Waka Nostalgiaby Roger Young / 24.06.2011
“One would certainly hope that our success in hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup has helped our sceptics catch-up with reality – the reality that we, as a nation, can rise to any challenge, if we so decide.”
– Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, 22 July 2010.
Last week we were all considering what the World Cup 2010 meant. My views haven’t much changed since it ended last year and are not likely to in the future. However I was fascinated by one thing. While at the Kimberly Hotel, that epicentre of hip intellectual thought, artists, writers and filmmakers were huddled in groups, the bar’s old stalwarts guffawed in the corner and the hip kids looked for irony inducing 90’s music on the jukebox; cliques abounded, their borders blurry. Then from nowhere “Waka Waka” came over the speakers and the room seemed to take on a warm glow, Capetonians smiled at each other, people sang along, eyes went misty. “Jussis, this time last year,” says my friend, “this time last year we were playing Mexico, I was there, and it was a beautiful thing.”
“This time last year,” I say, “you were being uppity about this fucking Shakira song.” Aah, that song. It was, according to Andy Davis, basically blackface. Evidence of a global corporation misunderstanding Africa, it was, in fact, the sound of a rape. That view is still valid, but now it’s softened by nostalgia. Why, I thought, do we view the World Cup 2010 and this song so fondly now, when the reality is that what occurred was a plundering of resources while we were force-fed banal music, warm beer and average football?
The reason is simple: the World Cup illustrated that, as Minister Gordhan said. “We, as a nation, can rise to any challenge…” This is what we have nostalgia for, this is the feeling “Waka Waka” invokes, the fact that we did it together and, unlike Mandela’s release or the 1994 elections, we did it in total unity, toward a common cause and with a theme song. And that common cause, it seems, was simply to show the world that we could. “People,” according to Shakira, were “raising their expectations.” We had to “go on and feed them, this was our moment, no time for hesitations.” And having done it once, we could obviously do it again, that is “if we so decide.” Of course, this decision was not up for public ratification.
As illustrated last week in the Daily Maverick by Alex Eliseev, there are two emerging schools of thought on the legacy and benefits of the World Cup.
The “gees” camp such as the Tourism board, the city of Joburg and the M&G’s Percy Zvomuya tout rising tourism figures, new infrastructure (which probably should have been built anyway) and a shift in public and international perception as the benefits.
The ‘scary intellectuals’ camp, like Andile Mngxitama, count among the costs falling education figures, a collapsing health system, a widening gap between the new elite and the poor (that has lead to intensified service delivery riots) and the pitiful spectacle of kow-towing to The West.
Weighing these two sides up rationally, would you have voted for spending R120 billion on the World Cup or would you have voted to spend it on service delivery? Alas it was never up for a vote, that expenditure. This was the trick, it was “This Time For Africa” and we had to swallow the swindle; the easiest way to do this was to believe in it. Then, when the carrion bird FIFA flew away with billions more than we spent and the politicians and business men were left with the accolades and paybacks, the people were left with rising interest rates, hikes in the electricity price and stadiums that struggle to break even on running costs alone. But that’s okay because international perception is up. How do we measure such a thing, this international perception?
Which will have a further reaching effect on the perception of life in South Africa? The fading memory of the World Cup and a smattering of national players who have gone on to international clubs, or the continuing work of the likes of Die Antwoord, Spoek Mathambo, Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, Tidal Waves and the BLK JKS? Bands that tour internationally consistently, bands that during the World Cup, were, like Freshlyground in the Shakira video, pushed into the background, bands that had to wait in line, even though it was “our time to shine”.
And what is this international perception anyway; that we know how to throw a party but cannot feed and house our people? That we South Africans are essentially dancing monkeys?
The World Cup was a useful ruse. It pumped the country into a frenzy, it was a tool to “find money” for infrastructure that should have been started years before and it showed that we could deliver on time to an international standard and create a spectacle. It’s foolish to speculate on where that money could have been better spent but it’s fair to say that quality education and basic health care have been denied to many by the diversion of the World Cup. So next time you sing along to “Waka Waka” and remember the dream, spare a thought for those whose songs might never be heard, whose dreams will never become inventions, whose visions will never have the tools to become reality. So, is that the final legacy of our World Cup? That it contributed toward the shifting of the balance even more towards the haves, that this widening gap is what the political radicals are now exploiting? No, if you really think about it, the actual legacy of the World Cup can be summed up in one word: Coldplay.
Would Coldplay even know we exist if there had been no World Cup in South Africa? Would they have come if U2 and the Blue Bulls hadn’t filled the 100 000 seats of the “calabash”? Probably not. At least now Cape Town Stadium has a use; not so, unfortunately, for Moses Mabhida because it’s well established by now that Durban crowds will never fill a stadium for music events. But thank you, Sepp and JZ, thank you for Coldplay and yeah, “this time for Africa” and while you’re at it, “wave your flag”.
It’s fuck cold outside this winter and it’s bleaker in the cities than last year. That’s not nostalgia for a better time, that’s because not only are there no fan parks to keep us toasty anymore, we also have rolling power black outs, rising unemployment and Coldplay. As Shakira reminds us, “you paved your way, believe it.”