Reviving civic pride

2008-08-22 00:00

Many people have felt for some time that our city is well suited to be an event destination. We must concede, I think, that we are unlikely to capture the market as a holiday destination and that we must build on those opportunities that draw people to the city for other reasons. One of these is the presence of the provincial government and, in particular, the many meetings and functions that are arranged by various government departments. If there is any doubt about the proliferation of these events, one needs to be acquainted with the Royal Showgrounds, as we are, to appreciate just how frequently the facility is used for this purpose.

The greater advantage to the city of hosting big events lies in the fact that the participants and their supporting parties stay in our hotels and other hospitality establishments, eat in our restaurants and support our retail outlets. Thus, the value of events such as the Comrades and Dusi marathons, the Midmar Mile, the Royal Show and Art in the Park should not be underestimated. In addition to these, we have had some important cycling events thanks to local initiative and now we are on the calendar for a string of international events over the next few years. The World’s View Challenge will be repeated annually for the next three years during February, while these years will also see the city host the MTB World Cup (in April) and the BMX World Championships in August. Each of the World Cup events will be accompanied by week-long cycling programmes that will include national challenge events, development clinics, social gatherings and master classes.

So what? As happened when the World’s View Challenge was held this year, many will be oblivious to the events, or, at best, indifferent. We will leave it to the cycling fraternity to get enthusiastic and for the rest of us, we’ll moan about the roads being closed and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Apparently, when Germany hosted the 2006 Soccer World Cup the organisers and the government set out to change the global perceptions that German people are unfriendly and cold. Above all other priority objectives, this was the most important. The excellence of the infrastructure, the money lavished on facilities, the efficient organisation and everything else were incidental and would speak for themselves. But Germany wanted visitors to leave with a new perception of German hospitality and national character.

We, too, want our 2010 visitors to leave with changed perceptions, but these relate to the global tendency towards Afro-pessimism which is shared by too many South Africans. It’s a pity that this priority objective has been foisted on us in so far as we feel bound to prove that we can do it and do it successfully. We might be better off attending to our shoddy service ethic, but this will have to take second place.

As far as our emergence as a cycling city is concerned, we might see this as a plan hatched by the Msunduzi Municipality which does not belong to us at all. We might hold the belief that there is nothing in it for us and, therefore, it warrants no more than detached indifference. Do such feelings reflect the polarisation of our civic society in which the government and some of the people at least are divided by a chasm of mutual incomprehension and in which people of different cultures and races have minimal contact except perhaps in the course of their work? Or is it that civic pride has sunk without a trace? I wonder about this. I’m not sure whether institutional pride is generated by traditional rituals that tend to make it obligatory, as in a school, for example, or whether it is evoked as a genuine appreciation of recognisable excellence. Or is it simply a word that is used in speeches? We can “swell with pride” at our own good performances and those of our children, but can something as detached from us, but with which we engage so intimately, as the city, stimulate the same feeling? We may claim, justifiably, that the local government has done little to make us feel like proud citizens, but are we as quick to acknowledge that we have done little to be receptive to city improvement initiatives or contribute to them?

The cycling events will put us to the test. Without much effort on the part of all but the cycling fraternity and the municipal council and appropriate officials, we are to be on the world sporting stage with a marvellous opportunity to display our right to be called a capital city.

There are many South African cities with higher profiles that might have been awarded these events, but they are to be staged here. And we should be grateful and show our gratitude appropriately. They might even revive civic pride.

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