Even the most hardened of sceptics and cynics must, albeit grudgingly, accept that South Africa hosted one of the most magnificent soccer World Cups in the history of the game. The fact that we made history by becoming the first nation to be booted out in the first round of the tournament does not detract from this great achievement.
The problem with great achievements, however, is that they give birth to great expectations. In post-World Cup South Africa, the expectations are that the South African Football Association will show greater commitment to the development of soccer, the country will work better, race relations will improve and our government will enhance its capacity for service delivery. In short, the expectation is that, after the World Cup, South Africa will be a different country.
Are these expectations realistic?
One of the obvious things to remember is that running a country is different from organising an international sporting event, such as the soccer World Cup. Hosting the World Cup required a concerted effort over a period much shorter than the time required to deal with the developmental needs of a country. In other words, delivering on the promise of a better life for all South Africans is not an event.
Having said that, we must accept that some of the delivery deficits which afflict us are a result of tardiness, a lack of commitment and incompetence on the part of politicians and the public sector. What we need to do is to break the dream of a better life for all and service delivery into a series of projects and events. While the damage that was done to the lives of most South Africans unfolded over a period of centuries, we do not need hundreds of years to deliver houses, decent public healthcare facilities and programmes, high-quality education and effective policing. It should not take centuries to tackle the problems of corruption and the deployment of incompetent party loyalists to Cabinet, the public service, State-owned enterprises and local government.
What we need are higher levels of political commitment to the common good and lower levels of political commitment to battles for money and power, which subordinate the national interest to the political and economic interests of individuals and factions in the ruling party and opposition parties with significant support among black voters. This will not happen unless our politicians start to conceive of the post-World Cup period as an opportunity for renewal and change. Alternatively, all South Africans must change their surnames to Blatter.
Another area of national life that requires a new spirit of commitment is that of race relations. Before the World Cup, race was one of the main contradictions which defined us as a country, and will continue to be so after the soccer spectacle is behind us. The fact that millions of South Africans, black and white, soccer and rugby fanatics, were able to unite behind Bafana Bafana and in support of the World Cup is an indication that there are things that can unite us across racial, social and cultural lines. The Wolrd Cup is such a thing, but it is not a given that the hosting of any single international sporting event will, on its own, translate into a future of racial harmony. We need to work on a continuous basis in our attempt to build a Rainbow Nation. We must commit ourselves to the eradication of all forms of prejudice-based social ills because South Africa cannot belong to all who live in it unless she becomes a home for all, irrespective of gender, sexual orien- tation, race, religion, culture, class and country of origin.
It is not enough to become a Rainbow Nation of all races – we must strive for the higher goal of becoming a people whose prejudices do not drive those who are not like us to the margins of our society. This does not mean that conflict will cease to be part of the South African condition since conflict is part of the human condition. Conflict should be seen as a crucible in which our thoughts and deeds will be purified. We must see conflict, when it does occur, as an opportunity to learn constructive lessons about how to become a better and stronger people. The challenge, therefore, is to harness and channel the spirit of unity that blanketed the country during the World Cup into other areas of national life. This will, however, not work unless it becomes an ever-present, conscious and continuous effort on the part of a significant majority of South Africans. In the weeks and months to come, we are going to be attacked by a collective emptiness and listlessness. After the depression, we must pick ourselves up and reach for the ecstasy of national unity.