Euphoria v. Anti-Climax

R.W. Johnson · South African Optimism

South Africa's Favourite Player

With only days to go before the start of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is awkwardly poised between euphoria and anti-climax. The multiple crowd injuries at Nigeria's practice game with North Korea due to an audience stampede were a sharp warning both that expectations are madly high (besotted Nigerian immigrants are blamed for the stampedes) and that no amount of preparation can make anything foolproof. There have been several minor hotel dramas. The Colombian team, which didn’t qualify but seems to be here just to play practice games and enjoy the atmosphere, has had $21,000 robbed from its hotel rooms. In other barely disguised attempts at rent-seeking, the Germans have been told their hotel is to be closed down for not having a licence and the staff at the French team's hotel are threatening to strike. More worryingly, so are workers at Eskom, the state-owned electricity company, who are demanding an 18 per cent pay rise. (Inflation is only 5 per cent and unemployment is 40 per cent.) This is little less than blackmail for they, of course, have the power to halt the Cup completely.

But South Africans at large are in party mood. Indeed, Cape Town's mayor, Dan Plato, who is staging a huge open-air public party on Thursday, says his aim is to ‘position Cape Town as the party capital of the world’. Since it is raining steadily at present in Cape Town, as is normal at this time of year, with gales forecast, this may be optimistic. But that is what South Africans in general are. A poll shows that no less than 13 per cent of the population expects South Africa (ranked 83rd in the world) to win the Cup, although a perhaps more realistic 20 per cent expected the team not to progress through its initial group. Meanwhile, 80 per cent think the tournament will unite South Africans, though the truth is that a poor showing by the local team will almost certainly reopen the racial divide: the national teams in the ‘white’ sports, rugby and cricket, are at or near the top, while the South African soccer squad includes only one white, so failure would be seen as a black failure. The popularity of English Premiership games on TV here means that England has a substantial following but the largest single group, 37 per cent, expect Brazil to win, with only 8 per cent choosing second-favourites Spain, though the most popular single player is Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. The cognoscenti would opt for Argentina's Lionel Messi but Ronaldo's spell with Manchester United is what counts here, given the accent on the Premiership.

Otherwise, it's all euphoria, with 86 per cent holding a ‘firm belief’ that the Cup will be a great success, 92 per cent feeling pride in South Africa as host nation and 93 per cent sure that the result will be an increased flow of tourists to the country. President Jacob Zuma is already benefitting heavily, not just because he is frequently pictured in welcoming poses with famous people but because the media concentration on the Cup has enabled him to push under the carpet his latest marital shenanigans with his second wife, MaNtuli, who is allegedly expecting a child by her late bodyguard, who committed suicide on revelation of the news. For all that, South Africans will be casting a quizzical eye at his four first ladies when they attend the opening ceremony on Friday. At the opening of Parliament they were caught on camera pushing and jostling one another for the position of senior wife. On that occasion no yellow cards were awarded but this time, it being the World Cup, one can't rule out diving and a penalty shoot-out.


  • 8 June 2010 at 9:22am
    Martin says:
    Earlier this year a jogger was arrested, detained for 24 hours and humiliated by the police in Cape Town. His crime was to gesture at a passing 'blue-light' convoy which happened to be President Zuma's. Their claim was that he zapped Zuma; his that he waved on the noisy cars. Politicians' blue-light convoys rule the roads here and ride roughshod over any drivers that dare impede them and over any constitutional rights such as freedom of expression.

    That's how I see this miserable World Cup. It's the Cup of the elite, not the game of the people. Our entire country is coming to a standstill while Fifa's juggernaut rolls on over us. Fuck the millions living below the poverty line. Fuck the township dwellers with no toilets. Even fuck the suburban middle class whose roads are left dug up in half-finished projects because all resources are needed for the Cup. Oh, of course, we'll all stand united and euphoric with billions of viewers round the world as Brazil lifts the trophy, but afterwards, while Blatter and his crew go off to count their lolly, we'll pack away our Bafana Bafana shirts and South African flags and think about all the toilets and houses and service delivery R30 billion could have paid for.

    • 11 June 2010 at 1:05pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Martin
      I get your take on the whole thing, which is all about the materialistic side of things and you are very probably correct in your assessment of its impact in a couple of months from now. But there is the idealistic side - that South Adfrica might just surprise some of the big names and get into the knock out stage. That might help.