‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does… It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.’ – Nelson Mandela
During the remarkable post-match presentation ceremony, Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey bearing Francois Pienaar’s number 6, presented him with the Webb Ellis trophy. During his acceptance speech, Pienaar made it clear that the team had won the trophy not just with the support of the 60,000 fans at Ellis Park, but also with the support of all 43,000,000 South Africans.
I remember the day clearly. I was at a friend’s house and just before the game I popped out to get some supply snacks as it was clear that there were more people than expected for our final match viewing. As I drove through the streets of the neighbourhood, there was almost a ghostly silence characterized by a total absence of people driving around. I was the only twit not glued to his screen watching the Springboks make history against New Zealand. I wondered if ‘the rapture’ had taken place in a moment without warning, somewhere between leaving the house and getting into my car.
The spirit was electric, the joy was intoxicating and we sat glued to our seats. Everyone listened obsessively waiting to hear the final whistle that would confirm that our boys were the 1995 Rugby World Cup Champions. Finally the ref blew that whistle and we leaped into the air as if we ourselves were attempting another world cup high jump event.
As I stayed focused on the television in front of me, I noticed South Africans from every colour and creed, from every cultural and socio-economic divide, dancing and celebrating in the streets together. Wow! ‘This is the rainbow nation. This is beautiful!’, I thought to myself. For the first time in my life, I was proud to be a South African. Nelson Mandela and the Springboks had succeeded in orchestrating the most beautiful moment in South African history.
But how long did it last?
There is no doubt that the 1995 world cup united South Africans for the first time. But let’s be completely honest. The unity didn’t last very long did it?
The spirit of any emotionally charged event infects the group unconscious and people become single minded. This is a phenomenon well known to psychologists and those in the know. It’s like mass hypnosis on an unconscious level. The same can also be said of course for non-violent people who get caught up in mob violence. They don’t quite know what happened, but there they are on video, behaving like a lunatic. Completely out of character.
The reality is that after the event, our nation was still left with the same social challenges, surrounded by the same politicians playing their political games. The very unity that was created came crashing down once we realised that the mighty expensive sport event had not improved the lives of the struggling masses one iota. A handful of people made truckloads of money and the poor stayed poor. But one thing it certainly did do, was give us a brief glimpse of the beauty of unity and the power of a united nation!
The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be no different.
Recently we all heard how one man, Wayne Smidt would make R80 million rand from the sales of Bafana Bafana jerseys. Our new highways are mostly built, our airports and stadiums are done but we started the tournament R65 billion in the red. I can deal with all of this, I can. But in order to do so, I need to know how the masses will benefit from this in the next one or 5 or 15 years time. It’s quite simple it’s called a cost benefit analysis. Heard of it?
While we’re doing the sums on this question, one important factor must be added to the equation. One simple fact that most South Africans are not aware of. Late last year, dozens of poor people were forced to move to a temporary settlement called Blikkiesdorp, in Delft, north of the Cape Town. Later, Raquel Rolnick, special rapporteur on adequate housing for the UN, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Commission on the negative impact “mega-events” like the World Cup have on people’s right to proper homes.
She highlighted the case of the 20000 people evicted from the Joe Slovo informal settlement to make way for the N2 Gateway housing project. The project, her office believes, is no more than an attempt to beautify the entrance of Cape Town for the World Cup – a claim repeatedly denied by city of Cape Town and national government officials.
Then there were our nation’s pride, the “Red Ants” who violently removed foreigners from the streets for the sake of the FIFA cause, adding even more xenophobic hatred to innocent people mostly who are here legally with permission from the same government who now assaults them for being homeless.
Unemployment, already at 27%, is expected to rise as thousands of construction jobs disappear. In the run-up to local elections next year, many politicians are expected to exploit fears that immigrants are “stealing” jobs.
Then there’s the challenge close to my heart – addiction. An epidemic largely ignored by a country that profits from addictive products and services and fails to use taxes collected from them for prevention and addiction treatment. While xenophobic attitudes towards Nigerians increase, South Africans are kept distracted from the terrifying fact that our only drug enforcement agency SANAB was disbanded by our government in 2004. Statistics released last year by the UNODC suggest 30% of our population are problem drug users. And by the way, half the crime in S.A. is addiction related and 99% of the people living with an addiction have no access to treatment because it is unaffordable.
The legacy that our 2010 FIFA World Cup will leave is a short and superficial one. Yes we will all have had great time supporting our teams, but at what expense? Spending all that money for such a short high only to follow on to such a bad crash to reality is nothing short of addict behaviour. Two weeks later, we’re a lot worse off for it.
And don’t forget those toll roads being set up everywhere. When we’re coughing up extra cash every day for the next how many years because of the debt we incurred, will we still be so positive?