Ferial Haffajee

A pure delight of a country

2010-06-15 07:36

Finally, a country I recognise! Workers protesting at a stadium, bus-drivers on a wild-cat strike, tear-gas, disputes about just who ripped off the Uruguayans at their Cape Town hotel room...

If the good residents of Makhaza find a way of stringing up their toilets across the glory of Greenpoint stadium, then I’ll know its Mzansi for sho.

Until the strikes started, it had been like living like a Navi on Pandora, the utopia in Avatar before the miners struck. Perhaps we will slip back into it; I sure hope so. It is a pure delight of a country at the moment, but as ephemeral as a rainbow.

The flags started fluttering on cars and cladding our mirrors about three weeks ago, an off-shoot of the successful Football Fridays campaign to get the spirit loosened.

Growing up, the apartheid state used to make us stand to attention at school on May 31 to celebrate Republic Day. State oppression was represented in that blue, orange and white flag that our hapless principals attached to the flag pole and raised in the early winter morning.

It was a ceremony that forced home our servitude and since then, I’ve had a very ambivalent relationship with flags because they can be put to such nefarious ends.

Until this month, that is, as there are now three flags on my car and my vuvuzela is painted in national colours. How many do you have?

From those cold and soulless ceremonies, the anthem Die Stem also stuck in my craw. But on Friday, the joy of the moment got me to belt it out at the Soccer City stadium just before the whistle blew.

From the blue of our heavens, out of the depth of our hearts came a yellow nation.

Lessons to learn

While our tjatjarag ways are already oozing out from around the feel-good goo, what are the lessons to take from our ascent into unity and joy?

- This time, as Ranjeni Munusamy, wrote in City Press last Sunday, we had no figurehead like our founding father Nelson Mandela to instruct us in the ways of peace and of finding our common purpose rather than driving wedges into our divisions. It came from within communities and individuals, assisted by a cohering vision and represented by a beautiful game and a team of soccer players. While vibrant and successful countries often have wise leaders, the power of citizenry is a vital one.

- In 1994, it was the national election; this time it is the World Cup that provides a platform for a sense of nationhood. If it is well-presented and easily digested, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel’s plan for 2025 could provide a coherent national dream, but it is being hampered by politics and factionalism. It does not have the cachet or glamour of a World Cup, but clever campaigners in SA can help Manuel turn the beating of our biggest challenges (poverty, unemployment and poor education) into a national inspiration by showing how shared prosperity will make all of us safer.

- We are incredibly hard on ourselves and remain imprisoned by a lack of self-esteem, no doubt the legacy of apartheid. The Gautrain is running, the stadiums were finished in good time (with design and architectural writers all saying they are among the best in the world), there are transport glitches but on the whole, the start was electrifying. You would not have known this from reading the media, something which must surely make us hacks introspect.

More self-esteem

It is, according to reports, one of Fifa's most lucrative World Cups yet. This last point is a double-edged sword because we have given Fifa the highest number of guarantees of any previous host nation. This means that most profits are likely to go to Fifa rather than the national fiscus, possibly because we did not bargain hard enough.

My lesson has been that we need more national self-esteem; a trust in our abilities and a renewed devotion to meeting deadlines. If we can get stadiums built on time, roads redesigned and opened, if we can put thieves into jail in less than a week through the World Cup courts, surely we can apply the same principles and make our criminal justice system fast and easy; get textbooks into schools on time and complete infrastructure projects like sanitation with equal dexterity?

Zapiro’s drawing in the Sunday Times is probably right. He drew us as a nation ensconced on a couch watching the soccer, blowing vuvuzelas loudly. On the side of the drawing lies a broom that had just swept all our issues under a carpet for a month.

On July 12, I hope that we won’t simply lift the carpet to let it all spill out but take the lessons of an extraordinary month to build a legacy that goes beyond beautiful stadiums.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

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