What legacy will Afcon leave for SA?
The Euro 2012 euphoria is gone. Spain have cemented their position as a team that may well be remembered for being the best ever. How privileged we are. We live in an era of possible the best footballer, ever, in Lionel Messi, possible the best club ever in Barcelona, and now, the Iberians are now possible the best ever national team. For us to confirm that, though, we will need them to repeat what they did in Soccer City, two years ago, when they visit Brazil in 2014.
The focus now shifts to the Afcon 2013 tournament which will be held in South Africa in 2013. You see, I believe in legacies. South Africa 2010 was about infrastructure. I am a bit ahead of myself. South Africa has hosted world events before. I will not dwell on Rugby and cricket which in my books remain privileged sport codes. When these were hosted, besides sporadic coaching clinics that would happen in Townships, which would be done more for the cameras than for the development of these codes in townships, no legacy was left. Nothing.
Let us go back to Poland/Ukraine. In the run up to the tournament there was talk of racial abuse in their stadia. Infect, the notorious Panorama program of BBC had an hour long documentary that had scary visuals. Not many of us people of colour thought they will pull off such a seamless, very co ordinate tournament. Infect, because of those threats, we had quite a lot of high profile people who decided that they were not going to bless this tournaments by their presents. Among these high profile people was one Danny Jordan. You see Danny thought he might be targeted by racists in Poland /Ukraine. So, what legacy did this tournament bring to these people? One would like to think that it allowed them to have a re look at themselves and understand that they live in a global village. They probably now understand that you do not have to be pale skinned to score fantastic goals in a tournament only next to the world cup in terms of prestige. Indeed, Mario Balotelli showed them the way. That is the legacy. They will need to refer back to it and use it as a benchmark to correct the wrongs of the past.
I will further go back to the All Africa games of 1999 in Gauteng. South Africa had just gone through a difficult past. These games brought all Africans together. It introduces a brand new black South African, who had just attained his freedom, to his brothers throughout the continent. These games were a resounding success. The good thing that will always stay with me was the decision that was taken by the host province, who then had its short lived premier, Mathole Motsega as its premier, of developing the Games village and later on donating this village to the community for use as homes. This was a birth of Tsutsumani village outside Alexandra in Johannesburg. What a story will it be in history if this place ever produces a gold medal Olympian! Now, these games left a legacy.
The 2010 world cup. What a story to tell. There was a lot left behind by the hosting of these games. The infrastructure is definitely one. The other important one was for the world to see that Africa is not as dark as it is always perceived to be. Africans can organize. Africans can host. Save for the unlikable Louise Suarez, one would be adding now that Africans can reach the semis, and the finals as well. The catch phrase Once in a lifetime was nicely thought out. We will remember these things forever. It was a privilege to witness this tournament first hand. There were plenty of legacies
Why am I rambling on about legacies? I am rambling on because the Afcon is the major footballing tournament coming to our shores in Southern Africa. You see, South Africa was always going to be an obvious choice when it became clear that Libya had to reschedule their priorities and get democracy first before hosting in 2013. The hotels, the road network and the stadia are up there with the best in the world. Which then begs a question. What legacy will these games bring, not only to South Africans, but to Africa as a whole? This question then takes me back to Mr. Danny Jordan, who took a very principled move by not attending the games in Poland /Ukraine. He did not want to endorse what he had seen on that Panorama program, although he knew very well that he was never going to be a target of racist taunts, simply because he was going to be enclosed in the VIP area of all stadia he would attend a game on. Mr. Danny Jordan and all South Africans for that matter, need to take a principled stand on what to me remains one of the darkest hours in the short history of the new South Africa. The xenophobic attacks of May 1998.
How I wish Nelson Mandela still had the energy. The energy to shout again, like he did those years ago. ‘’Never, and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one African by another.’’
How many of us remember Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave? How many of us remember those dark two weeks? You see, Ernesto’s burning body was poignant to all who witnessed it. To me, Hector Petersen ‘s life has to be celebrated. Ernesto’s life has to be celebrated. The sad thing between these two is that Hector was shot at by the brutal police of the apartheid system. Ernesto was killed by fellow Africans, who forgot very quickly that this new found democracy was through the blood of many Africans. Many Africans assisted in dismantling apartheid. For Oliver Tambo, who spent almost half his life in Zambia, this would have been despicable to him.
I will not encourage fellow Africans to boycott the Afcon in January, like Mr. Jordan did with Poland /Ukraine. I will instead encourage all Africans, from all walks of life, to create a legacy, in January and February. I would like fellow Africans to echoer Tata Madiba’s words that “Never, and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one African by another.” While I have no confidence in the current leadership of the country, I am also a firm believer of the old adage that says for evil to triumph, it takes a few good men to do nothing. Here is an opportunity to all Africans, especially all South Africans to correct all what went wrong. There are a lot of good people out there. Ernesto’s memory should be used to educate all about the role Africa played in the independence of South Africa.
In January and February, when we start questioning the emptiness of stadia during games, let us remember that people will have missed these games because they think they are not worth attending. People will miss these games due to fear. Fear of being attacked by a fellow brother. We all need to use the build up to these games to confront the xenophobic question. Let us make sure that this Afcon leaves us with fond memories and a legacy. A legacy that will remind all of us that ‘’Never, and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one African by another.
By Vusilizwe Peter Mpala
( The author is a former radio journalist with Hope FM. He is an independent sports and political commentator. Now based in Durban, he works for a private company as a distribution centre manager)