Zuma hopes for a World Cup starring role

2010-01-09 00:00

LAST year was a grim one for the country, although South Africa’s irrepressibly genial president appeared not to notice. So for the government to view the Soccer World Cup as 2010’s miracle cure for all national ills is a little naïve.

President Jacob Zuma hopes that the World Cup will somehow deliver the magical bonanza that will curb growing national fractiousness and simultaneously overcome the state’s incapacity to function effectively.

The World Cup is not merely a sports tournament. The African National Congress is counting on it delivering jobs, economic growth, unity, peace, national glory and international esteem.

It is like a gambler placing his or her entire depleted stake on one number for a final spin of the wheel.

This is not to gainsay the considerable benefits that the cup will bring.

The cup is not, however, the panacea that the government is pining for — a slow-motion rerun of the divinely scripted 1995 Rugby World Cup, which saw Nelson Mandela unite a fearful and divided nation, albeit to have his gains squandered by his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma has more than once said that he would like to follow in the footsteps of Mandela, “to lead the country towards the realisation of Madiba’s vision of a truly nonsexist, nonracial South Africa, united in its diversity”, as he put it in his presidential acceptance speech last year.

He wants that Invictus moment, with him usurping Morgan Freeman as the iconic Mandela.

In his New Year message, Zuma called on the nation to “revive the unity and patriotism” of the Rugby World Cup, and to “renew our commitment to national unity and nation building”, putting a “culture of negativity” behind us.

These are admirable objectives, but the Madiba moment is long gone and the Soccer World Cup is probably not enough to put back the fizz of optimism into what is now very flat Champagne.

The “culture of negativity” is, in 2010, no longer the preserve of the white community, as it was 15 years ago.

It is widespread across all ethnic groups and results directly from a government that puts the ANC ahead of the national interest.

Every state institution has been bent to serve the ANC through the deployment of party cadres who often have proved to be incompetent and corrupt.

The conflation of state and party is so complete that no one in the ANC finds it chilling or even incongruous when the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority says that he will take his cue directly from the office of the president.

No ANC cabinet minister or head of a parastatal has yet been booted out for poor performance. All that is required in a top job is loyalty to the ANC faction that made the appointment.

Glorious moments are important for national morale, but in the arduous task of building a nation they can’t substitute for hard graft. Nor can they make up for vacillating leadership or for lack of moral courage.

Zuma cannot definitively be dismissed as a poor leader, for no other reason than he has been no leader at all.

If his laissez faire approach works and he manages to hold both party and nation together, one might yet admire his notional presidency.

But in the interim, he presides over an alliance that is creaking with strain because he will not spell out unambiguously what ideological course his administration will follow.

And he presides over a nation that is faltering, divided and poisoned by race hatreds which are openly fanned by favoured functionaries in the ANC.

Disappointingly for Zuma and South Africa, there is no Invictus moment looming.

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