The World Cup, in its occurrence on African soil became more than a sporting event. It was as many African leaders and analysts have argued meant to be an affirmation of the capability of Africans to be able to host such a global event. The die had been cast earlier wherein general western opinion was questioning our ability to host such a global event. So from the beginning it is important to state that indeed by virtue of the fact that South Africa hosted the World Cup successfully is beneficial to the pursuit of a positive perception of Africa in the world. It essentially means that South Africa and in part the rest of the continent are no longer viewed as being literally part of the Conradian ‘heart of darkness’. Themes such as crime, poverty and corruption that had been dominant in the media were undermined somewhat by the spectacular ability of our South African colleagues to host this event.
This particular success must however not be viewed without criticism. A key issue to be pointed out is that the measurement of the success of South Africa and Africans to host this world cup was essentially done by those in the West. We hosted it with the deliberate intent of affirming that we are as organised and as technologically advanced enough to host this event. The measurement of success therefore was almost a demonstration of ‘the catch up in development’ game that is now a central component of development and modernisation theory. In other words, the success is not necessarily ours. It is a success of which we are unable to be proud of without the affirmation of what are clearly western standards of success measurement. We have passed a test that we never generated in the first place.
Because a number of us have, through information communications technologies, become what we call global citizens, we could not care less about the details of the World Cup and its full import. All we may have wanted was just the football. This is because we are all assumedly part of a global village which interacts with us in a manner that is north centered. And therein lies the problem.
The fact that Africa hosted the World Cup for the first time amidst great celebration and with world artistes singing songs on our behalf essentially points to the truth that the world cup was a large public relations exercise for the continent. The central message was that we too are capable of doing that which was done by countries in Latin America, Europe and South East Asia. We proved we are capable of listening to Fifa and following all of the relevant corporate branding and market related profit making schemes. We did this particular hosting within a patronising neo-liberal framework which to be honest, was literally like opening up Southern Africa to economic processes that we may rue the day we allowed to take hold in our societies.
The fact that we literally had to move our own people from their residential areas close to stadiums without compensation is tellingly depressing. The fact that tickets were controlled by Fifa to the effect that some of the football games were witnessed by half full stadiums is also indicative of the truth that we may have hosted the event but our hearts were not, to quote the late Morris Nyagumbo, with the people.
The sacrifices that were made to build the stadiums and all the attendant infrastructure shall indeed come back to haunt us. While I do not have statistical evidence as to how many people were displaced and how many are now under the threat of xenophobia, it is now apparent that these are real problems that we face both in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. And this in the immediate aftermath of such an ‘African’ event.
One might simply ask ‘are we not expecting too much of the Fifa World Cup?’ Well we have a right to expect a lot from something that occurred for the first time on the continually exploited soils of our continent. And at great expense too.
Our major problem is that we were too ahistorical about this World Cup. We did not use it to consolidate the regional and continental solidarity that stems from the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles that were waged in every corner of Africa. This point is arguable because one can easily say we should not mix football and politics. But this particular historicity does not seek to use football to score political points. Instead it is a solidarity that recognises the disadvantaged status of the continent vis-à-vis the rest of the world. We should have done our level best to negotiate with Fifa to ensure that tickets and participation of ordinary people was guaranteed. We should have ensured that the response to the excitement was cognisant of the fact that Africa is treated unfairly in the global economy either through the Bretton Woods Institutions or through the World Trade Organisation. The African Union and sub-regional organisations should have pitched both their history, current programmes in a people driven manner and not within the confines of archaic bureaucracy. They were muted, perhaps our fear of impinging on what they perceived to be South African sovereignty. Yet the tournament was being pitched by the media as an African one.
True enough, there indeed were benefits from the world cup. But these were largely related to a big public relations success for Africa and in particular for South Africa. The tournament in part demystified the myth of Africa being the Conradian ‘heart of darkness’. It made a number of us, upon viewing the magnificent stadiums proud to be African. But the problem is that the pride, if it relied solely on the hosting of this event, would only last one month seeing as no African team won the tournament. The World Cup therefore gave Africa a moment in the sun. What we must do is to pick up the pieces by observing one key lesson.
This being that the hosting of events is not what should make us proud to be African. Events such as these should be a given from now on. What is more important is for us to function with a clear understanding of the importance of people centered regional and continental solidarity. This is how we became a free Africa, an historical fact we must never forget.
We must guard against seeking to mimic those in the north merely by proving we can organise one month long sporting activities.
The opportunity was lost to reassert our unity, our common history and our common future. This is what we need to work on. And while we work on it, we must ensure that others that come after us do not lose that knowledge in desperation for a recognition we neither control nor define openly.
Takura can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org, this paper was presented at a Pamberi Trust Debate under the same title on June 14, 2010 at the Book Café in Harare.