After last night’s World Cup games, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands and Germany are through to the last eight. One has the strong feeling that it’s unnecessary to play the other games, that the eventual winner is already in the above four. What is very striking, after the boring slugging matches of the group games, is how easily and massively these four have imposed themselves, scoring lots of goals against opponents who were, after all, in the top 16. Perhaps it is a mistake to have a group stage at all; the whole tournament would be so much better as a sudden death event like the FA Cup – though of course the point of the groups is to guarantee every team at least three games on the big stage. But what is certainly true is that this round has seen a clear step up, with the silky Brazilians and dynamic Germans showing us just what a beautiful game it can be. The reason not to be sorry that England are gone is nothing to do with national feeling, it is that they were so laboured and plodding. Playing like that, they just didn’t belong in this company.
This tremendous drama is being played out against an extraordinary backdrop. The rot in South Africa has now reached the hard core: the mining sector that lays the golden eggs and pays for the World Cup and much else. Terrible trouble has been going on for some months now at the Grootvlei mine, the owner of which, Aurora, gets special treatment because its board members include a Zuma nephew and a Mandela grandson. The miners have not been paid for months and are on strike. The mines are flooded and highly toxic wastes are threatening to contaminate the water supply of the whole central Rand. Over at Sishen in the Northern Cape, meanwhile, the government has granted a prospecting licence for an iron-ore mine to a consortium of ANC cronies, even though the mine is already being exploited by another firm.
Cases like these are causing investors, foreign and domestic, to flee, thus contributing to South Africa’s ever-growing unemployment and the clear risk of a huge social explosion once the World Cup is over. Anyone who lives here and understands what is happening is bound to have an almost schizoid approach to the majesty of Brazil, Argentina and Germany. So lovely to watch, but one cannot but fear what comes afterwards.