One thing I am learning from South Africa and its people is the ability to have a very healthy, possibly even delusional, sense of self, because the only thing bigger than South Africa’s enthusiasm is its ego.
This ego manifests itself in many ways and one was made apparent when it became a reality that South Africa would be the first host nation ever to be eliminated in the first round of the World Cup. Tangible depression filled the air and the country was in a state of mourning. Car flags were ripped off and window socks tossed aside. The hosts were facing a humiliating knockout. The ego was bruised and seemingly crushed!
But as they have done many times before, South Africans picked themselves up and rallied around the boys again, and Bafana Bafana’s success/failure win/lose drama made the bitter pill of not making it through easier to swallow. The ego was fed with the convincing win over an embattled France. The ego was satisfied. Now some can say ego is a bad thing and in some individuals it’s a supreme source of annoyance, but in the words of Mike Krzyzewski, “Our collective ego is unbelievable”.
It was that collective ego that led South Africa to bid to host the World Cup in 2006 and, though they were robbed and lost to Germany, they went for it again with a fierce determination to host in 2010. The euphoria around winning the bid was slightly dampened when the sceptics literally hurtled out of the woodwork with calls for a backup plan to be put in place to host the tournament in another country (Australia), because it stood to their reason that this is Africa, surely it’s bound to fail. Many newspapers from abroad did all they could to dissuade visitors from reaching these shores with gory stories of crime being splashed on front pages on an almost daily basis. Sepp Blatter was at odds to placate fears and doubts, asking the world to “Trust South Africa, trust Africans and to say to them: ‘You are strong, you can do it,’”. And though the tournament is far from over, boy, are we doing it and doing it well.
For it would seem all the negative media and scepticism just seemed to push South Africa’s collective ego into overdrive. It had a point to prove. They put all they had on the line, from the balls that led them to bid to the ambitious plans to build world class infrastructure, they showed their strength and their determination was commendable. South Africa managed to get their preparations finalised on schedule and nearly halfway into the tournament the positive feedback continues to pour in with many showing shock at not only the world-class state of the country and the friendliness of its people, but the success of the tournament.
When former president Thabo Mbeki spoke at the UN University in 1998 of his dream of an African Renaissance, I doubt he envisioned the start of its fulfilment being intertwined with a soccer event and an 81st place seeded soccer team. In his historic speech he stated the need to build “a society of which all Africa would be proud because it would address also the wrong and negative view of an Africa that is historically destined to fail. The first thing we must do, clearly, is to succeed.” Winning the bid to host was a victory for the whole continent and South Africa has been spearheading this process to ensure success so that a society can be born of which all Africans can be proud. A society that is determined to learn and to succeed at all they endeavour!
But with this process come lessons for other African countries and a need for self-examination. People talk about the poverty in the rest of Africa and many believe it is brought about by a lack of food and shelter. But many fail to mention the poverty of hope and aspiration. Africa has a distinct lack of ambition that is exacerbated by the deeply embedded begging-bowl mentality that totally negates Africa’s potential. Our lack of ambition is highlighted by the dismal performance of all but one of the African states represented at the World Cup – teams which have failed to make the most of this one chance to showcase their skills and talents on home soil.
So while South Africa is paving the way, what is most of the rest of Africa doing? For it’s easy for all Africans to stand tall and also claim the World Cup success as its own, but it’s time the rest of the continent catch a wakeup, learn from this experience and realise that Africa needs to stop riding on the coattails of South Africa. It’s time the rest of Africa started seeing themselves as more than they are. It’s time they aspired to do more, be more and above all to succeed. Succeed in telling a success story that is the sum of all our efforts put together.
Ego is not a bad thing Africa, take a look around you and see what is happening in South Africa and say to yourself “Yes we can, because South Africa just did!” It’s time we, in our individual states, built up our collective ego’s and remembered how to dream again, how to hope and know that we could do more than we’ve been told and in doing so; as Mbeki said: “Thus shall we, together and at last, by bringing about the African Renaissance depart from a centuries-old past which sought to perpetuate the notion of an Africa condemned to remain a curiosity slowly grinding to a halt on the periphery of the world”.
Brendah works for a management consultancy during the day, you know, one of those companies that no-one really knows what they do. Before she defected and went uber-corporate she worked for UpperCase Media and the Mail & Guardian and now does her writing on a freelance basis. She has dreams of being the change Zimbabwe needs. And did we mention she is female? Black female?
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