The World Cup shenanigans will conclude this weekend.
Most thought I was delirious for booking a flight home only a week into the World Cup. In hindsight, I would have loved to stay longer; watching World Cup matches from home, so far removed from the delightful drone of vuvuzelas (other than my own), has been the source of substantial doses of nostalgia. I watch games in Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Pretoria, Cape Town and Jozi and I think, I was there. Damnit, why am I not there?
But really, I’m even more curious as to what it will be like come Monday (or soon thereafter), when the World Cup frenzy—virtually inescapable in the months leading up to the event—dissipates. In preceding months, Zakumi’s image blared from billboards along highways across the country. Countdowns on front page banners of newspapers served as daily reminders: The World Cup was 60 days away; and then it was 16 days away. And before we knew it, it was upon us. Flags of participating nations hung in front of B&Bs. Restaurants and bars redecorated, professing their loyalty to all 32 competing countries at once.
So when the flags disappear, then what?
The not-so-optimistic answer: Shit’s gonna hit the fan. This I heard from co-workers, university students, fellow patrons. Some disagreed, but the majority consented: The World Cup brought with it a euphoria that wouldn’t last, they said. South Africa’s problems hadn’t disappeared. Spin doctors successfully constructed a facade of a new and improved South Africa, but it was just that. A facade. Sure, the airports were prettier. The new Gautrain efficiently shuttled visitors from OR Tambo International Airport to the wealthier, stereotypically suburban suburbs and then onto Pretoria. Cities sported new, freshly paved roads. But there is another South Africa that many visitors never saw, and officials made sure of it. Pathways to and from the stadiums are tunnels of illusion, depicting one South Africa. Visit parts of Soweto, Alexandra, Khayelitsha and Masiphumelele, and you’ll witness another.
Many of the challenges that plagued the pre-World Cup South Africa will continue post-World Cup: a socioeconomically divided population; a crumbling education system; an unemployment rate that’s up to three times that of the U.S.
And if I just sound like I have a chip on my shoulder, John Pilger’s tirade and this CNN article provide a comparatively well-substantiated argument. He cites many of the accounts I heard myself while in South Africa. Like the story of 20,000 Joe Slovo settlement residents who were threatened with eviction because they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport.
For five-and-a-half years, Hellen sold pap, meat and vegetables to passersby. On average, she earned R100 a day, which she collected in old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette containers. Her food stand was located across the street from Soccer City. I interviewed her and several others, who hoped that the World Cup would translate to added revenue, more R10 notes to fill those cigarette containers. No such luck. FIFA rules commanded that she, along with thousands of street vendors throughout South Africa, must pack up and move out. They missed out on the World Cup boom because a line of shops erected using dingy green tarp and scavenged street signs would sully the view of the stadium, taint the illusion.
I hope that the World Cup brings great things for South Africa, that the promise of foreign investment materializes, that Mzansi finds itself on the global radar. I hope this optimism isn’t naïve. I hope that shit doesn’t hit the fan.