Thank goodness the Madiba magic failed

2010-06-26 00:00

THE exit of Bafana Bafana from the World Cup comes as a welcome relief. It at least means that those of us who kept stacking up stubborn hope against good sense can swallow our disappointment and just enjoy the remaining games, without the threat of cardiac arrest every time a South African player fumbles a ball in the penalty area.

No doubt the naysayers are delighted, too. They will point at Bafana’s elimination — the first time that a host nation has not progressed past the first round, as they remind us with a chortle — as further vindication of their perverse but fervently held belief that South Africa never deserved to host the event.

It should, however, confound these Cassandras that Bafana’s short-lived but honourable participation in the Cup has delivered an array of positive outcomes, none of which have much to do with simplistic win-lose-draw sporting equations.

An obvious benefit has been an improvement in the national mood that goes beyond the sometimes corny attempts by a lightweight African National Congress leadership to emulate Nelson Mandela’s Invictus triumph at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

The Football World Cup has been a reminder that despite the separate lives that we might lead on a daily basis, we have a shared destiny. It has been a reminder also that a nation’s mettle is melded as much by shared adversity as it is by triumph.

Neither is the failure of the “Madiba magic” this time around to be rued. It is all very well for young children to indulge in magical thinking, to imagine that superstitious ritual can keep at bay the malevolent and usher in the good.

But by age 16, it is about time that the teenage new South Africa got to grips with the fact that magic is no substitute for the hard, unglamorous graft of planning and preparation. Merlin does not exist and while Madiba does, he cannot, at the age of 92, be expected to keep having to puff air into the flat tyre of the nation’s resolve because its owners can’t be bothered to carry out a basic maintenance routine.

Bafana’s blessed departure gives South Africa a chance to display maturity in another way, by not always expecting to be the centre of attraction.

Contrary to the predictions of the naysayers, the public’s emotional involvement with the World Cup will not end just because the national team is no longer on show. Almost everyone has a second-choice team to which they will now transfer allegiance.

Now disabused of the conceit that we were destined to be the star turn in our personal show, South Africans can get on with what the World Cup is really about — showcasing the country as a premier tourist and investment destination.

Although one wouldn’t think it from the hype, this event was always more about displaying hospitality and the country’s economic potential than it was about making it through to the top-16 knock-out round.

For the visitors it is about pleasure, for South Africa it is about business.

Jacob Zuma promised that his presidency would be characterised not by ideology, but by a hardheaded focus on measurable results. While this mostly has not happened, the World Cup is an exception.

The infrastructure has been created and, especially as regards transport and communications, it will deliver incalculable ongoing benefits.

If the hard-spending foreign fans can be cocooned from criminal mayhem for another couple of weeks, irrespective of who lifts the trophy, South Africa will be the real winner.

The next task is to carry the can-do attitude of South Africa’s World Cup preparations into areas such as job creation, land distribution, and the eradication of poverty and disease.

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