Friday 4 June 2010: 3 years 10 months on …
Oh What a Circus! Oh What a Show!
Argentina has come to town *
And so has Greece, Germany, Italy, USA, England, Mexico, Uruguay, France, Nigeria, Korea Republic, Algeria, Slovenia, Australia, Serbia, Ghana, Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia, Brazil, Korea DPR, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Honduras and Chile. The FIFA 2010 World Cup is here in South Africa – in Africa for the very first time – and so we are here, too!
No matter what one’s personal feelings are about us hosting the World’s greatest sporting spectacle – some are for and very positive; others are against and extremely negative – one can feel and see the excitement and the enthusiasm all around.
Since becoming ill in 2006, I had often wondered whether I would still be here to see this happen. I’m so glad that I am! Never, in my fifty odd years, have I ever experienced such a general public outpouring of patriotism in this country.
In the Old South Africa, it was definitely not fashionable to display the old orange, white and blue SA flag – that would have displayed your allegiance to the National Party of the day. Black people would most definitely not even be seen with one of those flags! The most one would have seen that flag was those flying over government buildings.
In the New South Africa, it took some while for white South Africans to become accustomed and endeared to the new multicoloured striped and chevronned black, green, red, yellow, blue and white flag. (I actually had to check on that … shame!)
Many of us still struggle with the words of our national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa).
Things changed slightly in 1995, when we hosted and won, the Rugby World Cup. Then came the Cricket World Cup. But these were overwhelmingly ‘white’ sports and ‘white’ occasions.
Now it’s soccer (or football as the rest of the world appears to call it) and it’s a predominantly ‘black’ sport in this country. Yet, everyone appears to be getting into the swing of things.
Our flags, and those of almost every country on earth, are flying all over – public buildings, stores, shopping centres, homes, lamp poles, motor cars, trucks and bulldozers. Our home has a SA flag, a Bafana Bafana flag, a Union Jack and The Stars and Stripes of the USA draped off the balcony. (Incidentally, the USA flag flew on the flagpole of the White House in Washington DC on 1 December 1975, the day I was made an honorary citizen of Oklahoma, USA.) Years ago, displaying these flags on your house stood you the risk of having your home razed to the ground!
Cars have flags on their windows and aerials and covering their rear view mirrors. Fridays have become Football Friday. Work attire and school uniforms have been swapped for football gear. People are wearing the distinctive green and yellow colours of “our” team – soccer shirts, t-shirts, dresses, trousers, socks, shoes, spectacles, hats, scarves, gloves and, daresay, underwear are being worn by men, women and children, by white and black and coloured, by the Souties and the Rooinekke, the Dutchmen and the Rocks, the Umlungus and the Firs and the Lids.
Only once before, have I experienced such an outpouring of patriotism. And that was in the USA in September 2001 in the aftermath of the terror attacks in New York City and Washington DC. Wherever you went in the United States at that time, wherever you looked, you saw flags flying on buildings, houses and cars, and you experienced the unity of a nation. We were fortunate to be there at the time.
Pera, Sean, Phillip and I had left for the USA on holiday some three weeks after September 11. In the last leg of our journey from Port Elizabeth via London to Atlanta, we flew over Manhattan Island and I have video footage of the smoke pouring up into the atmosphere from Ground Zero, what had been the World Trade Centre in New York City. Like our 2010 Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, that event and the smoke and ash pouring out from that site had brought the world’s airlines (and, indeed, the world in 2001) to a standstill. We must have been one of the first families that had got back into the skies, and our boys still think that 50 people travelling in a Boeing 767 is the norm. So much room – even for those of us who travel in the economy class!
The World Trade Centre had always been a special place for me. In the early seventies as a young high school boy, I had followed the building of those two towers with great enthusiasm. Those were the pre-TV days for us, but I had read every book, newspaper and magazine that I could find; such was the attraction of that building for me. I dreamt that I would see it one day.
It was one of the reasons that I had elected to go to the USA as an exchange student when that opportunity arose in 1975. At age 18, when I landed at New York’s Kennedy Airport from Buenos Aires, I had time to kill before my onward flight from La Guardia Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I took a helicopter to La Guardia via downtown Manhattan to see the WTC. I was living my dream!
I celebrated New Year’s eve of 1987/1988 with friends on Times Square in New York City. Earlier that evening I was fortunate, once again, to be on the roof of the South Tower. It was snowing and I was smoking. Because my fingers were getting so cold, I decided that smoking was a stupid past time, and there and then I threw that cigarette butt down into the snow on the roof of that Tower and killed it.
And that was the end of that cigarette and the end of my smoking. That butt must have gone down with the building. And that was the end of MY building – its demise had brought a tear to my eye on that fateful day of September 11 when, in the boardroom, I had watched on TV that second plane circle and fly into that tower and bring about its end.
The end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be on Sunday 11 July. The final whistle will blow at Soccer City and the winning nation will be crowned and the visitors will leave and go home.
Hopefully, South Africa will emerge as the winning nation. The nation-building must continue in our hearts and minds and attitudes, and in our physical amenities. The frantic activity and building that we have seen over the last few years – stadia, airports, roads and bridges – must continue with houses, hospitals, schools, roads, businesses and job opportunities. The unity we display now must persist. The flags must continue blowing in the wind.
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world… The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!”
One swallow does not make a summer. One Nelson Mandela and one World Cup do not build a Nation.
Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
* From Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Evita, sung by David Essex