In the space of a hundred minutes South Africa went from exuberant hosts to petulant teenagers, the kind that lock the door and listen to depressing music and mope about all day. So now we start approaching the whole thing as if it were pure economics. Which, arguably, it is.
This is no time to worry about cliches, so let’s just go ahead and call it a perfect storm. The roller-coaster ride that was watching a team that couldn’t qualify on its own merits seemingly transformed into a winner during preparatory matches. The flashes of brilliance during the opening match, which seemed to promise so much. The dismal technical performance on the field on Wednesday night. And that bloody referee. And the cold. If you were to contract the world’s top evil geniuses to come up with a plan to create the maximum amount of national depression, they probably couldn’t have done much better.
You could actually see the transformation spread through the stadium like some terrible degenerative disease. The first goal emotionally flattened the crowd, which then bravely picked itself up again. The continued poor play wore down the optimism. The red card destroyed the mood, and everything that happened after that just served as reinforcement to those still watching. The arriving crowd was boisterous; the departing crowd was grim. Overnight the demoralisation fermented, and by Thursday morning anecdotal evidence suggested businesses were experiencing record absenteeism as plenty of people couldn’t bring themselves to get out of bed.
Disappointment? That is a terrible understatement. It’s been a long time since South Africa has been this low.
And that is a potentially dangerous situation. Danny Jordaan was quick to call on the country to rediscover its sense of fun and return to being good hosts, a call you can be sure will be echoed by traders still sitting with stock of Bafana Bafana shirts and South African flags to sell.
Now you could be optimistic and say South Africans have remarkable emotional resilience and will bounce back. That would be pure guesswork, however; the situation is unprecedented and we simply don’t know how the sentiment will swing. Luckily, though, we know exactly how to extract meaningful trends about sentiment from tiny crumbs of data – we do it every day, except that what we’re trying to measure is stock market sentiment.
Which is why any available data points will now be closely watched. How many people with tickets actually take their seats at matches between other countries? How much beer is sold at fan parks? Does the number of tweets or text messages during games decline from previous levels? From these we will seek to divine any shifts in the mood of South Africans overall.
Our premature prediction: excitement levels will recover, overall, though never to the levels seen before Wednesday night. And not to be unpatriotic or anything, but there will be a double-dip just around the time that Bafana play France on Tuesday. Though all of that has pretty much been priced into the market already, so there isn’t exactly room to cash in via any clever trades. We recommend sticking to safe-harbours (like supporting the rather more predictable Springboks, perhaps) and just riding out the storm. It’s only another couple of weeks, after all.
(Disclaimer: This morning The Daily Maverick team had to stage an intervention to force Phillip de Wet to get out of bed, since his levels of depression were such that he was unable to make simple choices on his own. As you may have noticed, Bafana’s performances in the World Cup have exacerbated his manic-depressive cycle over the last few days. While we fully support de Wet during this difficult time, we must make it clear that his mad ravings are entirely his own. Don’t pay them much notice – it only encourages him.)
De Wet is the deputy editor of The Daily Maverick. Not having the imagination to even try anything other than journalism (or any medium other than words), he has spent all his adult life writing about what everybody else is doing. He has written about technology and telecommunications, business, politics, the property market, unusual medical conditions and, for a brief interlude, movies. He has participated in the closing-down of one daily newspaper and two magazines, but implausibly claims that none of it was his fault.
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas