LAST weekend, I was in Durban, South Africa, for the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards.Whenever I get an invitation to go to South Africa, I jump at it. I jump because visiting that flawed but organised country so often gives me hope that the rest
LAST weekend, I was in Durban, South Africa, for the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards.Whenever I get an invitation to go to South Africa, I jump at it. I jump because visiting that flawed but organised country so often gives me hope that the rest of the continent is not beyond redemption.
During my last two trips, the rainbow nation has been in the grip of a frenetic effort to prepare for the 2010 soccer World Cup. I have marvelled at the enormity of the task.
But I have been blown away even more so at how South Africa is determined to have an event that does not perpetuate the African stereotype of inefficiency, chaos and hopelessness but one that will match and even exceed the standards of previous World Cups.
Being a passing observer of the sheer scale of the operation â€“ it will cost about 700 billion Rand or sh168,000b, to get South Africa ready for the World Cup, leaves me in awe of the countryâ€™s capacity to raise the required resources, mobilise the national spirit and even dare to believe they can.
But putting all this into context, one canâ€™t help but remember that South Africa is the wealthiest nation on the continent by far, thanks to a history of exploitation of the indigenous populations to uplift a Caucasian ruling minority.
On my previous outing to South Africa, I visited the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg and though I did not complete the tour, even after two hours of walking, it was clear that Apartheid was not an end in itself but a development model, that collapsed because of the futility of divorcing morality from wealth accumulation.
The unfortunate byproducts of this amoral system are evident in the high crime rate, soaring prevalence of HIV/AIDS and sub-human poverty of a significant part of the population.
Aware that they cannot kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, the African National Congress (ANC) governments of the last 15 years have had to walk a tight rope, balancing the urgency to redress racial wealth disparities while allowing white-dominated corporate South Africa to flourish in order to finance an ambitious redistribution plan.
Problems abound in the effort to redistribute wealth, not least of all corruption.
There is liberal mention of South African public officials gorging themselves at the trough at the expense of their lesser connected brothers. Questions are being raised about the ruling partyâ€™s resolve to call its cadres to order and it is not clear that the existing institutions can beat back the tide of graft, corruption that is many times masked by a false sense of entitlement and threatens to derail an otherwise promising project.
However, people like Danny Jordan, who is at the helm of organising the2010 World Cup, give you hope that despite the looming dangers on South Africaâ€™s horizon, there is nothing that concerted, focused, patriotic action cannot overcome.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards, Jordan acknowledged some of these challenges but was unshaken in his belief that the next yearâ€™s soccer extravaganza would be a roaring success.
But despite seeming to easily shoulder the expectations of his soccer mad continent, Jordan is quick to lower expectations of a perfect event.
Commenting on whether the threat of looming strikes may compromise the smooth running of the World Cup, he said: â€œAfricaâ€™s challenge is that it is judged on perception, while Europe is judged on reality.â€
During last yearâ€™s rugby World Cup final in Paris, he said he had to walk from his hotel to the stadium because public transport workers were on strike, â€œNo one said anything about that but everyone was going on about how it was a successful eventâ€¦ Africa, too, has its realities which can show up at the World Cup.â€
The World Cup, by bringing the whole country together behind a single mission, will serve as the final transmutation of a previously repressive and divisive system into a force for national unity and development.
And for suspending my cynicism about my continentâ€™s prospects, thatâ€™s why I love South Africa.
Why I love South Africa