Life after the World Cup

2010-07-02 00:00

THE Great Event has run more than half its course. The country has come alive and is revelling in the euphoria of being the host nation. Prophets of doom have been proved wrong and there is much to celebrate about our national ability to rise to the occasion. My sense of national pride at the match spectacles, the overt warmth of our people, the kudos of visitors and the widespread acclaim afforded to our country has exceeded my own expectations. I am neither a football follower, nor a flag-waving patriot, but I have been swept along with other South Africans and share in the national pride. We have shown considerable big match temperament, a good deal more than some of the star players who have been overshadowed by lesser-known team-mates.

The nation’s justification for pouring so many resources into this exercise lies in the matter of legacy. Until recently, it is the material benefits that have been highlighted as the returns on investment. Stadia, roads and airports will serve the nation for years to come; football fields and development programmes will produce a better national team and sporting opportunities for deprived youth; the South African Football Association has millions to spend on building strength for Brazil in 2014 (and for personal rewards, perhaps). Many more tourists should be expected to visit in future years, thereby fulfilling our potential as a top destination. I get a sense that I am not the only one looking beyond these things. Special World Cup courts have achieved standards of performance way beyond the norm, even though some of their cases have been comparatively trivial. (Wandering into a team change room is hardly a crime to make headlines in the normal course of events.) The question is: will this level of efficiency be extended across the justice system and sustained? Or will we revert to the default position of indolence and indifference? Similarly, will the South African Police Force (SAPF), which appears to have excelled in what Fifa expected of it, do as much for the South African public when Sepp Blatter and the visitors have gone? According to the General, a fortune has been spent on overtime and that this will not be affordable in the normal course of events. But it has been more than money, surely. SAPF officers, in common with engineers of all types, project managers, administrators and workers have risen to the occasion admirably. They have shown a level of competence and dedication that many had not recognised in contemporary South Africa. Having displayed their abilities in such convincing fashion, we should expect a raised level of performance in the years ahead.

On the other hand, the cynical and opportunistic use of the World Cup by trade unions has been disappointing. What has been playing out over the past couple of years, and notably at World Cup time, is the preparation of a legacy that is both understandable on the one hand, and economically destructive on the other. Our economy cannot afford the demands that are being made. At issue is not just an acceptable annual increase, but a deliberate point-making exercise to highlight the “unequal” society. In the corporate world it is often the perks made available to executives that define levels of remuneration and the differentials among them. Eskom is reported to have spent over R12 million on football tickets, which, in the perception of workers, were for the wives, girlfriends and children of executives. I am struck by the ironies: Eskom can afford this amount, despite its plea for unacceptable high increases over the next three years, it has a former CEO who would have earned up to R85 million had he remained, the workers demanded (initially) an 18% salary increase and housing allowances of R5 000, and have threatened to strike against Eskom increases when the World Cup is over.

The very acme of the World Cup’s influence, however, has been the way in which a nation of people, still divided by history, has unified in support of a mediocre football team (whose efforts are to be applauded, nevertheless) and the country’s status as the host. One hopes that this spirit of unity runs deeper than that of fans supporting a team and that our country will continue to reflect it even after the party is over.

• Andrew Layman is the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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