Could the World Cup Change South Africa?

A key juncture for the Rainbow Nation

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The World Cup is bringing global attention to South Africa. The African nation, which is modernizing rapidly but still struggling with the legacy of apartheid and with high levels of unemployment and crime, hopes the World Cup will be a political and economic opportunity to move the country forward. Many sports writers have been particularly surprised by crime in South Africa, where the murder rate, 37 per 100,000 people, is among the world's highest. (The U.S. murder rate is 5.4, Iraq's is 21.) Economically, the games have provoked some controversy for their $5.5 billion price tag, which is expected to generate only $1.7 billion in revenue. Here's the Western commentary as to what the World Cup could mean for South Africa's future.

  • South Africa Presents Itself to World   The New York Times' Barry Bearak writes, "The World Cup is the most-watched event on earth, and South Africa is eager to be seen, especially if the cameras ignore the shacks of the poor and focus instead on the beautiful new stadiums, the panoramic view from Cape Town's Table Mountain and the wild animals flourishing in the bush." Bearak says many South Africans are reminded of the moment when the country threw off Apartheid. "South Africans now hope for a similar transcendent moment, this time from soccer, the favorite sport of the nation's blacks."
  • Moving Past Apartheid Legacy  The Washington Post's Liz Clarke says South Africa "won an opportunity, for four weeks this summer, to showcase its young democracy and the bonds that bind this improbable Rainbow Nation together. And it won the chance to prove doubters wrong and change perceptions of a country that less than 20 years ago was deemed a global pariah, banned from the World Cup and Olympic Games because of its policy of racial discrimination known as apartheid."
  • South Africa Faces 'Key Juncture'  French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique asks of South Africa, "Will it seize this occasion to emerge at last from more than a century of divisive nationalisms?"
This has been a tumultuous year for South Africa so far, even by its own standards. Protests at municipal level against poor services and corruption are at an all-time, post-apartheid high. And the tone of public debate is increasingly tense. The April murder of the far-right politician Eugene Terre'Blanche at his farm by two black farm labourers (one only 15) raised the spectre of racial conflict once again. Julius Malema, 29, president of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, has become the country's most prominent politician, mixing brazen populism with racist incitement (this includes singing an old anti-apartheid protest song which goes "Kill the Boers, they are rapists"). South Africa is at a key juncture, and has been since the end of apartheid.
  • Why Some Black South Africans Oppose Games  The Guardian's Trevor Nelson travels to South Africa. "My mission was twofold: to find out how the people really felt about hosting a World Cup that will cost their country close to £5bn; and whether it will leave a lasting legacy that really trickles down to the people who actually love and support football: the black population. ... But the spirit of protest lives on in Jo'burg, through people such as writer Andile Mngxitama, who condemned the government's decision to host the event when some people have no running water and many millions live in the same conditions as they did during the 60s and 70s - insisting that a form of apartheid still exists today."
  • Showing Off the New Africa  The U.K. Independent's Paul Vallely sees the symbolism for the whole continent. "The image of Africa in many minds, elsewhere in the world, is of a Hopeless Continent. It is a place of disease, famine, poverty, corruption and war. There is some truth in all stereotypes but never the complete truth." Vallely makes a strong and convincing case that Africa, economically and politically, is doing much better than the Western world perceives. He says the World Cup could bring that image forward.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.