The significance of the 2010 World Cup & the legacy of a sound infrastructure
In the four years since my last visit to these shores, the first thing I was keen to establish was whether South Africa had changed in any shape or form, particularly since, in that period, a sporting event of enormous significance had taken place – South Africa had been chosen by FIFA, the world governing body, as the country to host the 2010 football World Cup, the first time it had been held on the African continent.
Whilst the tournament arguably did little to improve the lives of South Africans living below the poverty line, it made a difference in other respects. It contributed enormously to counter the misconception that countries in the developing world and in particular, Africa, did not possess the ability to stage tournaments on this scale. Harry Redknapp, a man very much in the news these days, bore testimony to the Euro-sceptic viewpoint at the time. Furthermore, the tournament probably showed Africans what they were capable of achieving, something they can now look back upon with enormous pride. It also served to open people’s eyes regarding South Africa, as a destination indeed worth visiting. The World Cup had brought with it a huge amount of investment, with the construction of new stadia, as required by FIFA, white elephant though some are destined to become.
I spent a week in Johannesburg, followed by three in the Cape Town. The most notable observation was the high standard of the country’s infrastructure, particularly the highways, many now being converted, controversially, to toll roads. As I flew into Cape Town International Airport, I was impressed too by the upgrade. Inevitable though it’s completion might have been, it was certainly accelerated by South Africa having been awarded the tournament in the first instance.
A new generation & a change in demographics
Fair enough, I did not frequent poorer areas where the true nature of change also needs to be gauged. In wealthier suburbs, the extensive, visible deployment of home security, a booming industry in itself, remains a sobering observation, wherever one goes. Yes, I was in Sandton rather than Alexandria Township however in the areas I did visit, I was struck by the confidence of a new generation of young blacks.
My eldest brother has played a major role in a company that develops and produces hydraulic props for the gold mining industry in South Africa.
It was with great interest, therefore, that I accompanied him on the day he went to the factory that produces the mining props, for their annual end-of-the year staff barbeque. It was interesting to see how the black and white (mostly working-class) employees interacted with one another. One (black) who had shown particular promise was now in the position of deputy shop-foreman. I went with my brother to an outlet of mobile phone network providers Vodacom. The guy helping us was black. This in itself was nothing extraordinary however what did surprise me was the perfect Queen’s English he spoke i.e. no trace of an African accent. I kept thinking to myself: “How times have changed!”
Cape Town tourist spots over the festive season will naturally attract visitors from all over however an indication as to how cosmopolitan the city has become, can be seen by the numbers of affluent Africans one might encounter from other parts of the continent. I drove down the main road of a suburb I grew up in. The influx of large numbers of Nigerians has resulted in an increase in the availability of hard drugs via cartels, coupled with an increase in prostitution. There is, to some extent, a price to be paid for the country’s open status, as the strongest economy in Africa.
The Malema factor – the changing face of South African politics
Much has been written regarding the current political mood, influenced largely be the presence of one man, Julius Malema, who has, for the time being at least, been brought under control by the ruling ANC party. On one hand, uncertainty wrought by Malema’s controversial headline-grabbing rhetoric in general, is equally a manifestation of a power struggle within the party; however, the ANC is itself under scrutiny on the subject of corruption. An article in Time magazine I read on the flight back to the UK alluded to the growth of the so-called tenderpreneur, the term that describes those who get rich from government contracts.
In this same four-year period, South Africa elections took place at national level. This resulted in the Democratic Alliance, official opposition in South African politics, winning back the Western Cape province from the ruling ANC, whilst growing their overall support nationally to 16.66%. The DA, led by the wily, nuggety Helen Zille, have demonstrated that the provision of services and good government achieves results.
Though mistakes have been made, the DA has campaigned relentlessy to ensure that corruption within government be exposed. As recently as last week, Zille is quoted as saying: “Unless we can end corruption, South Africa cannot be internationally competitive and attract job-creating investment.” On the question of the toll road contract in Gauteng awarded to Kapsch TrafficCom, eighty-five cent out of every R1 profit made from constructing and operating Gauteng’s controversial open road tolling system could land up in the pockets of an Austrian traffic conglomerate. Clearly, the question that needs to be asked is whether this investment is in the best interests of South Africa.
Protection of the Western Cape’s biodiversity
One thing is certain. The country’s splendid beauty, particularly in the Western Cape, remains undiminished and I was reminded of this on a number of hikes I undertook. The region, home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, has been recognised as one of the most special places for plants—in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species—in the world. It has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was particularly moved by the Biodiversity Showcase Garden (see Marijke Honig’s blog), situated in the new Green Point Park in Cape Town. Located near the Cape Town football stadium, it was completed only after the World Cup. It features over 300 local Cape plant species, animal sculptures, interactive displays, demonstration gardens, a Khoikhoi display and more, the aim being to educate and inspire visitors to enjoy and value biodiversity. I can’t pin it down a precise reason, however I experienced the same emotion on visits to Kew Gardens in London and the Eden Project’s Mediterranean Biome, in Cornwall, England.
Perhaps it is a mixture of what the garden represents, coupled with a sense of enormous pride, that we, as South Africans, possess something natural and unique. It is of critical importance that investment in this wonderful heritage continues. A tightening of the budgetary purse strings to organisations such as Cape Nature, leading to an under-funding of resources, threatens to undermine the future of our biodiversity. This was quite evident on the Boland Trail, which my friend Ralph and I had walked. If maintenance of the facilities is anything to go by, it doesn’t auger well for the protection of the resource in general.
The way ahead
There is no question in my mind that South Africa has much to do to alleviate the chronic poverty that still exists. A lapse into a false sense of security will be a huge mistake. The fact that South Africa’s Gini coefficient (used to measure inequality, though the simplicity of the index has been criticized) is one of the highest in the world cannot be disregarded. It’s not down to the government alone, so I fully believe that white South Africans, to whom most of the wealth is still distributed, also have a responsibility and a part to play in tackling poverty, not only because it’s the right thing to do, more importantly, as a guarantee against the breakdown of social order. In a nutshell, don’t give the likes of Malema the ammunition that provides a basis for his extremist rhetoric.