A year after: one perspective from the ground

I passed a few games at the 2010 World Cup with my friend Andrew Bonfiglio; we even shared the experience of trying to leave Soccer City after the opening match between South Africa and Mexico.  Andrew  has lived in South Africa since the World Cup kicked off a year ago and he was kind enough to provide his perspective on the last year in the country, post World Cup fever.  Thanks Andrew!

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By Andrew Bonfiglio

A few weeks ago now, June 11, 2011 marked the 1 year anniversary of the World Cup’s first match on the African continent as South Africa took on Mexico in the opening game Soccer City (now Nedbank stadium) . For me, it was very nostalgic. Just one year ago, after moving to South Africa only 6 weeks prior to this momentous occasion, I woke up at 7am planning on doing some work in the morning in time to watch the game in the afternoon. To my surprise, a journalist friend of mine called me about 7:15am and upon answering the phone, I heard, “Drew, how much do you love me?” I was thrown for a moment, but quickly responded, “It depends on what you say next.” Noah (www.noahrosenberg.com) had just scored us two tickets to the opening match. I couldn’t contain myself. We rushed around from 9am – 12:30am getting gear to wear to the match and picking up the tickets. Fifteen KM and 3 hours of traffic later we arrived at Soccer City and walked to our seats just before the opening whistle. Fifty five minutes later, South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the tournament. The crowd erupted and the excitement was nothing like anything I had every felt or seen before. That set the stage for the rest of an amazing Cup and gave me my fondest memory of 2010. You couldn’t help but cheer for South Africa – both the team and the country – to have a successful tournament.

So here we are, one year later. I returned to South Africa less than three weeks ago, after a two month break back in the US, to run my company’s leadership development and social impact program (www.emzingo.com, video). The vibe was certainly different. June 11, 2011 was a bittersweet day for South Africa. For many, it was a day of mourning as Albertina Sisulu – the great anti-apartheid activist, husband of the late activist and leader Walter Sisulu, and good friend of Nelson Mandela – was buried after passing away the week before. However, Sisulu was 92 and had lived an amazing and influential life that helped shape today’s South Africa. I certainly believe the day was a celebration of her life and accomplishments more than a day to mourn and I personally believe she would have wanted the country to celebrate the anniversary of the WC and be proud of what South Africa accomplished.

And many did. SABC showed several matches as well as a World Cup special on Saturday night. Articles in the local papers and stories on the local radio stations remembered last year fondly. The majority would love to turn back time and relive the excitement of last June (which I can understand – winter is much better with the World Cup).

I don’t know if the investment SA made in stadiums, roads, additional security, etc… will give an ROI that economists would approve of, but I must say, the people I talked to and the South Africa I have seen in 2011 thinks it was worth it. My colleagues and friends are proud to be part of a nation that hosted such an exciting and successful event. They feel as if they have proven themselves. The people are more confident and believe they can compete on a global scale in just about anything. South Africa’s membership in the exclusive BRICS club and President Zuma leading the conversation about a “Cape to Cairo” trade agreement are two recent examples of how SA is continuing propel itself into the global spotlight.

For me, though, one year later, the most exciting and important outcome of the World Cup is that the people I’ve spoken to feel closer and more united as a country. South Africa has its challenges and is far from being a utopia, but I for one feel lucky to have been part of an incredible 2010 World Cup and to continue to get to know a country with so much heart and potential.

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A short video on the Emzingo program that Andrew started up in South Africa.

An Update from the Ground: Half a Year Later

My friend Adam Boros, who graciously submitted guests posts on the World Cup has done it again.  Below he provides his on-the-ground perspective on the post-World Cup South Africa, a little more than seven months following the end of the historical event.

By Adam Boros

It has been just over six months since Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final in South Africa. When I am asked how the country has changed in this half-year (admittedly a very short period of time), I find it difficult to come to any sort of meaningful answer. But the nation certainly has changed.

Just across the Nelson Mandela Bridge in downtown Johannesburg, an extra size billboard is perched above the buildings, reminiscent of a welcome sign. Written over the South African flag, it says very simply, ‘Today, This is the Greatest Country in the World.’ TV commercials, radio spots and newspaper advertisements (similar to the one pictured here) like this sprouted all over South Africa in the months leading up to the tournament last year. They captured perfectly the intense patriotism and joy of the day. Now, the Joburg billboard is one of the few remaining and it speaks to both the good and the challenges of post-World Cup South Africa.

First, the challenges. Many around the world will have read that almost immediately after the final whistle blew at Soccer City, there was a nationwide public sector strike. More than a million teachers (as well as some nurses and other civil servants) marched, picketed and protested for three weeks, demanding a wage increase. The strike meant even more time out of schools for students following the scheduled (but longer than normal) five-week schools closure during the tournament. For a country where education is perhaps the biggest challenge and priority, this was problematic to say the least. In addition, the strike did untold damage to the profession of teaching in the country, as educators were depicted by the media as selfish, undisciplined and (in some cases) violent. The merits of the strike can be debated, but it cannot be denied that the promotional marketing and lavish spending related to the World Cup contributed to teachers’ belief that the ‘Greatest Country in the World’ should do better by them. With billions of Rand being spent on stadiums, new roads and other infrastructure, it did not seem overly impudent to ask for a raise.

The billboard over Johannesburg also symbolises, of course, the media and its role in the country. Unfortunately, the sign’s overtly positive message – as well as the optimistic, giddy tone of media coverage during the tournament – are now distant memories. Any hope that the beauty of that month would have a long-term effect on reporting in the country has been thoroughly dashed. The independence of South Africa’s media (which has come under some level of threat in the last six months) is one of the country’s truly wonderful elements. But the reversion to extremely biased and negative coverage of the country is disappointing. I find myself avoiding newspapers again, uninterested in reading about corruption (the latest obsession), crime and lack of service delivery. It seemed that the media was even unwilling to accept as a fantastic development the significant improvement in matric pass rates this year (given the disruptions noted above). Instead, there was an insistence that the ‘books had been cooked’ and, in essence, improved educational marks were ‘too good to be true.’ At times, one wonders if the ‘Greatest Country’ was nothing more to the media than decorative words for the sake of foreign tourists.

Fortunately, it was more than embellishment to the vast majority of South Africans. Beyond the wonderful new highways, the high-speed train that will be fully operational in the next month, the rapid bus public transport system that continues to expand throughout Johannesburg, the world-class stadiums (some of which are sadly already white elephants), the huge amounts of money generated by the tournament and the increased global respect for and interest in South Africa, the most important benefit of the tournament has been psychological.

South Africans are generally patriotic. There is something special about this country – how it symbolises forgiveness, progress, reconciliation and so much else in the world – and the people know it. The World Cup only deepened this conviction, showing the nation that it could effectively host the world with class and flavour.  But more significantly, the World Cup demonstrated to everyone who lives here what the South Africa of our dreams looks like. It is a country where crime is minimal. It is a country where black and white laugh, dance, sing and celebrate side-by-side, hand-in-hand. It is a country where most things works the way they should, when they should. And it is a country that can confront and solve its problems together, efficiently and effectively.

This is no small thing in a country with as many pressing challenges as South Africa. Poverty and unemployment levels (especially among the youth) are unsustainably high. Skills shortages continue to plague the country. The education system is deeply flawed (even with the significant increase noted above, more than 30% of grade 12 students did not pass their final exam last year). Corruption levels are increasing (although exaggerated by the media) and crime remains a huge difficulty. But now, perhaps more so than at any other time since the euphoric days of 1994, South Africans believe they can solve these problems. Of course there is still pessimism and of course there are depressing, even terrifying statistics one hears on a regular basis. But I believe that on the whole, the nation’s mindset is different. We have not only seen what can be, but have seen that we can make it happen. Ten years from now, South Africa will be a completely different country, and I believe it will be a better one. That audacious billboard hanging over Johannesburg’s skyline is just one example of how the World Cup, in both subtle and explicit ways, will play an important role in this transformation.

Guest Post: A View From the Ground, After The Games Have Finished

My friend, Adam: gracious host, South African transplant (going on 5 years now), and all around awesome person, has contributed many guest posts over the last year in the build up to the World Cup. You’ll also notice him in the photo album posted earlier.  Now he has offered his thoughts on the perspective on the ground, 5-6 weeks since the games have ended.  Look to Adam to provide some additional perspective on the feeling in the country 6 months, and perhaps even a year from now. Thanks Adam! You’re the B-E-S-T best!

By Adam Boros

Johannesburg, South Africa – Despite the fact that July 11th was only five weeks ago, it seems like months since the World Cup ended. The only obvious reminders of the tournament are the odd posters that have yet to be taken down, the few cars on the road that still fly a national flag or the stragglers that stubbornly continue to rock their Bafana jersey on Fridays. At times this can be depressing – the speed with which the tournament came and left was incredible – but having been here for those 31 days was truly special. It was a month that I will never forget for as long as I live.

I moved to South Africa just a few months after the country won the right to host the World Cup. So my entire time in South Africa has, in some way, been shaped by the tournament. For six years, I watched as preparations were made. I saw the stadiums go from nothing to magnificence. I dealt with the traffic caused by the amazing amount of construction being completed. I heard the nay-sayers (both here and abroad) telling the country it could never be done in Africa. But more than anything, I felt the excitement of the tournament steadily grow within me. It would be an exaggeration to say that I was obsessed with the World Cup, but the amount of time and energy I spent thinking about it could certainly have led to unreal expectations.

In fact, it did. I had totally unrealistic expectations of what the tournament meant and would be. I not only expected to have one of the best months of my life personally, I also believed that the Cup would change South Africa for the better, forever. And the most amazing thing, as I look back, is that all of my expectations were met. The World Cup was everything I ever hoped it would be and more. It was beautiful.

The Morning of the Opening

From a personal side, I have never had so much fun for such an extended period of time. Imagine spending a month of your life where you never have to ask yourself even once: ‘What should I do today’? There was always something happening, whether at and around the stadiums, at bars and restaurants or at the fan parks. And most importantly, everyone I came into contact with was, very simply, happy. This is the best thing about the World Cup. Thousands of people from all over the world converge on a country for a month. They come to watch football, and to sing, and to dance, and to laugh, and to meet new people, and to be happy. There is no way to describe the feelings of love, friendship and positivity that saturated South Africa during the tournament. By some accounts, crime in Johannesburg dropped by 60-70% during the month. I repeat: in one of the most dangerous cities in the world (by some measures), a soccer tournament led to a 60-70% drop in crime. There are many reasons this happened, including an increased police presence, tight security and extremely efficient World Cup courts. But there is no doubt in my mind that much of this drop can be attributed to the simple fact that the World Cup brings out the best in people. It connects people – human to human – in a way that I have never seen.

Before US-Algeria

This was never more clear to me than before the US-Algeria group match in Pretoria. I was somewhat apprehensive about how the dynamics between the Algerian and American fans would play out. Given the United States’ relationship with the Muslim world over the past decade, I had my doubts that the same fun-loving competitive spirit I had seen would persist. But these doubts were almost immediately allayed as my friends and I – in full American regalia – strolled past a group of about 50 Algerian fans on the street. Several of the Algerians ran over to us with their cameras and we ended up taking group photos. In most cases, we were not able to communicate beyond a few basic phrases, but the warmth with which we interacted was undeniable. Inside the stadium, we sat next to a group of 20-something Algerians and spent the entire match talking trash. Thoughts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ‘on terror’ could not have been further from any of our minds. We were just a bunch of football lovers, proudly representing the places of our birth.

Pride. This was another wonderful component of the World Cup. I am by no means ashamed of being American, but given the actions of our Government and behaviour of our politicians since September 11th, it has been a difficult time to look on my country with pride. During the World Cup, however, I was intensely, proudly American. I painted my face. I wore my custom-designed makarapa as often as possible (one of the better investments I’ve ever made by the way). I sang songs and screamed ‘U-S-A’ as loud as possible. It was a joy. And I am sure that people from other countries felt the same joy. Whatever hang-ups or misgivings or concerns or problems one might have with their country, it didn’t matter. We just wanted to see our boys win. (As a side note: when we scored in injury time to beat Algeria and go through to the second round was one of the most ecstatic moments of my life, as captured pretty much perfectly by this picture.)

After US-Algeria

Add to these experiences and emotions the fact that more than ten of my friends from around the world came to visit, and it was unforgettable. For several days after July 11th, I had trouble concentrating or motivating myself to get to work. I had post-World Cup depression.

The personal impact that the tournament had on me, however, was nothing compared to what it meant for South Africa. Several weeks before the opening match, I read an editorial by a South African guy who had emigrated to England several years ago. I do not remember much of the article, but at the end he explained why he had finally decided to come home for the World Cup after months of debate. He said that he was coming ‘to see the South Africa of my dreams.’ That is exactly what I saw. For those who have spent any significant time here, it is obvious that the country faces countless, incredibly complex problems. Most of these problems, in one way or another, are connected to race, inequality and the legacy of apartheid. South Africa remains deeply divided, with extraordinary amounts of ignorance, fear, mistrust and outright hatred existing across race and class lines.

So as I watched Mary Fitzgerald Square in downtown Johannesburg slowly fill up on June 11th with Blacks, Whites, Indians and Coloureds all wearing South African gear, it was clear something special was happening. And from the moment that Siphiwe Tshabalala scored against Mexico and the entire country exploded, there was no denying that, perhaps for the first time, South Africa was truly united. For the rest of the month, long after Bafana had been eliminated, South Africans of every colour and income-level celebrated together and hosted the world in spectacular fashion.

It was this hosting that I believe will have the longest-lasting, most important impact on South Africa. On the last night before one of my friends left, I asked her how she felt about her time in the country. She told me that before arriving, she did not even want to come. After reading horror stories about crime and violence in the European press, as well as God knows how many afro-pessimist articles, she was not looking forward to the trip. She thought she would be constantly worried about her safety and afraid to do much of anything. What she found could not have been more different, and she cannot wait to come back.

It is people like her that will impact South Africa for years to come. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flocked into the country (by some estimates, more than a million). They pumped more than a billion dollars into the economy and many will return at some point in the future. More importantly, the vast majority of them went home and raved about the people they met and the places they saw.

This, one person at a time, will help to change not only the world’s perception of South Africa, but of the continent as a whole. That will be the greatest legacy of the 2010 World Cup. Africa successfully hosted the largest sporting event in the world (for those of us who saw the support for Ghana first-hand, there is no doubt that this was Africa’s Cup). And along the way, millions – if not billions – of people saw that Africa is not about war or starvation or Big Men or crushing poverty. Those things, of course, do exist and will continue to hold the continent back. But Africa is actually about laughter and kindness and smiles and music and noise and good food and treating people as they should be treated. And it will never be the same after the World Cup.

See you in Brazil in 2014.

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Thank You!

Image from TMCnet.com

Thanks to everyone who helped make this blog what it is.  The blog started as a personal interest.  But I soon found out there was a community of people who were thinking about some of the same questions.  And since I started, this blog has had over 84,000 page views. Not my intention at all from the start, so I’m just absolutely amazed and pleased that it was able to reach some folks and help others connect.  Truly, the support, contributions (written), encouragement, and connections made over the last year and half have been amazing.   And I hope that it continues far into the future.

So I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge and say a resounding THANKS to the folks below (in no particular order).  I can’t thank you enough; you’ll always have my admiration and gratitude!

Apologies in advance for anyone I may have left off.

Gary Benham, Head of Communications, Pretoria: Foreign & Commonwealth Office. You can read his blog here: http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/benham/

Steve Fleming, CEO of Kick for Life, an amazing charity organization.

Adam Boros, friend, gracious host in South Africa, and amazing on-the ground correspondent. Read his many guest posts on this blog by clicking on the “guest post” section to the right.

Jamie Tosh, social entrepreneur, world-changer and co-founder of Kick4Change.  You can follow him and the company on twitter @Kick4Change

Andrew Bonfiglio, fellow Cornell alum, guest post contributor, and fellow party-goer in South Africa.  You can read more about the company he started and launched in South Africa, Emzingo, at www.Emzingo.com

Caitlin Halferty, friend, grad-school classmate, guest post contributor, and IBM corporate service corps member.  

Mike Herman – Founder of Compton United.  Check out their site here and follow him on twitter @urbanfocus

Aykan Gulten, formerly with Nike’s Sustainable Business & Innovation team in Amsterday. You can read his blog here and follow him on twitter @AykanGulten

Mathew, founder of www.dzcus.com. You can check out his world cup related site here and follow him on twitter @mathaix and @dzcus_worldcup.

Sab Singh, NYU professor and principal at the Kaur Group, and editor of Sports Doing Good. You can follow the blog on twitter @sportsdoinggood

David Connor, CSR guru, fellow football junkie, and CEO of Coethica, a CSR consultancy. You can follow David on twitter @davidcoethica

Elaine Cohen, CSR and reporting guru, and person who got me started on twitter. Thanks Elaine! You can read her blog, CSR and Reporting here. And you can follow her on twitter @elainecohen

Tracey Savell Reavis, journalist and guest post contributor.  Check out her company, Philanthropy Scores

G Kofi Annan, Africa, branding, and trends thought leader: Check out his site Annansi Monitor follow him on twitter @GKofiAnnan

Ken G Kabira, branding expert, arsenal supporter and friend

Minesh Parikh, friend and media planning guru. Follow him on twitter @ideas_economy

Norman Brook, Brook Sport and Leisure. Read his blog here http://brooksportandleisure.wordpress.com/ and follow him on twitter @BrookSport

Marco Puccia, social entrepreneur and CSR journalist.  Had a lot of fun doing the video interview with him which can be found here. Check out his site and follow him on twitter @marcopuccia

Dave Tait, social entrepreneur, football follower, South African, neat guy.  Follow him on twitter @taitdave and on the Business Fights Poverty Ning

Aman Singh, Editor of Vault.com’s CSR Blog, In Good Company.  You can follow her on twitter at @VaultCSR

My wife, Amanda, all-around awesome

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Guest Post: Kicking Malaria Out of Africa

By Andrew Bonifiglia

June 13, 2010 – Johannesburg, South Africa

Kicking Malaria Out of Africa

There are plenty of good causes that will benefit from the hype, sponsorship, and promotion that the World Cup brings to South Africa. One in particular caught my interest; United Against Malaria (http://unitedagainstmalaria.org/).

With a mission to “Kick Malaria Out of Africa” the organization is using the World Cup as a platform to promote malaria prevention and treatment. Like HIV/AIDS, malaria is not only a social and health issue, but an economic one. Employee sick days, lost productivity from those infected with the disease, and employee vacation or unpaid leave due to family members having the illness all impact a company’s bottom line. 850,000 people die from malaria each year[i]. When you take into consideration the points I just made, that can add up to millions upon millions of Rands. And please don’t think I’m cold hearted. The reason the economics are so important is because organizations like United Against Malaria, coupled with the reach and financial resources of governments and large corporations operating in Africa, can win the fight against malaria. Behavioral change is the ultimate goal. The population at-large needs to understand the risks associated with malaria, how it can be prevented, and most importantly, MODIFY behavior to mitigate the chance of becoming part of the statistics. Hopefully, the amount of coverage the World Cup draws to UAM and malaria in general will be the impetus to an Africa where malaria has been “kicked out.”

And just a final comment; the push to reduce the number of malaria cases in Africa is not a new thing. However, the paradox is that it is a completely preventable disease and one that can be treated (much easier than HIV/AIDS). With that in mind, I think it is a cause worth fighting for and one where the goal can be realized if all of the stakeholders come together.

[And a quick thank you to Celia Deitz who is working for United Against Malaria and was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time to learn about the great work she and the organization are doing] [i]

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34465&Cr=malaria&Cr1=

Guest Post: Day 1 and Some Post-World Cup Impact Predictions

I recently got in touch with Andrew Bonfiglio whom I put in touch with my friend Adam Boros, who has provided some guest posts from South Africa.  Andrew has recently moved to South Africa and started a leadership and development firm.  Below is a guest post he provided on his thoughts on the post World Cup impact on the country and region.

And then there was 1: Post-World Cup South Africa

Each of us has seen both sides of South Africa in the news over the past few weeks and months. There are pictures of the most destitute areas of the outer rims of Johannesburg in one article followed by the beauty of Table Mountain in scenic Cape Town in the next. You’ve heard tales of angry street vendors who believe the World Cup will have a negative impact on business countered with positive remarks from excited shop owners who are already starting to see the influx of tourists boost business. I have come across stories of people who are too poor to attend the games even though they live, literally, within walking distance from Soccer City only to hear other stories from the same township of how bringing the World Cup to Africa is inspiring and encouraging whether they can attend the games or not.

My question for you; what happens after the thousands of tourists leave? There are no more stadiums to construct, foreigners to fill the guest houses, nor resources to keep security personnel employed in the long run. Poverty and incredible income disparity will persist, at least in the immediate future. However, I think these are more of logistical items.

When I ask, “So what’s next?”, I think more about the impact on the people and spirit of SA.

Well, I can’t say for sure what will be happen, but I have seen a few shining starts that give me hope that the World Cup is just the beginning of a better and brighter South Africa. Here’s one great example. Two friends of mine are working on a Voluntourism company that will use empty schools house hostels, guest houses and home additions that people built leading up to the World Cup – all in Soweto as housing for foreign visitors wanting to experience South Africa – real SA, not tourist SA – in a different and meaningful way by volunteering for a local social impact organization as part of their vacation. The concept is not new, but the application is definitely unique. This is the type of ingenuity and inspired thinking that I hope permeates the rest of the struggling areas in and around Johannesburg and other South African cities.

The World Cup is a chance for the people of the country to change their mentality a bit. A shift to a “Yes, we can” (that was not an intentional Obama-ism) attitude after South Africa shows the world that it was wrong to doubt whether an African country could handle the biggest sporting event in the world.

And on the other side, I hope that more than just a few of the world travelers that pass through these great cities get a chance to see all that SA has to offer; the good, the bad, the ugly. When the world really understands the truly amazing and inspiring nature of the human element here, sees the economic possibilities that lie ahead, and at the same time witnesses the incredible amount of need here, I can only hope that more attention will be drawn – and thus more solutions provided (notice I said solutions, not aid) – to the social and economic issues in South Africa. The World Cup is more than a soccer tournament; it is a chance for the people here to use the momentum as a tool to create positive change within their communities and an opportunity for South Africa to improve the worldwide reputation of this incredible country so that it can reach the potential Tutu and Mandela saw when coining it the rainbow nation.

About the author: After recently completing his MBA at IE Business School in Madrid, Andrew Bonfiglio co-founded a Leadership and International Development firm and moved to South Africa to set up operations (www.emzingo.com). Andrew acts as Director of Operations, developing social impact projects with local organizations in Johannesburg and co-designing Emzingo’s leadership curriculum.

Guest Post: A view from the ground with less than 2 weeks to go!

My dear friend Adam Boros has written some guest posts for this blog over the last year.  He has lived in Johannesburg for the last five years and has had a first row seat to the build up (both physical and emotional) to the World Cup during that time period.  Below, he provides his perspective, with the games now fewer than two weeks away!

By Adam Boros

May 30, 2010

Johannesburg, South Africa – 14 days. For those of us in South Africa who have watched a countdown that started somewhere over 1,000, the fact that the World Cup kicks off two weeks from today is surreal. The long wait is nearing its conclusion and to say that we are excited is a comical understatement. The country is infected with football fever and it is difficult to spend an hour without hearing or seeing or feeling some reminder of the biggest sporting event in the world. It is difficult for me to put into words the emotions that I am feeling in the final stretch because I have rarely been this excited for any kind of event in my life. So I will settle for a few musings…

  • Fridays – like today – are the best day of the week. For the past few months, South Africa has celebrated Football Fridays every week, when people are encouraged to fly the South African flag wherever and however they can and wear a Bafana Bafana jersey. It has been amazing to see how each week, more and more South Africans don the yellow or green Bafana jersey or affix a flag to their car (or strap SA flag covers on their sideview mirrors in an especially stylish display). Perhaps most amazingly, the people that you least expect to be demonstrating their love of soccer and the national team seem to be the most ardent supporters of the day. Soccer in South Africa is undoubtedly a ‘black’ sport, with few whites showing much interest in local teams or games. But on Friday, elderly white women and big, rugby-loving Afrikaners are proudly Bafana Bafana. Not to mention politicians – it is an entertaining (and refreshing) site to see the national president wearing a soccer jersey to important meetings and events.
  • For those of you who have seen Invictus (which I did not really care for), you will understand that sport has often played an important role in race relations here. In that tradition, the World Cup is already having some unexpected benefits for racial reconciliation in the country. Due to the need to keep football pitches pristine, the best rugby team in the country (the Blue Bulls) was forced to shift its home semifinal of an important tournament from Pretoria to Soweto last week Saturday. Moving a sporting event from one stadium to another less than an hour away would hardly be front page news in most places around the world. But this represented the first premier league professional rugby match ever to be played in a black township. The political and social importance of this event is difficult to overstate, and difficult to understand for anyone who has not spent significant time in the country. To see busloads of Afrikaners flooding into Soweto – a place that I can safely say only a tiny minority had ever ventured into – was a beautiful site. As the captain of the Blue Bulls said after the game, it was a perfect display of “how far we have come since 1994.” And without the World Cup, it would not have happened.
  • Several months ago, I wrote how I was surprised at how little World Cup advertising was visible around Johannesburg. This is definitely no longer a problem. The other day, as I was driving from one meeting to another across the endless sprawl that is Joburg, I decided to count any World Cup-related advertising that I came across. I drove for probably about 60 kms in total, and never went more than 1 kilometer without seeing a poster, mural or advertisement that mentioned the World Cup in some way. The tournament, without any doubt, is unavoidable!
  • The argument that South Africa will reap huge economic benefits from the World Cup is certainly debatable (although I read an article this week that a recent study showed the country’s GDP will increase by an impressive 0.5% from the tournament alone). But I have been especially surprised (and even shocked) at how tightly FIFA controls every last component of the tournament, and stifles local economic enrichment in the process. Without any doubt, the most tragic example of this is the barring of local people selling local food at the stadiums during games (tragic for both the locals and the tourists!). But there is no question that the infrastructural improvements that will last long after July 11 are a huge boon to the country. Although I do not think there is a single Joburger who is not incredibly sick of huge traffic jams, reduced speed limits and reroutes and detours, when all is said and done the new road network, public transport systems and other improvements will make the country a better place to work and live.
  • They may have less utility, but the most impressive infrastructure projects are certainly the stadiums. All of the new World Cup stadiums are beautiful and state-of-the-art. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the first ever match to be played at Soccer City. It was a tournament final between two less popular local teams that would normally draw a crowd of a few thousand. On Saturday there were 80,000. If ever there was a stadium to draw a crowd more easily than the participating teams, this is it. It is truly world-class, and the helicopter shots of the ‘Calabash’ with Johannesburg in the background were absolutely beautiful. I went again last night for the first Bafana match to be played there and the atmosphere was unreal. Pure joy, excitement and noise for 90 minutes.

And on June 11th, just 14 days from now, the entire country will be blowing their vuvuzelas, sporting their national jerseys, singing to their hearts content and fighting back tears of joy as Mexico and Bafana kick-off at Soccer City. Of all the official slogans used by FIFA over the past few years, there is only one that truly captures what this tournament means. For too long, Africa is only in the news due to civil war, starvation and poverty. I believe that the 2010 World Cup will be the first time that the entire world will, and must, ‘celebrate Africa’s humanity.’

Woza June 11!!!