SOUTH Africa stands on the edge of greatness. On the 27th of April, 1994, we rejoined the world of free nations when we pulled off the most spectacular feat of political transformation.
After centuries of oppression, black South Africans enjoyed the same political rights as whites and the great Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president.
We took the world’s breath away and generated the sort of goodwill and empathy that most nations will never see.
Since then we have struggled with new problems. Our constitution brought into being powerful guarantors of our democracy and opened unprecedented space for free expression.
But there are loud voices who would like to reduce media freedom and the independence of the judiciary so that they can loot this country’s wealth without the discomfort of scrutiny.
Our leadership has failed to stop corruption and many of those sentenced for graft now find themselves occupying seats of power in the ruling party and government.
Through all of these travails, the people of South Africa have remained unwavering in their support for a free open society and implacably opposed to those who seek racial exclusion, unfair economic competition and the erosion of human rights.
The people are always way ahead of the politicians and they have shown us time and time again that they believe in a united, non-racial South Africa. More than that, they want to be part of a winning nation.
There are several memorable days on which they have done so.
Perhaps the most significant was 24 June 1995 when Nelson Mandela donned the green and gold of the Springboks and South Africa celebrated victory in the rugby world cup. Joel Stransky’s drop goal remains one of sports all-time greatest match-winning achievements.
Then there was 3 February 1996 when the nation watched in awe as Bafana Bafana stunned the continent took the African Cup of Nations. Who could forget the two goals scored by Mark Williams?
Just last week, on Saturday 29 March, Soweto’s Orlando stadium produced another of those moments as the Blue Bulls beat the Stormers as the nation watched.
But perhaps Friday June 11, just five days from now, will eclipse all of those dates as Bafana take on Mexico in the opening game of the football World Cup.
For this will be so much more than a sporting event. It is gleaming evidence that we are a deserving member of the global community of nations.
We have built, we have organised, we have put on our yellow shirts, we have decorated our houses, our places of work and the whole country with the flags of the world.
We know that our coach and our great football team, Bafana Bafana, have prepared with discipline, dedication and belief. Now is the time to shine.
TODAY the Blue Bulls and the Stormers played the final of rugby’s Super 14 competition at Orlando stadium in Soweto. The match took place in the shadow of the intense symbolism of the Bulls semifinal game at the same stadium a week earlier.
The nation celebrated as tens of thousands of Blue Bulls supporters trekked to Soweto to share pap, vleis and Black Label beer with the locals. Urban legend already has it that, between them, Blue Bulls supporters and those who travelled to Soccer City to watch the Nedbank Cup final drank Soweto’s shebeens dry.
After the semifinal victory, Bulls captain Victor Matfield described the experience: “Loftus is our home, but this was amazing. It was a historical day … it was wonderful. Where can you go and experience vuvuzelas mixed with boeremusiek ?”
It was a ground-breaking moment for the sport of rugby, but it was much more than that. It was evidence of how South Africa’s new centre, comprised of people from all walks of life, all incomes and all races, not only share but practise the founding values of our society, which include nonracialism, fairness, equality of opportunity, justice and reconciliation.
Momentous though these events have been, to suggest that these people found each other for the first time on the streets surrounding Orlando stadium would be mistaken. The rugby games were merely the grand symbolic expression of what has already happened in South Africa over the past 16 years, at back-yard braais, over the water cooler at work, at PTA meetings, at school sports events and at places of worship.
Even as Matfield was leading his team to victory in the semifinal, another event of momentous significance was taking place in Durban: Julius Malema, the self-styled voice of aggressive militancy, took the podium at a provincial youth function to sing “kiss the boer” to enthusiastic, if bemused, delegates.
Malema’s new song may have seemed to be the spontaneous action of an unpredictable personality, but it, too, was evidence of the power of the centre.
The youth leader’s goading of Afrikaners with the “shoot the boer” song had won him national notoriety and had cemented his position as the leader of the ANC’s populist, perhaps even Africanist, lobby, which seeks to abandon nonracialism in favour of a “payback time” approach to the economy by, for example, nationalising the mines.
Malema’s new awareness of the blood-dimmed tide his words were evoking was not brought about by idle introspection. It was the product of the heavy hand of a displeased ANC leadership. They had benignly tolerated his rhetoric as it rose through the octaves, but when it reached its shrillest pitch in the days leading up to the (unrelated, as it turns out) murder of Eugene Terre Blanche, President Jacob Zuma finally turned on Malema.
He did so for one simple reason: Malema was achieving what opposition parties had failed to do: he was disillusioning those who had for decades supported the party. The adjective that Zuma attached to Malema’s extremism was “alien”.
Malema may or may not have come round to the fact that singing “kiss” will take him a lot further in politics than singing “shoot”. But he had best heed the words of the saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.
This is an old rule of thumb in South African politics. For close on a hundred years, successive ANC leaders have embraced nonracialism, building a “multiclass” mass movement with few peers anywhere in the world. Those who built organisations on racially exclusive tickets have always been condemned to the margins.
Is this wishful thinking ? Fortunately, we don’t need to guess at the size of that democratic centre because we have elections that measure its support against that of the racially exclusive left and right.
An under-reported fact of the 1994 election is the devastating blow it dealt to the PAC — until then held to be a momentous force of the Africanist Left — which garnered a mere 243478 votes, about 90000 fewer than the DA. The majority did not buy into its exclusionist approach. Nor did many buy into the agenda of the right wing. The Freedom Front of Constand Viljoen achieved only 424555 votes.
Sixteen years of democracy have further worn down support on the radical fringes. In the 2009 election, the PAC achieved a paltry 113512 votes, while the Freedom Front Plus was down to a mere 139465 votes.
Compare this with the well over 15 million votes given to the ANC, DA, IFP, UDM and other parties of the democratic centre, and you get the picture.
If anything, parties of the nonracial democratic centre are growing their market share, and there is, frankly, no other political game worth playing in local politics.
Why then, you might ask, does the attention given to the views of extremists of one or another hue, such as Terre Blanche or Malema, far exceed that warranted by the size of their support base?
The answer lies in a major misperception about the people who occupy the democratic centre as being powerless victims of political and economic overlords. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Members of this democratic centre have always successfully challenged those who seek to undermine the core values of the constitution. When these values are threatened, they react with outrage and make their feelings known.
Evidence of this is abundant. People such as those who read this newspaper are vocal when they see these values being challenged. They write letters, they phone in to radio talk shows, they go online, they vent their displeasure on Facebook and they pass around e-mails.
In so doing, they are not giving unwarranted attention to those who should be ignored. They are owning democracy and taking a stand against its erosion, using the channels open to them in a democratic society.
Parties such as the ANC, which tried to pretend that Malema’s utterances could simply be ignored, eventually found themselves with no choice but to act to restore credibility with the people of this democratic centre.
There have been many assaults on our foundation values over the past 16 years, and, some would argue, there are new threats on the horizon.
The objectives being pursued by those who want to depart from our core values read like school debating-society fare: the death penalty, abortion and property rights. Zuma has associated himself with some alarming socially conservative allies who wish to punch holes in constitutional liberties on these and other fronts.
These threats are real and may metastasize into deeds if they are left unchallenged.
The people who shared the joy of a rugby victory in Soweto and those who will sit together on the benches of our incredible World Cup stadiums are, ultimately, the true defenders of this democracy.
Many countries deserving of a bright future have faltered as their people have watched the trampling of the values of democracy in silence.
But this nation is shouting it out, and the message is clear: we are one nation united in defence of our values.
LOOKING back on Saturday, it was quite a day. Tens of thousands of supporters of the Blue Bulls, traffic notwithstanding, made the the journey to Orlando Stadium where they were welcomed with open arms by the community of Soweto. There was the rugby, which was a triumphant display of Bulls power. But there was so much more than that. The fans dined with the locals, danced and sang into the night.
Make no mistake, this was an ingenious marketing ploy by whoever manages the Bulls. The Dallas Cowboys football franchise is known as “America’s team” in the US and they are several fold the richer for it when it comes to merchandise sales, viewership and the like. On Saturday, the Bulls staked a claim to becoming “South Africa’s team”, which is exactly where you want to be if you want future growth as a business.
But the marketers succeeded because they looked past the stereotypes at the true heart of South Africa, a heart which prizes reconciliation, peace and good fun far more than the divisive racism of the minorities on either side of the political spectrum.
As the Bulls pulled off their coup, Julius Malema rose to astonish the nation by singing “Kiss the Boer”, a very convincing about turn from the original “Shoot the Boer” song which caused so much unhappiness.
Malema’s move showed just how powerful the South African center can be when it flexes its muscle. Jacob Zuma and the ANC read the riot act to Malema precisely because they recognised how far he had moved from the ANC’s voters. He was sowing disillusion with the ANC at a time when Zuma wanted to cash in on the goodwill generated by the World Cup.
The center, I would venture to say, is holding.
now let’s all keep a straight face shall we?
STATEMENT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN EMBASSY, PARIS, FRANCE , ON THE DEBACLE REGARDING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
Paris – The South African Embassy in Paris, France, has taken note with concern of media reports over the weekend that it was the Embassy in Paris that recommended a singer to render the National Anthem at the rugby match between South Africa and France on Friday, 13 November 2009. The Embassy shares the disappointment of all South Africans on the performance of the singer in his rendition of the National Anthem. The South African Embassy, as the Government’s representative in France, will always take the necessary steps to protect and promote our country’s national symbols.
On 4 September 2009, the French Rugby Union in Paris approached the South African Embassy in Paris for names of singers residing in France who could be contacted to sing the national anthem. The South African Embassy does indeed keep a list of South Africans residing in France and regularly provides relevant information to French interlocutors as may be appropriate. In all cases, the Embassy merely provides information but is often not in a position to vouch for the bona fides, credentials or competency of any of the parties. In this case, the embassy had only one name of a South African singer in France and the Embassy provided the name of his agent in France to the French Rugby Union. This was not a recommendation from the embassy since the embassy had no previous exposure to his performances nor is he a renowned performer.
During a meeting of 8 September 2009 with officials from the Midi-Pyrenees Rugby Union in Toulouse a request was made to the Embassy to suggest a South African singer residing in France to render the National Anthem during the match. Since this was not an embassy event the embassy maintained that it was not in a position to provide, source or recommend any artists and that they discuss this matter with the South African Rugby Union. The Embassy further undertook to inform them of any South African singers who might be touring France during this period. There was unfortunately no South African artist touring France during this period.
The Embassy had no subsequent dealings with any of the parties and rejects all claims that the embassy chose or imposed the singer. This was entirely the responsibility of the hosts.
The Embassy also took note of another incident involving its national symbols at the rugby match. In this case the South African Flag was hung the wrong way. South African diplomats attending the game immediately brought this to the attention of the French authorities but unfortunately, the French authorities indicated that it was too late to correct this.
The Embassy affirms that it was not responsible for sourcing, providing or recommending a singer to render the national anthem at the rugby match, and similarly, at any non-government event(s) held in France.
THE mauling of the national anthem by reggae singer, Ras Dumisani, has become the subject of a national outpouring of anger.
There can be no gainsaying that his singing was appalling, unprofessional and should never have been allowed.
Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder and choking back the tears as they silently pledged to win this one for Madiba, the Boks were left bemused and unfocussed.
Of course this affected them on the field as the emotional and psychological intensity needed for an encounter with the French in front of a massive chanting home crowd was clearly not there.
So, how did someone so palpably incapable get the nod to represent the entire country?
Clearly not enough attention was paid to this by the organisers of the game or the Springbok rugby management.
According to one story, it was the South African embassy in Paris which recommended Ras Dumisani.
If this is so, it is evidence of how political choices deliver poor outcomes in sport and the arts.
On the upside, as was cleverly observed by journalist Gus Silber on twitter yesterday, it is a mark of how far we have come as a nation that the Springbok players are critical of poor singing of the anthem.
Perhaps we should laugh off the anthem debacle and ask ourselves the much more serious question: Are the Boks burning out due to over-scheduling.
It is not possible to sustain a high level of performance without substantial recovery time and a decent off season. The Bok players are looking jaded. When they get back from this tour they will have two weeks rest and then its Super 15 action. Not good.
The story – broken on David Isaacson’s fantastic sports blog - that Beast Mtawarira should be booted out of the Bok team because the Sport Minister, Makhenkesi Stofile, feels that his South African citizenship should not be expedited is a great illustration of what’s wrong with this country’s attitude to foreign skills.
Here’s a man who is obviously more than the best at this job – he has already played 15 tests for the Boks and is a force to be reckoned with in the tight five – but not good enough to become a South African because we think we should find a local who can do the job.
This is just another species of the short-sightedness that keeps foreign skills desperately needed in our economy out of the country. We should be proud of the fact that we a destination for those with skills and we should not only be welcoming them to our shores, we should be actively seeking them.
Imagine if the All Blacks refused to allow Pacific islanders to play in their set up because they were foreigners? What about South africans who turn up for France, England and Wales?
What a joke.
I have just got my hands on this secret recording of Peter de Villiers talking to the Bokke at half-time on Saturday. Here is a transcript:
When you go to the game reserve, you expect to see a lion. Today we have been to fifteen game reserves and we know we have seen a lot of lions. It’s like they are lions that are also mechanics. Because they are tinkering with our spark plugs to make us backfire. But if we wanted to backfire, we would not fix our timing. So we won’t. (Muttering from Bok players in background)
Now we have just forty minutes to fix this minibus taxi. Because there are fifteen very lucky people riding on this taxi. Do you know how many people are waiting at the taxi rank to get onto this taxi? And I’m not even talking about the people in cars.
You know when Barabbas wanted to go into a pub, he didn’t ask Jesus to take him there. He walked in and said: “Make it a double”. He didn’t get a drink because he was a criminal. But he was proud.
That’s what we have to do. We have to walk onto that field just like Nelson Mandela walked off Robben Island all the way to Cape Town. Water or no water. And we must make it a triple. But we musn’t be like Barabbas. That actor Al Capone said it like this in Any Given Sunday: “There are only mos a few inches between winning and losing”.
Like the inches between the boot and the touchline. You must watch out, they have cameras everywhere and there are referees sitting up in the stands like vultures waiting to criticise us.
So what I’m saying is you must start behaving like game keepers in the game reserve. Not like tourists with fancy cameras. Let’s go backfire at them! (Murmurs in background)
Matfield: Er … coach, you’ve been standing on my foot.
I am now forced to add the following rider: The above is satire! Didn’t happen!
TODAY Khotso Mokoena earned South Africa its first Olympic medal, a silver for jumping 8.24 meters in the long jump.
This nation, which expected so much from its Olympic team, breathed a collective sigh of relief. It least it was now certain that we would not return from Beijing empty handed.
Mokoena’s incredible achievement must be lauded, but we must also ask why we appear to have fallen off the pace in other disciplines.
One thing is certain: We should not blame out athletes who have given it their all.
From the swimming team, which is yet to win a medal despite breaking African records aplenty to our track and field athletes, they are all doing us proud.
Why then, are we so behind in the chase for medals?
Writing in his blog for www.thetimes.co.za, South African swimmer Ryk Neethling told of his admiration for the Australian sporting set-up.
There to help motivate the team were the likes of former cricket captain Steve Waugh. That country did not spare resources to make sure its athletes were ready and competitive for the games.
By comparison, the Sunday Times reported this weekend how South Africa spent more on a dud exhibition on World Cup 2010 in some hotel lobby than it did on preparing the entire Olympic team.
The truth is that government has not realised the marketing and brand-building potential that sport may have for this country.
Sports which are able to raise substantial funds through ticket sales, television rights and sponsorships such as rugby and cricket are well resourced. They do the country proud when they take to the field.
But those sports — and many are Olympic events — which depend on the largesse of government have fallen lamentably behind.
We need to invest in making South Africa a winning Olympic nation. Starting now.
As Zimbabwe’s talks get underway today, I have a feeling a little South African pride is being restored. President Thabo Mbeki has finally delivered on our biggest challenge: The restoration of calm and peace to Zimbabwe.
Of course this will not be an easy road and the wily Robert Mugabe still has cards to play – though fewer than ever before.
The economic and social dividend of a peaceful, perhaps even democratic Zimbabwe should not be underestimated.
All this a few days after the nation unted behind Nelson Mandela as he celebrated his 90th birthday. (The smarties flag pictured here was from our Times birthday cake!)
Then there was that famous rugby victory against the All Blacks. And the destruction of England in the cricket. And Ryk getting ready for Beijing …
Suddenly, there are blue skies peeping through the clouds.