South Africa’s successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2010 must have deeply wounded Afro-pessimists. That’s what Africa’s World Cup, a new book published by the University of Michigan in 2013, suggests. Edited by Peter Alegi and Chris Bolsmann, Africa’s World Cup discusses the iconic images associated with the tournament in the context of a South Africa that in the decade after the magical 1990s, where the triumph over Apartheid and the experience of Nelson Mandela’s unifying capabilities were dominant, has seen a dip in its fortunes with a myriad problems: runaway insecurity, serious income inequalities, HIV/Aids pandemic, and an education system in crisis, among others.
The 20 essays in the book not only explore the meaning of being South African but also of belonging to the African continent in a world which is frequently at odds with African aspirations. Ideas about patriotism and the appropriation of space to enact ‘Africanness’ at the 2010 world cup and its implications are brought to light. Sounds brought through the World Cup signature music in songs like “Waka Waka” and the blaring of the vuvuzela trumpets in stadia are analysed as aspects of a brimming culture.
Perhaps the most interesting essays is that by Albert Grundlingh and John Nauright who dig into history to contrast the 2010 FIFA world soccer tournament with the 1995 Rugby World Cup, both of which were held in South Africa. On the one hand the South African Springbok team that won the 1995 World Cup was heavily Afrikaner and therefore easy to associate with the Apartheid regime of the country that was on its way out after the 1994 elections that ushered black majority to power. Yet, President Mandela at the time came out to embrace the team thereby implying what he had always stated; that he was ready to work with people from all races in South Africa. The whole episode of the 1995 Rugby World Cup is replayed in the film, INVICTUS, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. The essayists suggest that while the Rugby World Cup of 1995 had many behind the scenes moments of tension as a result of the perception of rugby as a game of the Afrikaner, it nevertheless gave room for the exploration of reconciliation which Mandela did not shy away from taking.
On the other hand, however, the 2010 FIFA World Cup is seen as a spectacle that did not embrace as much of the unifying magical power as the 1995 rugby world cup had done 15 years earlier. It instead seems to have sold South Africa’s soul to the devil of commercialism. The 2010 FIFA World Cup, while on the surface seemingly successful especially in terms of the aesthetics generated from it in the form of the music, football, fashion, architecture, sculpture, and photography among others, ended up being more about branding than anything else: ‘FIFA’ and ‘South Africa’ were the biggest brands which unfortunately masked the problems of local individual businesses struggling to squeeze in and share in the pie that was the huge market created by the event.
Following an almost identical argument, Marc Fletcher, in another essay in the book, points to the “exclusionary character of the World Cup and the social divisions it reinforced in metropolitan Johannesburg.” Many South African fans who might have wanted to watch football in the stadiums may have been excluded by astronomical price tickets. This, unfortunately, points to the sharp divide between the haves and have-nots whose nature in South Africa has historical factors dogging- that history of racial relations. The idea of exclusivity was also extended to the affordability of space for anyone who wanted to set up a stall to sell wares or food within the stadiums. The irony is that the World Cup had been presented as a space that would provide a unification of the peoples of South Africa.
Meg Vandermerwe presents a host of interesting catch phrases in the essay, “South Africa Welcomes the World: Xenophobia, and South Africa’s Ubuntu Dream.” The official 2010 FIFA World Cup’s slogan “Ke Nako (It is time): Celebrate Africa’s Humanity” attempted to sell Africa as a welcoming continent. Vandermerwe argues that the slogan worked within the idea of African Humanism as explored under Ubuntu- which “is a concept among speakers of Bantu languages, such as isiZulu and isiXhosa” and that is aptly captured in the saying “Umuntu ngumuntu ngubantu” (A person is a person through other people). Yet, that very idea is negated by the events in South Africa that often spell xenophobia in bold action letters. The discussion in this essay points to the problem that is masked underneath the larger claim by the event organisers that there is a sense of oneness within Africa and indeed South Africa.
The book therefore has a sense of invoking in the mind of the reader the idea that the World Cup was a spectacle that came off smelling overtly good but had deep undercurrents of the same old difficulties that ordinary South Africans face in everyday life. In other words, while from a distance all seemed to be working in a praiseworthy fashion, the details were a negation of the ideal. To return to Albert Grundligh and John Nauright’s exploration in their essay, the brands in the form of ‘FIFA’ and ‘South Africa’ ate all the success while the individual ordinary South African selves, particularly those carrying historical scars, scrambled to feast on the World Cup scraps! One must wonder whether the same will happen in Brazil 2014.
Questions of identity and pride come to the fore in this book with Chris Bolsmann’s discussion of the singing of the national anthem before a game. Specifically, there is the nuance of versions or parts of anthems for the South African. The provocative question is whether to sing along both parts of the national anthem that have “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa)”, an 1897 composition by Enoch Santonga, or the two accompanying stanzas from “Die Stem”, the national anthem under Apartheid. To which would one owe greater allegiance? Each comes with a history and yet each has to be sung to show a sense of unity. This complexity in a matter that should be simple becomes a major question that at the end of the essay is not fully addressed but rather poses other interesting problems.
But it is in Solomon Waliaula’s essay, “The Vuvuzela as Paradox of Leisure and Noise: A Sociocultural Perspective”, that we find a bridge that brings the discussion wholesomely to a sense of Africanness. The essayist, from Kenya, manages to draw a parallel between the noise production in a modern stadium through the vuvuzela trumpet and the making of noise at a male rite of passage that has existed for eons called ‘khuminya’ among the Babukusu people of western Kenya. The Babukusu, in their noise-making, employ carvings from animal horns. The idea of festivity, free spiritedness and a sense of the carnival are discussed here as elements that are evident in both football and the age-old ‘Khuminya’ ritual. The idea then is to show the connectedness between the modern and possibly pre- and what has carried onto the modern times.
Ghana’s football exploits are brought into the picture too. This is done in the context of discussing the aesthetics that came through the athleticism leading Ghanaians to their first ever quarter-final encounter in a world soccer tournament. The misfortune of missing that Semi-final berth is discussed within the context of Ghana’s position as “Africa” at that stage of the 2010 World Cup. The colour, arguments, and frustrations evident during and after the game are eloquently brought to the fore. The essay introduces problems in the unveiling of ways of making meaning of loss and whether there is a specific African manner of dealing with loss.
The book as a project is big in terms of presenting the 2010 FIFA World Cup as an event that in many ways brought out the real Africa as birthing place and possible retainer of success. Yet it doesn’t shy away from presenting the contradictions of South Africa and the continent in general. It is possible to shame the Afro-pessimists and argue that the size of the 2010 World Cup as an event essentially must have moments that are contradictory. And to seal that argument, the book’s reliance on retired Anglican arch-bishop Desmond Tutu’s often quoted observation becomes apt: “Anyone who wasn’t thrilled by the World Cup needs to see a psychiatrist.”
Fred Mbogo, Phd, teaches in the Department of Literature, Theatre and Film Studies, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya. He holds a Master’s degree in Dramatic Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.