Overcoming the victim mentality

2010-07-17 14:14

Different people draw different lessons from

the World Cup. For one person, the lesson may be never to argue with an octopus.

For another, it may be that South Africa is a nice place when its people work

together towards a clear objective. For me, a striking ­observation is this: The

World Cup was one of those levers that shifted people’s perceptions. In the

past, emerging nations would have been allowed to join the lads in kicking the

ball around on the grass, but the brains who pulled the strings up there in the

stadium would have been from Europe. Last Sunday at Soccer City, the physical

work down on the field was being done by Dutch and Spanish labour, while the

organisers in the suites were, what, South Africans?!

This shows how the image, and the self-image, of the emerging world

is changing. In the past, we saw ourselves as victims. Because people in

emerging countries were abused by the West (from slavery in West Africa to the

­concentration camps of the Boer War to the massacre at Amritsar to the

destruction of the Summer Palace in Beijing), the West felt guilty and we saw

ourselves as ­victims. And sometimes, the ­“victims” accepted aid from the


This led us down a slippery slope. Aid from the West begets at

least three evils. First, corruption. If my leader wastes my tax money, I hold

him accountable. But if he skims 10% off the top of that French aid package, and

awards the construction project to his cousin and organises a conference with

canapés, well, what can I say, it’s not my money.

Second, Western aid prevents governments in emerging markets from

asserting their rights in the international arena. We want another seat at the

IMF. We want Europeans and Americans to stop their stupid agricultural subsidies

so that our farmers can compete fairly with theirs, but you can’t beat up the

other guy while you’re standing on your knees holding out a begging bowl.

Besides, aid money is so puny. All international aid in the world

amounts to less than 1% of the $12 trillion to $14 trillion annual international

trade. So if all emerging markets toughen up their stance and negotiate deals

that give them collectively just 1% more of world trade, they’ll be better off

than begging. (And ­given the new deficits in the West, aid is going to

diminish, not grow.)

Third, Western aid undermines the self-confidence of entrepreneurs

in emerging markets. If your self-image is that of a victim, you simply don’t believe in ­yourself. You’re

certainly not ­convinced you can take on competitors from advanced markets and

beat them at their own game.

I’ve sat on the World Cup local organising committee (and its

predecessor) for more than 10 years. For me, the World Cup ­represented the

opposite of aid.

Danny Jordaan, Irvin Khoza, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others said

to the international community (which is what Fifa is; it has more members than

the United Nations): give us a chance to run.

When we lost the 2006 World Cup, I sat in a taxi coming back from

the fiasco and I remember Danny’s face. It was ashen, but ­determined.

Lest it be thought that eventual victory in the 2010 scramble was

gifted, the fact was that Fifa could no longer dare to let Europe hog a global

event all the time. And it’s not as if our neighbours were kind in the race for

2010 as not a single African vote was for us.

So, having obtained the right to host, South Africans of all

­pigmentation set shoulders to the wheel. They created the organisational

structures, they built the stadiums, amended legislation, policed the sidewalks,

swept the bedrooms and did what had to be done. The world was sceptical and,

well, now you know the story.

The most refreshing part for me about the World Cup is that there

was no begging. South Africans did it. We did not have to plead for aid from the

West with all its ­debilitating concessions.

We did not even have to endure Bono displaying pictures of

malnourished babies to get us help.

This week foreign visitors ­arrived back home from a visit to South

Africa and said to their neighbours: “Whoa! I was mistaken. Those people down

there are as good as us. Should we not ­invest there? At the very least, let’s

go for a holiday together and I’ll show you.”

China and India have broken out of victimhood. They walk tall and

assert their position as equals in the international community. They don’t want

to be bribed by anyone with spare coins, and they don’t want to be


Maybe we can do the same and become a great nation.

  • Koos Bekker is CEO of

    Naspers, a media group operating in 129 emerging markets. He serves on the local

    organising committee of the 2010 World Cup, but writes in his personal


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