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Fever Pitch: What the World Cup Means to Africa

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Listening to South African President Jacob Zuma and FIFA president Sepp Blatter, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they are the world's biggest Afrocentrists, and the bane of all Afro-pessimists existing out in the world today. The Sunday before the biggest sporting event in the world commences, they are almost dancing with glee at the prospect that all the years of hard work and preparation are finally coming to fruition, culminating in the opening ceremony and first game between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City on June 11. If perhaps you've been living under a rock somewhere, or in the bundu, as we say in Africa, you will not know that the FIFA World Cup is taking place from June 11th until July 11th in South Africa. And, as evidenced by the fact that people from all walks of life in this country know what is taking place, even rock-dwellers should by now know.

Rather than tales of tropical malaise and fevers pitched at unsuspecting tourists and adventurers alike, the result of the winning bid to host this, the biggest of all sporting events, is that pitch fever has reached fever pitch in South Africa. If I was anyone but the construction companies, the clothing and accessories manufacturers and the hospitality industry, and I had to tell it, it would be that I was a mere spectator to the juggernaut that is the FIFA World Cup. Many hands have come together to build magnificent stadiums around the country, and what Blatter and President Zuma assure the public is that part of those billions of dollars that went into organizing the World Cup will be spent on educational and health care infrastructure, not only in South Africa but around Africa as well. I heard Blatter say the figure, $100 million, and was surprised that it made me feel that the money will be used wisely, but that it's never enough when it comes to this massive continent. It is also a small percentage of the total that has actually been spent by the host nation in preparation for the staging. As an organization, achieving certain goals towards social cohesion seems to be important to FIFA, and if they ultimately do achieve some of what they've outlined, it could mean a brighter future for some of Africa's youth. If all that is in line with the altruistic musings with which Blatter tends to fill his speeches and press moments, then FIFA would have done a bloody good job. Even President Zuma had to address this, as the country is already trying to project what the future holds, and what the true legacy of this World Cup will be.

The government has refused to release the financial details of the entire undertaking, so we as the public still do not know exactly how much has been spent on this World Cup, and most importantly, who has profited. That the government of an emerging economy should spend well into the billions (in US dollars) for an event that could at worst be described as the biggest party to ever hit Africa, is something to be left for posterity to judge.

It is amazing that a simple game could have brought this country of seeming opposites, and differences, and multi-hued, multi-linguistic cultures together. Yet there is nothing simple about the machinations and inner workings of the organizers -- they were and have been a very determined lot. Even in the face of opposition and critics who constantly snapped at their heels.

What is clear is that this is one of the biggest public relations coups that this country, and perhaps this continent, has achieved, and has been likened to the release of Nelson Mandela and subsequent democratic change of government. Yet how does Africa fare? With all the criticisms it constantly faces, Africa has quietly gone on to do what Africa has needed to do.

If at the end of the day, as political analyst Adam Habib says, that the beautiful moment for Africa has come -- and that the beautiful game has enabled Africa to shine, then it would all have been worth it. If you walk the streets, and you see the cars festooned with flags, and that the height of fashion is to wear an impossible shade of yellow with green, and you hear the vuvuzelas being blown, and shouts of 'Ayoba!' rising up to greet you -- then you know you're in South Africa in 2010. Even for those of us who don't even know or understand the offside rule, for the last few years, we've been hearing nothing but '2010' and 'World Cup.' And finally, the fever's caught up with us.

So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I've bought some of the gear and accessories, including a Bafana Bafana t-shirt that I absolutely love. I've been practicing on my vuvuzela, I've even precariously placed a makarapa on my fashion-sensitive head, and promptly declared it de rigueur. And which team's makarapa you might ask? Why the United States of course! But truthfully, as most soccer fans will attest when it comes to a World Cup -- you don't really have just one team to support when it begins. You don't have just one, unless, of course, you're my boyfriend, who will be trekking across South Africa to support his home country's team. But even he has his limits and says he is staunchly supporting all the African teams. As the resident vuvuzela 'musician' and keeper of the Bafana Bafana fan spirit, he says it is wide open, as no team has proven to be dominant before coming to this contest. And that makes it that more exciting. I've even decided that I am also going to support the Orange team just because of the spirit their supporters have shown. But if they're playing an African team, then all bets are off. Asked who he would be supporting, my seventy-seven year old father wisely replied "Everyone." There's a 100% chance that his team will win! There's also a good chance that Africa will win, in ways that are incalculable. In ways we as Africans have always understood, but have been until now, denied. In ways perhaps coming generations might look back and thank us for. Just like in those highly enthusiastic and extreme time-lapse commercials we've recently been bombarded with -- where different people across the country look towards the camera and smile and say "I was there."

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