Waking from the dream

2008-05-22 00:00

You know how, sometimes, your dream is so real, so extraordinary, so wonderful, or so weird, that to wake up from it is a really unpleasant experience? And how it lingers throughout the day — snippetsof it. Snatches. Vignettes. Pieces. Often difficult to piece together, or recreate any sense of coherence. All that remains — all that you try to recapture — are these curious bits and pieces. The flotsam and jetsam of the night. And compared to the fairly boring reality of the day, these dreams in all their vividness and colour and glamour make common living seem grey.

I remember where I was on May 15, 2004. (This is peculiar, because I often battle to remember where I was last week.) I remember I was fighting with a baby seat, getting a child out of my car, in a shopping centre car park, in Rivonia, Johannesburg. It was at that moment when suddenly the whole city erupted in a shout. A cry of joy, in unison. And then car hooters started sounding and music started playing. People were dancing in the car park, in a Rivonia shopping centre, in Johannesburg. South Africa had won the bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

It’s strange, when one looks back over one’s life, how little foresight one has into one’s own future. I had no idea then, that four short years later, I would be working in a job that is focused entirely on the Fifa tournament. I remember when I first moved to Gauteng from Pietermaritzburg, how someone in the village I had recently bought a house in, happened to speak in an offhand way about Sterkfontein and the fossils there. I had no idea that within an equally short time I would be working in the Cradle of Humankind. It’s very hard to predict what will happen in the future. There are so many twists and so many turns.

The dream of hosting the biggest sporting tournament in the world, on the African continent, was now a reality. We did not wake up the next morning to find that we had been collectively tricked. That it was all a beautiful mirage. We woke up the next morning with the blood thundering in our ears. We were it.

This was a dream — an African dream — come true. For the first time ever, the best of the world would battle it out on African soil. For the first time ever, we would be given the platform to show the somewhat disbelieving world what we are really worth. A glorious country and an extraordinary continent. It was our time — and our motto was to be “celebrate Africa’s humanity”.

And despite the usual naysayers, things seemed to be going pretty well. The stadia were being built, and would be ready on time. And the thousand, zillion other things, were all starting to fall into place.

And then one day, somewhere, some nameless, reckless, inhuman people decided that “foreigners” were the enemy. “Foreigners”, it rapidly became clear, meant Zimbabweans. And Mozambicans. And Nigerians. Oh, and Shangaans. Did I mention Venda? No? Well, them too.

Then it became anyone who is too dark. Anyone who we decide to deal with. Anyone we don’t like. Anyone — anywhere.

And soon, the world is staring dumbfounded at full-colour pictures of a man, burning to death before the cameras, because he was “too something”, “foreign”. And the crowd around the pyre, watching him burn to death and smelling his burning flesh, are laughing.

The press seem to dub this horror xenophobia. And somehow, that term seems to give it all some kind of sociological, academic credence. Some kind of stature. Yes, negative stature, certainly, but stature nonetheless. I saw an article in one of the Sunday newspapers where there was some deliberation on whether it may be better termed “racism” or whether that was something whites in-vented.

To my mind, it is not xenophobia, or racism, or even just plain crazy. It is savagery. It is blood lust. It is mob rule. And if anyone treading the corridors of power, anywhere in this country, thinks, for one single moment, that it isn’t going to destroy the African dream of hosting a successful 2010 Fifa World Cup, then they have lost all sense of reality.

But it is not simply the World Cup that is at stake here. It is the very essence of who we are. And if there is going to be anything left to celebrate of Africa’s humanity, this thing has to be dealt with and the perpetrators caught, tried and imprisoned. Because the reality that we are waking up to is a nightmare beyond any telling of it.

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