Last night, I felt the pull of warring emotions.

The occasion was the watching of the World Cup welcoming concert on TV from the comfort of my own lounge. The general effects seemed to be intensified by the fact that I could see (the fireworks, lasers and helicopters anyway) and hear the one taking place in Cape Town’s Grand Parade about a kilometer away.

A couple of things:

  1. Sepp Blatter and Jacob Zuma were like twinkly old non-English speaking train robbers still dashingly on the run all these years later. They can’t speak English – or any kind of sense – but their delight at how much money they have managed to stash away is infectious. They both came onto the stage together and Sepp Blatter spoke first and Jacob Zuma stood meekly beside him – just in case there was any doubt as to who will be running the country over the next month and a half.
  2. Bishop Desmond Tutu’s warmth and sweetness is undiminished and his eccentricity is coming along nicely.
  3. The delights of Shakira are numerous and cross generations and genders.

The truth is I felt my critical faculties slipping away, sandwiched as I was between the celebration in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The official opening is later today and after that Bafana Bafana will play Mexico. Perhaps the bubble will break if The Boys lose to El Tri (The Three Coloured … ok, it doesn’t appear to translate very well). But for now there are not many South Africans who can put aside their crack-fizzed enthusiasm and take a long hard look at what is going down.

So one last time: have we diverted resources that should have been used to build houses and create jobs for the poor? Is this not just a ridiculous and over-the-top bit of flim-flam? I mean the children that lead the guests and players around have got a McDonalds sign on their shirts!

I don’t think South Africa hosting the World Cup is a waste of resources and this is a sketch of the reasons:

  • Since 1994 resources have poured into the task of upliftment and, aside from the hugely effective social grants that have grown exponentially from 2000 to now, much of the social expenditure has been skimmed by successive layers of government cronies and tenderpreneurs (the fronted and the fronters) and the vampire capitalists who take rents out of almost every transaction in our economy. World Cup spending has provided a focus for infrastructure. Perhaps we did not need this emphasis on stadiums, airports, hotels and associated transport networks, but much of this “stuff” is multi-purpose. The Mail and Guardian might find some significant dirt in the tender documents of Fifa’s local organising committee which they successfully forced into the public domain (thankfully our courts have ruled that South Africa’s constitution is not suspended by our craven delight at hosting the Fifa superpower.)  So the advantages of this infrastructure are locked in – this will be here after Fifa has packed up and gone.
  • Most economists seem to agree that the World Cup associated tourist spending will boost GDP  by between 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent. That is not earth shattering but a thousand little businesses – from flag sellers on street corners to guest houses – are booming. That must count for something.
  • To some unquantifiable degree and in ways that are only becoming apparent now, this World Cup is going to re-brand South Africa . Perhaps it will not go as far as Thabo Mbeki’s hoped for proof that South Africa is as efficient as Germany, slick as Hollywood and clearly an emerging African superpower.   Part of that re-branding will be: “oh yes, they can also do the sentimental and gross commercial sell-off of their national assets” but part of it is more complex. The crowds are multi-racial and the South African fans are projecting a shared excitement and togetherness that is already proving confusing, particularly to English and US media and fans. The Rainbow Nation still has some force and effect as an idea. The evident success of the build programme around the stadiums, hotels, airports and transport networks goes some way to proving a degree of technical prowess and capacity. This combination (non-racialism and a competitive logistical, infrastructural and technological capacity) does provide a platform upon which to rebrand the country.

I have to publish before 5 am … so I am going leave it there (that is how my wordpress account is set up and I don’t know how to change it). The lowbrow media – particularly in the UK – are clinging tenaciously to the machete-wielding- tribesman-in-leopard-skins-raping-and-chopping-up-tourists idea but this is going to conflict with the positives most of the 325000 (official figure) to 250000 (my figure) visitors who have arrived for the spectacular spectacle will experience.

They are going to have a good time … I can feel it.

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