By Genet Mersha, 11 June 2010 – Today, we are at an exceptionally great moment in the history of Africa, thanks to international sports and South Africa—the truly Rainbow Nation. The 2010 World Football competitions opened on 11 June in style, displaying African dignity and warm hospitality. The holding of this important international event in the free and democratic South Africa, for the first time in our region, should be seen as homage to the human spirit that is uncompromising with all forms of oppression and bondage.
Sports became internationally first line defender of human dignity against the apartheid regime. Again, this time it is sport that is sealing South Africa’s last phase of its complete return to the international fold. In the past decade and half since freedom, South Africa has proved to the world that it shares the values of freedom and democracy. In spite of all sorts of difficulties, especially deep poverty of the black majority, South Africa has been taking important steps to redress those situations step by step. Its democracy is seen growing.
Even after the end of apartheid, South Africa has been picked on time and again because of level of poverty, crime rates, disease (HIV/AIDS) and corruption of some officials. This has not relented South Africans. While under Mandela’s leadership they have taken the right course, not an easy one though, they have barely deviated. During the last decade-and-a-half, they have shown at least the end of apartheid has fostered a free nation, whose success has begun to shine, Not only that it would lift Black South Africans out of poverty, but also with its inspiration most of the rest of Africa out of its morass, if Africa is willingness to be governed by the rule of law.
South Africa has organised a couple of elections since 1994. Although the ANC is the dominant party, its members are proud of its democratic traditions within the party as well as outside. Individual members enjoy the freedom their struggle has earned them. The ANC does not disenfranchise citizens or suppress the freedom of individuals to express themselves in any form or suppress the media. Those that disagreed with it before the last election created their own party. They have not been subjected to harassment because of that, nor their abandonment of it considered a crime and thrown to prison.
We have followed its history, the ANC does not swear at every turn in the name of a democracy it does not practice. We do not see ANC engrossed in an effort to build a cult—not even that of the architect of the nation—the beloved Madiba, the world’s living icon Nelson Mandela! South African democracy is not perfect, nor should we look for perfection in human society, as it is a sign of neurosis. The journey is promising; that is why today we see a united Rainbow Nation, rallying as one to raise the glory of South Africa.
Apartheid was overthrown by popular struggle and determination of united humanity, which effectively reduced racist South Africa to pariah status until its demise in 1994. Since then, South Africans have strived to build on the remains of institutional racism a society where everyone would be equal. The giant steps they have taken so far have shown that no one would get hurt because all members of society are equal and because everybody enjoys equal protection by law. That is why people live without fear and insecurity in a place they call country and home.
Why all this tumult about a round ball?
I am not a ball roller; still I watched happily the ceremonies and the opening match glued in front of the TV. I loved the warmth and spontaneity of the whole thing: South Africans together cheerfully, as they looked to the future hopefully. The message of the opening show was delicious and inspiring. Already the Rainbow Nation has proved to the world that, under a democratic system and where the rule of law is prevalent, imperfect as it might be in terms of opportunities, it is still possible to transcend the barriers of race, ethnicity, colour, age, gender and class. This makes it much better than any of the alternatives.
I am enamoured by the glory South Africa has brought to Africa, much as by the greater attention this has focussed on the region. That should facilitate introspection and more outside eyes, especially in the light of the emergence of new crops of oppressive single party authoritarian states of latter concoction, which in the name of democracy are further damaging the already poor image of Africa with their undemocratic and corrupt practices.
Reading the tea leaves
Media people tried to survey African reactions from around the region to the holding of the World Cup in South Africa. Their findings confirm that Africa is ecstatic. The media have also listed names of African countries in West and East Africa, including Somalia, where there have been public events celebrating the moment. Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba who would not participate in this competition because of a broken arm has chosen to use the occasion to make public appeals to the leaders in his country and the region to value peace, democracy and forgiveness toward one another.
Ethiopians are football enthusiasts, notwithstanding that they have been overlooked this time around when the media was gauging African reaction. Could it be the fallout from the recently held election that has raised eyebrows around the world? From the many subliminal messages that fly around, that seems to be the case. The world knows that Ethiopians are not allowed to hold any public events—other than supporting the government, as happened recently to show their joy at the 99.6 percent electoral victory of the ruling party.
For sure, the latest unmistakable evidence to the shunning of the country is the fact that Vice President Joe Biden is in Africa at the moment, whose agenda comprises: (a) discussion of Middle East, Horn of Africa and Southern Sudan Issues with Egypt, (b) engaging Kenyans on the forthcoming Kenyan election, the Sudanese referendum and the situation in Somalia, and (c) representing the United States in the World Cup. Why did the vice president did not choose to discuss this issues with Ethiopian officials?
Recall in this connection that the ruling party in Ethiopia was telling citizens during the political debates preceding the May 23rd election that it is African leader and key to stability in the region. To what should we attribute the fact of it being now kept at arms length by Vice President Biden, earlier by Secretary Clinton? In the scheme of things, surely the message that this sends is stronger than the slap of looking the TPLF regime askance.
In what the US embassy in Nairobi termed as “a major speech” to a packed Kenyatta International Conference Centre, the vice president assured Kenyans that the United States stands beside them on what he called their journey to a “secure, free, democratic and prosperous Kenya.”1 He reminded them:
“Too many of your resources have been lost to corruption and not a single high-level official has ever been held accountable for these crimes…Too many of your institutions have lost the people’s confidence, and too many times Kenya has been divided against itself, torn apart by ethnic tensions, manipulated by leaders who place their own interest above the interest of their country.” He added, “As you prepare to write a new history for your nation, resist those who try to divide you based on ethnicity or religion or region and above all fear. It is a tool as old as mankind and it’s been used to great effect in this country in the past,”
A regime that suppresses human freedoms, persecutes its opponents because they do not agree with it is an opponent of freedom and human dignity. The world isolates it more and more as pariah—the signals of which are too visible in this case for any Ethiopia observer to miss.
Having followed South Africa’s long journey to the present, correspondent Emma Hurd2 captured the essence of this moment, the moving spirit of the 24th World Cup, after whose opening match she reported from Johannesburg saying, “This is the moment South Africa is welcomed in the World…It is a celebration not just of football but of freedom in the Rainbow Nation.” What a nice way of putting it!
Anyone could see from this piece that, while watching the football, I was buffeted by the troubling realities of our region. Strictly speaking about football, the outcome of one-one draw between Bafana-Bafana (The Boys) and the Mexican national team does not really matter. After all, South Africa has triumphed by gathering the world on its soil to compete for the cup in Africa, as it showcases its achievements and boasts of its bright prospects.
For me that gave me tears of join. It also gave me pain because of the regressive path my country has chosen in choosing the path of a single party state.