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World Cup — SA’s top priority?

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When the final whistle blew at Soccer City there was massive celebration for Spain’s win but underlining that joy was also the nagging feeling of what would happen next. A few days after the World Cup we are staring at blank screens wondering what to do with our time. The football fever had gripped and managed our diaries but there is now this vast emptiness.
Already questions are being raised as to whether the 38-billion-rand investment by the South African government was worth it. Also underneath the euphoria is the threat of xenophobic attacks and the new mass movement of Zimbabweans and other immigrants from hotspots to areas of safety or home countries.
Well, as a soccer nut I would not quibble on the return on investment. Yes, it was worth it. But the people who question the whole effort have their arguments. Shouldn’t the money have been better spent on schools, hospitals and housing?
In a country that shows some of the worst inequality of all countries, can a government afford to spend resources on a sports tournament?
There is certainly merit in the argument that sixteen years after the first democratic elections, many South Africans have not yet materially benefitted from the government’s various programmes.
The education system has been an object of disastrous experiments, with the latest development being the abandonment of the twelve-year-old outcome-based education (OBE) curriculum. OBE was an expensive experiment that placed administrative burden on teachers and required access to resources and the Internet. Well, the resources existed elsewhere and the less said about Internet access in schools the better.
So the outcome is clear — thousands of mostly black learners fail their matric each year and join the ranks of the unemployed. Unemployment stands at 25,2% but when you break that down into demographics, then one realises how the South African dream is the young black person’s nightmare.
So given the above scenario and the dire housing and health access situation could one still justify an African nation, misleadingly called a middle-income country, hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup?
Is it not telling that in the aftermath of the World Cup, service delivery protests have flared up in parts of the country and communities are burning public facilities such as libraries and schools?
But I would still argue that there are a number of both tangible and intangible benefits that South Africa has gained. The country has demonstrated that it has the capacity to focus and deliver on a complex political, economic and engineering project as massive as the World Cup.
The country sought to build or rebuild ten stadia of international standards and they delivered on this and, more importantly, on time. Questions do arise as to whether many of the stadia will now become white elephants.
Most municipalities are already contracting private companies to manage these facilities and make them viable.
The country also invested in infrastructure. One of the legacies of apartheid was the woeful public transport system. In the months leading to the World Cup the government re-jigged the transport system (trains and buses) and came out with something not exactly world-class but certainly a much-improved system that they can build on.
The highways have been widened and it is now a breeze driving between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Negotiations still have to be finalised with the independently-run taxi businesses set up by black entrepreneurs when the apartheid government would not provide an adequate public transport system.
There is no doubt the daily commuter is feeling the benefits.
But the larger intangible benefits are also the most controversial. Leading into the World Cup litres of ink were spilled in newspapers about South Africa’s lack of readiness to host the soccer spectacle.
The Afro-pessimism was palpable and the British and Australian media went into third gear to discredit the country — crime was the bogeyman.
But South Africa proved the doomsayers wrong and instead provided a unique experience to all who dared to come to dreaded country. South Africa re-branded itself in various ways – it was a country with skills, warmth, hospitality and beauty.
The impact of stripping away stereotypes and myths about South Africa and Africa cannot be underestimated for a people still framed by The Economist’s famous headline a few years ago – “The Hopeless Continent”.
Of course it has helped to have something to give to the world. The vuvuzela became the defining symbol of the World Cup.
A dubious legacy, given my dislike of the sound but that plastic horn has taken the world by storm and it will certainly be the sound of Brazil 2011.
Ask the British and the Americans who are now ordering the horn by the tonne.
By hosting the World Cup and only showing a glimpse of Nelson Mandela, South Africa also demonstrated that it could now move out of the shadow of the great man and deliver. This is key in country that has for years been beset by the question of what happens when Mandela moves on.
For the white population, Mandela has been the reassuring nation-father who held the rainbow together. That anxiety is now likely to recede, given the patriotic outburst that accompanied the World Cup. President Jacob Zuma is likely to capitalise on that momentum and galvanise the nation to share a common vision. Now for me that is priceless.
So what is thirty-eight billion rands to build a nation?

Chris Kabwato is publisher of www.zimbabweinpictures.com

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