South Africa must share

This was supposed to be the African World Cup, stadium-scale mud in the eye of the miserabilists who have more or less written off the continent.

So far, it really has not been. The success of the tournament is principally a testimony to South Africa’s capacity, unique on the continent, to pour cash and expertise in to hugely complex projects.

Bafana may have crashed out, the stock phrase now goes, but “we are already champions” of hosting, and there is intense national enthusiasm for the idea that we will “win” by continuing to show our support for the tournament, as the most enthusiastic neutrals in its history.

So it is tragic in more than just sporting terms that African teams performed so far below their potential in the first round, and that South African supporters’ pan-Africanist energies will find such limited opportunity for expression in the tournament’s latter half, with potentially great teams like Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria disappointing. We will have to rely on Ghana’s Black Stars, representing the nation that pioneered African independence, to carry those hopes, and to ensure that our very unusual bit of Africa is not just a stage set for the looming clash between European and Latin American powers.

This matters, and not just because it vitiates of the project of rebuilding African identity that former President Thabo Mbeki (the forgotten father of the event) saw as a key rationale for our hosting of the cup.

We’ve done well as hosts, but beneath the roar of the vuvuzelas there is a nastier buzz of xenophobic intimidation as African immigrants are warned that the tournament’s end will bring with it violence against them. It is a bizarrely calculated sort of pseudo-patriotism: “We’ll wait until the TV cameras leave, and then launch our pogrom when it will be less embarrassing.” There is now simply too much of this chatter around South Africa to ignore.

The ministry of safety and security and the police are anxious to play down the threat, insisting that they have intelligence assets in place to watch and contain the situation, and “a plan” to manage any outbreaks of violence. It is understandable that they don’t want fuel any early flames by talking up the threat, and we really hope that the shock of the May 2008 attacks has resulted in the creation of genuine capacity to deal with this issue—and indeed with the improvement of public order policing broadly—but there is no tangible sign of it.

One of the things that ought to help mute the war talk is South Africans partying alongside African diaspora communities. We didn’t get to host this tournament because we are a muddled and middling emerging economy of average size, or even because we allowed ourselves to be colonised by Fifa. We got it because ours is the only African country capable of doing a remotely credible job. That is to say, we provided the infrastructure, the rest of the continent provided the political imperative.

We talk up our own exceptionalism a good deal without realising the extent to which we rode in on the back of a continent-wide narrative.

We must now use the rest of the tournament as a simple object lesson: we are happier, richer, and more secure in ourselves when we share our country with the world than we are when we try to wall it off, and we have nothing to celebrate unless we can celebrate it with the African diaspora.

However this ends, we are all Black Stars.

Wild West capitalism?
Is South Africa the kind of investment destination where good physical infrastructure, a fine banking system and, most importantly, a reliable regulatory and legal environment encourage companies and entrepreneurs to take a long-term view? Or is it a place for frontier capitalists who brave massive risk only in return for massive reward, and who are prepared to play a corrupt and unpredictable system for all it is worth?

We have been reporting for several months now on the battle that we believe will provide the answer to this question, at least in the short term: the dispute over control of mineral rights at the lucrative Sishen South iron-ore mine.

The story is really very simple: an asset crucial to South Africa’s industrial economy, and worth R20-billion by some estimates, was snaffled from under the noses of two major multinationals by Imperial Crown Trading, a hitherto unknown company that turned out to be controlled by a gang of political cronies with disturbingly close links to the president and the governing party.

It was always bizarre that Arcelor-Mittal, the steel giant, had failed to convert its rights to the mine. Its ore supplier, Kumba, which controls the rest of the mine, saw the gap, and legitimately tried to take it. What happened next gets more disturbing the more you look at it.

This week fresh evidence emerged of serious, and apparently cack-handed meddling in the licence process by state officials, who seem to have intervened to push the rights away from Kumba toward Imperial Crown and its well-connected owners. Just as disturbing, Kumba’s largest shareholder, Anglo-American, seems to want to sweep the whole affair under the carpet and to reach a hush-hush settlement.

That will not do. What is at stake here is not just the steel industry, it is the management of an entire economy still intimately tied to the resource sector.

The key responsibility to deal with this lies with government, which must repair the mess, and with Anglo, which owes the country that built its fortune, and indeed owes its own shareholders, much more than craven acquiescence in the return of frontier values.

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