Monday, December 14, 2009

Has South Africa, as a nation, gone mad?

I remember the day in 2004 when South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.  It meant little to me at the time, but of course, the announcement ignited a national madness that has endured  unwavering for nearly six years. And why shouldn't it? Make no mistake, when I say madness, I refer only to the enthusiasm, energy and overwhelming national sentiment that has engulfed us. I think it's wonderful. Although South Africa was a proud country, the business capital for Africa and by all rights a growing democracy in the post apartheid era, the announcement caused everything to accelerate.

The Hillbrow Telkom tower. A mysterious soccer ball appeared one morning and moved slowly up the tower over a few days, there to remain until the World Cup, I presume. Just a subtle reminder to anyone who might have forgotten.

A matching ball on the Telkom tower opposite the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
In my opinion, the balls should have risen slowly, reaching the top at the start of the World Cup.

Transport within the host cities has been improved and augmented. Few roads have escaped expansion and restructuring, with feats of engineering soaring above and delving below in the search of ever more efficient ways of moving the enormous number of cars that ebb and flow through the cities every day. The Rea Vaya BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) system was implemented successfully, accompanied by the construction of specialised bus stops dotted through the city, ameliorating the public transport facilities greatly. The Gautrain project kicked into high gear in the hopes that it would be ready in time for the opening. At times this seemd an impossibility, but they now believe they'll have the Sandton - Airport rail running on time. The airports are preparing to handle the unprecedented influx of tourists. And so rail, road and air are all prepared.

For a nation already passionate about soccer, the chance to host the world cup is an honour, but the side effects for the country are just as important. The tourism, for example. South Africa - Cape Town, to be exact - is one of the top tourist destinations. Cape Town is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world, but there's so much more to South Africa. This is our chance to show off the best of our unique and spectacular country.

A soccer ball hot-air balloon that rises often above Montecasino. We can see it all the way from Northcliff.

R8.4 billion has been spent on the construction of five new stadiums and the renovations of  five existing stadiums. All have met mixed responses. I think that Soccer City here in Johannesburg is brilliant, shaped sort of like a calabash pot over a fire, it blends into the mine dumps and highveld surroundings perfectly. The stadium at Green Point in Cape Town, however, is a blight on the landscape. And an uninspired one at that. It looms high over everything around it, and makes no attempt to blend in.  I think that if more people could have foreseen the finished product, beautiful and graceful out of context though it may be, then perhaps the protests against its construction may have attracted more effective numbers. It's sheer white walls and imposing scale make it unmissable, though you may try.

Zakumi, the leopard mascot of the 2010 World Cup.

The world cup, and even the year 2010 is spoke about with a kind of reverence that borders on the religious. Not a day can pass without some mention of it in the media - even though it may be an incredible 2010 furniture clearance sale! Just the thought or mention of it carries a kind of magic.

For better or for worse, preparations for the cup have shown how much South Africa can accomplish with such a tangible and absolute deadline on the horizon. The frenzy has driven us to new heights of daring and skill, and we've proven equal to the task. I only hope that in July 2010, when the world cup is over, the matches have been played and the tourists sent home, that there's something of that madness remaining, or I fear there will be nothing.

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