World Cup will not be a panacea for di­vided, fail­ing na­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WILLIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER

LAST year was a grim one for the coun­try, al­though South Africa’s ir­re­press­ibly ge­nial pres­i­dent ap­peared not to no­tice.

So for the gov­ern­ment to view the World Cup as 2010’s mir­a­cle cure for all na­tional ills is a lit­tle naïve.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma hopes the World Cup will some­how de­liver the magic that will curb grow­ing na­tional frac­tious­ness and si­mul­ta­ne­ously over­come the state’s in­ca­pac­ity to func­tion ef­fec­tively.

The World Cup is not merely a sports tour­na­ment. On the con­trary, the ANC is count­ing on it to de­liver jobs, eco­nomic growth, unity, peace, na­tional glory and in­ter na­tional es­teem.

This is like a gam­bler plac­ing his en­tire de­pleted stake on one num­ber for a fi­nal spin of the wheel.

This is not to gain­say the con­sid­er­able ben­e­fits the World Cup will bring. The Cup is not, how­ever, the panacea the gov­ern­ment is pin­ing for – a slow-mo­tion re­run of the di­vinely scripted 1995 Rugby World Cup which saw Nel­son Man­dela unite a fear­ful and di­vided na­tion, al­beit to have his gains squan­dered by his suc­ces­sor, Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma has more than once said he would like to fol­low in the foot­steps of Man­dela, “to lead the coun­try to­wards the re­al­i­sa­tion of Madiba’s vi­sion of a truly non-sex­ist, non­ra­cial SA, united in its di­ver­sity”, as he put it in his pres­i­den­tial ac­cep­tance speech last year. He wants that In­vic­tus mo­ment with him usurp­ing Mor­gan Free­man as the iconic Man­dela.

In his New Year mes­sage Zuma called on the na­tion to “re­vive the unity and pa­tri­o­tism” of the Rugby World Cup, and to “re­new our com­mit­ment to na­tional unity and na­tion build­ing”, putting a “cul­ture of neg­a­tiv­ity” be­hind us.

Th­ese are ad­mirable ob­jec­tives, but the Madiba mo­ment is long gone and the World Cup is prob­a­bly not enough to put the fizz of op­ti­mism back into what is now very flat cham­pagne.

The “cul­ture of neg­a­tiv­ity” is in 2010 no longer the pre­serve of the white com­mu­nity, as it was 15 years ago. It is wide­spread across all eth­nic groups and re­sults di­rectly from a gov­ern­ment that puts the ANC ahead of the na­tional in­ter­est.

Ev­ery state in­sti­tu­tion has been bent to serve the ANC through the de­ploy­ment of party cadres who of­ten have proved to be in­com­pe­tent and cor­rupt. The con­fla­tion of state and party is so com­plete that no one in the ANC finds it chill­ing or even in­con­gru­ous when the new head of the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity says that he will take his cue di­rectly from the of­fice of the pres­i­dent.

No ANC cab­i­net min­is­ter or head of a paras­tatal has yet been booted out for poor per­for­mance. All that is re­quired in a top job is loy­alty to the ANC fac­tion that made the ap­point­ment.

Glo­ri­ous mo­ments are im­por­tant for na­tional morale, but in the ar­du­ous task of build­ing a na­tion they can­not sub­sti­tute for hard graft.

Nor can they make up for vac­il­lat­ing lead­er­ship or for lack of moral courage. Zuma can­not defini­tively be dis­missed as a poor leader, for no other rea­son than he has been no leader at all. If his lais­sez faire ap­proach works and he man­ages to hold both party and na­tion to­gether, one might yet ad­mire his no­tional pres­i­dency.

But in the in­terim he pre­sides over an al­liance that is creak­ing with strain be­cause he will not spell out un­am­bigu­ously what ide­o­log­i­cal course his gov­ern­ment will fol­low. And he pre­sides over a na­tion that is fal­ter­ing, di­vided, and poi­soned by race ha­treds which are openly fanned by favoured func­tionar­ies in the ANC.

Dis­ap­point­ingly for Zuma, and South Africa, there is no In­vic­tus mo­ment loom­ing.

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