Blacks didn't need World Cup

The Fifa World Cup cost South Africa about R120-billion. We will be coughing up at least R100-million annually to service the stadiums, our beautiful cathedrals of self-enslavement. Set the cost of the Fifa World Cup against our development needs, and you can’t but conclude that we didn’t need it, nor could we afford it. So why did we go all out to host such an unnecessary event?

Anyone who has doubts about just how bad things are for the majority of South Africans should read Trevor Manuel’s National Planning Commission report on the state of things. Education for black people has basically gone to hell. Even the allegedly improved matric pass rate is a ruse, because the “67.8% pass rate hides the fact that only 15% achieved the pass rate mark of 40% or more. This means that roughly 7% of the cohort of children born between 1990 and 1994 achieved this standard”. In a normal country with a caring politics, such a report would have led to the fall of a government.

It gets worse. Manuel tells of shocking death rates, unimaginable inequality, an appalling state of healthcare and high rates of theft as a result of corruption. In short, our country, perceived from the bottom, is in a permanent state of crisis. The black majority is left outside the democratic experiment. Why would a nation engulfed by such challenges choose to take money away from hospitals and schools to host a party?

This conundrum is partly ans­wered by the euphoric piece our former president Thabo Mbeki wrote for Bloomberg news: “We were convinced that, were we to win the right to host the soccer World Cup, this would make a decisive contribution to the achievement of the goal of vital importance to all Africans, of destroying the demeaning stereotype of a hopeless continent.”

The hopelessness of being black is overwhelming. So powerful is the desire to be acknowledged by the white world that we blacks will do anything to get the nod. Our beloved Desmond Tutu shared Mbeki’s sentiment that we blacks needed to do all we could to show that we were human too. He said it didn’t matter if after the World Cup those stadiums were white elephants.

We forget at our peril how by-laws were changed, people forcibly removed, schools destroyed, hawkers made to disappear and tax laws altered to make sure Fifa was happy and its profits guaranteed.

Now we must look beyond the social and financial costs of the World Cup and focus on what it promised the abandoned black child in search of approval from its indifferent white father. The success of the World Cup moved our former philosopher-king to enthuse: “A giant step forward has been taken towards achieving the goal of destroying the age-old negative stereotype of Africa and the Africans. Similarly, as Africans we have also made an important statement to ourselves that we are as capable as any in the world to organise for success that brings a sense of fulfilment to billions.”

The World Cup was indeed organised for the delight of the (white) “world”. We blacks could now walk the talk. Ostensibly, we had shown the doubting Thomases that we were human too. This is pathetic self-delusion. In spite of more than 500 years of denigration, oppression and enslavement—which continues without so much as a “sorry”—we believed that if we could demonstrate our humanness somehow, the white world would get it. This is a case of powerlessness that begets well-deserved contempt.

When I look at the World Cup and how we valorise the temporary psychological satisfaction it brought us blacks it reminds me of my own childhood on the farms of the old Transvaal. Our parents, who were virtual slaves, competed among each other for the approval of the baas. The things our parents did at times were downright embarrassing.

Blackness is an amputation, a lack that can be fulfilled only by white acknowledgement. Even ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s ramblings against “bloody whites” must be understood in this context.

The tragedy of it all is that whiteness has already stymied our efforts to be seen as human. We perform this futile exercise again and again, with the same results. Even as a proponent of black consciousness, with its promise of a self-validation that requires no external source, I know we blacks are defeated before we start—and this makes me sympathetic to our black follies.

Andile Mngxitama is the editor of New Frank Talk, which in conjunction with The Bioscope will screen Tin Town, about the people evicted for the Fifa World Cup, on Saturday June 18 at 5.30pm at The Bioscope at Arts on Main in Jo’burg. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Mngxitama and Denis Beckett.

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