Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bafana Bafana

Bafana Bafana, the official, very catchy name of the South African Soccer team, more-or-less means, "Go Lads!!" I think much of the World wanted Bafana Bafana to do well against Uruguay last night and get through their group. But sort of like supporting Australia against Germany, anyone who knows football also knew they had little chance. Unless they can perform a miracle against France (and it would be a brilliant time for a miracle) South Africa will be the first nation ever to host a World Cup and lose the Group stage. That's embarassing for a nation who the whole World was hoping would be lifted by this event. It's embarassing for Africa, which is unfortunate.

Off the field on the fan front, the Vuvuzela is South Africa's equivelent of Australia's, "Oi, Oi, Oi!!" Clumsy, loud and drowning. It is a vile thing. Jacob couldn't hear properly for two days after the opening ceremony and we have bought ear plugs. Worse than that when people go to games partly to experience the sounds and songs of the famous English, German and Brazilian fans, they are dissappointed, as all you can hear are horns. It has a very cool name but the fact is the Vuvuzela, which FIFA endorsed as a 2010 thing and fans from many countries have gotten into, is the lowest form of fan culture ever devised. It is more than embarassing - it is a health hazard, a disturbance of the peace (we're talking up to 140 decibels), and a clearfell of any other fan expression; a monoculture of sound. The Nations' anthems, thankfully, provide a very brief respite before the games.

I wonder if there is a parallel with the whole event being in South Africa. Everyone knew it was ambitious, some doubted that it was properly feasible, but everyone of good will hoped that South Africa would show that it had entered the modern world, boding well for the continent as a whole. Like the South African team, it has half-impressed, and to say, "Fantastic job," would be a little patronising, because it has not been a fantastic job.

Planning is the precise thing missing in South Africa. As we travel around we notice excellent roads, a variety of really interesting architecture and all the shops, cars and advertising that you would expect in a modern city. But it seems to be, like the Greek football team, randomly scattered across the landscape. There is apparently no town planning. When you get beer at the stadiums, there's beer, people to serve, fridges and the like, but to get a beer the worker has to travel five metres, negotiating obstacles and other workers, to get the beer, which is pretty much the only thing they're selling. Even a layperson could manage a better industrial design.

The World Cup has taken South Africa's infrastructure by surprise. The internet in particular simply cannot handle the influx of wealthy people skyping, exchanging photos and watching endless video on their computers. It's not just our bodgy little Soccer Village, whole areas go off line at once. Australia take note for its World Cup bid. Are we sure our broadband system will handle it?

So when South Africa were roundly put in their place last night, I had some worries apart from the fact that my chosen team in the game had failed. I worry for the mood in the country, which is stretched and tired as it is. And I worried for the overall message that seems to be being reinforced by the loss - that Africa is almost ready for the world stage. Now we get to see if the country has the professionalism to maintain the work and energy required without Bafana Bafana. Jacob has pointed out that if you want people to be instantly friendly you just have to say enthusiastically, "Bafana Bafana." What for when this becomes a very insensitive thing to do?

This World Cup has had plenty of problems already and anyone who doesn't think there will be many more needs to quarry their head. But there are good signs everywhere of development, a developing middle class, a real cross-racial patriotism and a bright future for a modern nation. Africa will get there, especially South Africa. You just have to wonder if it is a bird pushed from its nest a day too early; if by showcasing Africa's unfolding modernity prematurely it has merely been exposed as an upstart.

Please don't get me wrong. Africa is wonderful and this World Cup is a hoot. Perhaps it's even too early for me to express some of these things, but I think lots of people are already thinking them.



Blogger dawn said...

yeah it's been interesting talking with K who as you know is recently returned. On a political note she pointed out that South Africa has very progressive legislation but no back-up - a cultural lag, as i'm fond of saying. so many not able to pursue their rights or simply unaware that they exist. makes the 'one goal' campaign even more compelling, in my view.

June 17, 2010 3:45 pm  
Anonymous Neil said...

Was going to ask you if you pick me up a vuvuzela but I guess not now after your comments.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament.

June 18, 2010 2:04 pm  
Blogger john said...

Thanks Hamish
I understand that security is on strike at some stadiums and police have taken over.


June 19, 2010 1:05 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Indeed John. Reading the local papers is fascinating. I'm going to bring some back. It would be a challenging perspective for anyone who is shocked at, say, violent incidents, in Australian society.

This place is quite mad.

June 19, 2010 2:14 pm  

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