Friday, June 11, 2010

It all began in Africa

It's a truly fabulous time for South Africa.
The force of soccer fever, the undeniable collective awesomeness of the moment is a glue that has begun to fill superficial holes in our social sphere.
Two weeks ago while I was in Cape Town for a bookreading of Memoirs For Kimya, I attended the screening of 'The Killing of the Imam'. Just last weekend, I attended a gala dinner in honour of the late struggle hero Ahmed Timol. On both occassions, I was reminded of a time when brave men stood for justice and lost their lives; rather, they were decimated by mere suspicion of being a threat to the regime. Men like Imam Haron, Ahmed Timol, Babla Saloojee, AbdulHay Jassat, an MK operative and numerous others were tortured in detention. Timol's body was recovered with his nails removed, burn marks dotted his corpse. AbdulHay Jassat survived, his escape was facilitated by Defiance Campaign leader and struggle tactician, Maulvi Cachalia, but has fought epilepsy for over 40years as a result of the electric shocks he received while he was held in detention. The dinner event is dotted with reminders. The Timol's are seated on various tables. Babla's widow is seated on the table in front of me. AbdulHay waves in my direction, distinguished in a tweed jacket. The late Timol's friend, His Excellency Jo Jo Saloojee, the Pahad brothers, Mosie Moolla and Advocate Bizos are seated together. The stories pile up on my desk, too horrendous to swallow all at once, too numbingly numerous to do justice to in a blog post.

And after rummaging through piles of notes that remind and echo the dark age of apartheid, the squalor of a time that easily categorized ordinary South Africans by the colour of their skin, and then dehumanized them to a point of little recognition, it is a warm and generous celebration; a momentous occasion, to welcome the world to our shores.

South Africa has come a long way since the days of darkness, days in which ordinary citizens simply of darker skincolour could not walk freely in the streets; the overflowing streets and stadia of 2010 are wholly evident of our pride in leaving a draconian apartheid legacy in the mud.

Of course, there are remnants, economic and structural poverty lurk as bitter reminders that we have yet to overcome, and some fear that the current FIFA state will do little to turn the tide. South Africans living in informal settlements will not have the electricity to watch any of the soccer matches on television. Ordinary South Africans will miss the glory of this world spotlight, because they have already been decimated by poverty. And so this is our condition today. On the one hand, the insatiable joy of being the soccer podium for the world to look at, and on the other a sacrifice, an allowance for an exclusive sporting event that will fall beyond the affordance of many. The ambivalence is grating, and yet the sheer exhuberance of nationalism brought on by having the world spotlight on South Africa is something that we're bound to bask in for a while.

Right this minute, we are a little piece of Europe. We are collective African soul, we are African soccer on African soil. We are the right place at the right time. And the wonder of a moment like this affirms our status in the world with much to offer the international arena.

And while the world shines its torches and sits back watching our sport fields, let us remember that it is a moment to display our genuine South African hospitality. Let's allow the visitors to go back home with precious gifts of the African spirit, that will resound in all the corners of existence for a long time to come. And all the while we need to build on the idea that there is a way for us to take the benefits down to ordinary citizens who have yet to feel the presence of such a great and powerful event in our midst. If hosting the World Cup in South Africa is an expensive (and rather exclusivist) event, we need for once to step back and look at these as opportunity costs for greater economic relations with other nations. Our ports and our gateways are now open for opportunities. But all of this grand national pride only makes sense of we are able to take it back down to the foundations in order to strengthen the infrastructure towards breaking the socio-economic inequalities apparent in this country.

Ke Nako! The Time is Now.
This is where it all began; and now the world has come home to Africa!
Let's make it count for ordinary citizens, South Africa! Let's make it count!

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