies — the ANC’s loss of the coloured vote to the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape is the most obvious example.

We know from recent studies on national development that the size of the gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) are no longer a sufficient basis for measuring national prosperity. Many countries realise now that material progress must lead to an improved level of cont­entment among its people. Hence, alongside the above-mentioned measurements, countries are measuring gross national happiness (GNH) as well. This gauges the level of happiness and a sense of belonging in the national population as an indicator of national development.

If South Africa’s GNH were to be measured now, we would probably score among the happiest nations in the world. We would also find that there is greater harmony among various classes and races. A strong sense of belonging to South Africa would emerge. On this basis, we would easily say that the country has taken a huge step forward in its nation-building, a process the country has battled to catalyse in the past decade now.

The GNH will also equal the happiness we last witnessed in 1994, 1995 and 1996 when we had a string of events that helped inspire the country, namely the firstly democratic elections, the Rugby World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations. These helped to generate momentum for the nation to go through a difficult period of transformation successfully.

But according to the Ten Year Review of 2004 by the Office of the Presidency, the complex process of building a new nation had drained the nation of goodwill and national pride. It had become deeply divided. Average South Africans had a low sense of pride and belonging. Racial conflict and homophobia had increased.

The upsurge of patriotism and national harmony due to the World Cup is, therefore, a welcome moment of refuelling for a nation that still has a road to travel to full unity. It is just the medicine the nation needs to turn ubiquitous social anger into positive energy for pursuing development and stability.

Those who argue that the current national euphoria is nothing but a façade that has little effect on poverty, inequality and unemployment are missing the point. The patriotic feeling is not a substitute for measures used to improve material conditions of South Africans.

Development should mean simultaneously improving material conditions and enhancing the nonmaterial aspects of wellbeing, including happiness, a sense of belonging, and other parts of responsible citizenship. For this reason, the South African leadership should harness this euphoria to galvanise citizens and social partners to work harder to build a better South Africa in a better world. If we fail, we may not get another chance to get to this level of GNH again in the coming decades.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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