We did it and can do much more

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

– Marrianne Wilson, as quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech as president in 1994.

How we had forgotten these words that founding president Nelson Mandela made famous at his inauguration – the poem, his perfectly chosen ­antidote to years of apartheid instilled inferiority?

Now, a World Cup later and 16 years after freedom, we are surprised at our own gorgeousness reflected back to us by a world that has declared South Africa to be über-cool. Surprised that we have pulled off a Cup that was streamlined and happy, one that put fans at the centre and ubuntu at its heart.

Surprised that the Argentinians, British, Canadians, Ghanaians, ­Spaniards to the Uruguayans and the Zambians flocked here and had a ­fantastic time.

It was, in the words of writer John Carlin, “a fusing of African ebullience with old European discipline”.

Swiss-based Fifa’s set of watertight rules and deadlines could not be pushed out as easily as we allow deadlines for schools, health facilities and other essentials to simply whoosh by.

It has been a Steve Biko moment of black excellence, of self-reliance and self-awareness.

We are Gladwrapped now, shiny in almost post-Cup glow, but surely we must reflect on why we (and I use we broadly for the naysayers crossed race and class) thought that hosting the World Cup was an ambition too far for a smallish country at the tip of Africa?

No, we would never build the Gautrain on time, nor finish the roads and transport systems, nor have the nous to secure the visitors, nor have enough rooms to put them up in and we would also, certainly, run out of food.

Inevitably, it would go to New Zealand, that pretty little country at the ends of the earth waiting in the wings as the Plan B. This can’t-do narrative drenched the run-up to the World Cup and has its genesis in the 16-year-old narrative that “they” (code for blacks and democratic governance) would mess it up.

The greatest legacy is the kissing goodbye of the theory of inevitable failure and also of inevitable racial division under a dominantly black leadership.
Now we are the Plan B, according to Fifa. With this moment, the bar is raised forever.

There has been a significant reinvestment in the commons – in public transport, public art, publicly owned stadiums, the taking back of public space. So, surely this must extend to an investment in public hospitals, schools and safety.

In the past 16 years, public has come to be associated with bad and decrepit and private with good and aspirational.

With this retreat into the private sphere, middle-class people have left it to the poorest communities who ­cannot live without the public goods to exercise voice and insist that inadequacy is simply not good enough.

The World Cup shows that this retreat from public to private is not an inevitable trend in developing countries.

While Fifa can act as a mafia and takes over countries where the tournament is hosted, its insistence on deadlines and ­efficiencies has shown delivery is not the impossible bogey we have turned it into.

We need not live with debilitating ­unemployment nor with chronic crime because we have people among us who can take mega-projects and big ambitions, bite them down into manageable chunks and get a job done.

Flag-waving patriotism can turn to ugly nationalism, but the ease with which foreigners have been welcomed and with which we have swopped identities and flags as our favourite teams have been kicked from the Cup means we can nix the xenophobia which ­besets us still.

While there is only rumour and no evidence of a post-Cup bloodbath, it is also quite true that poor foreigners ­experience a low-level war where death and fear are constants in the air.

We should keep the World Cup courts running to deal with any ­attacks.

The can-do spirit demands that our leaders don’t only declare belligerently that there is no threat, but warn constantly against attacks while using the World Cup backdrop as an example of how foreign can be friend.

We will continue to pay for this World Cup with no guarantee that the proceeds from vuvuzelas now on sale across the world will cover the costs. But the intangible benefits must surely quell our deepest fears of success.

As the poem Mandela made famous ends: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


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