Thursday July 8 2010

This is South Africa’s World Cup, not Africa’s

By Daniel Kalinaki

A few weeks before the World Cup kicked off, an English newspaper reported that gangs of black machete-wielding gangsters were roaming the streets of South Africa, waiting to hack visitors and separate them from their limbs and possessions. It was, as you can imagine, a load of rubbish. While South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, the World Cup has gone on without any major incidents and looks set to end successfully.

Time, then, for us to step back and reflect a bit on what will be left when all the visitors have gone back home. It is up to South Africans to determine whether they got value out of the $33 billion that they spent on getting the country ready for the games. They will have the new high-speed train linking the OR Tambo Airport to Johannesburg, expanded highways and some swanky stadiums to show for it. With the World Cup expected to add half a percentage point to GDP, there are some trickle-down benefits for some South Africans lower down the food chain, from cab drivers and pub owners to restaurant and guest house owners.

However, the World Cup has also helped to show how far removed from the global economy Africa remains. FIFA, which is very much a European company headquartered in Switzerland, was responsible for collecting the money for tickets and also made a cut on all accommodation bookings made through its marketing arm, Match. With only a few exceptions, most of the World Cup sponsors are big American, European or Asian companies like Coca Cola, Budweiser, Adidas, Sony, McDonalds and Emirates.

In fact, for an event branded as Africa’s World Cup, there has been little, in reality, to support that claim. The South African ‘mamas’ who can be found at local games selling juicy barbeques and beer were banned from coming close to the stadiums. Ticket-holders to the games were instead subjected to hotdogs, soda pop and the double tragedy of Budweiser, a beer so bad, it tastes like water with a dash of vinegar – and sold at $4 a bottle.

Even the music was imported. Keinan Abdi Warsame aka K’naan, who sang ‘Waving Flag’, is Canadian with Somali roots, but who – except Sony, the sponsors who also have her on their record label can defend the decision to get Colombian Shakira to murder a classic African song for the World Cup? South Africa, and certainly the rest of the continent, has enough musical talent to have given the event an authentic musical signature.

This World Cup has given the world the vuvuzela as something uniquely African, you might say. Yes, if you ignore all the brouhaha about trying to ban the noisy pipes, but although they were conceived in South Africa, more than 90 per cent of the vuvuzelas are made in China, as well as most of the flags and replica shirts flying around. Not all is lost, though. Many of the visitors to South Africa saw a part of the continent that is as well-tended as their own homes, if not better. They did not see Africans walking around naked, climbing down from their tree houses to hunt and gather their next meal.

It is not that such scenes do not exist in Africa (perhaps with the exception of living in trees) but South Africa demonstrates Africa’s potential and hopefully gives a more balanced picture of the continent.
This was South Africa’s World Cup, not Africa’s. We can all bask in the glory of having the event held on the Mother Continent but how many of our countries could host it? Don’t even mention good old Uganda! Whatever positive impressions we give to the visitors about Africa, we have a lot of work to do.

Daniel Kalinaki