Africa United?

1 Jul

Replace Ghana with Africa (taken at the Ghana v Germany match)


Giant Jabulani with Ghana supporters

The question everyone’s asking is: with the “Six-pack” nearly finished, will the party go on? The answer is YES. With Ghana’s next match tomorrow against Uruguay, we can expect to see Africans around the world decked out in red, yellow, and green in support of the Black Stars. They remain Africa’s hope, the last of the six African teams (Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast) that made up the “Six-pack”. If the Cup is to stay on African soil as so many hope that it will, it will be in Ghana that it finds its resting space. While it may be difficult for Americans to find a soft spot for the Black Stars after they were responsible for sending our team home less than a week ago, the African continent has quickly become united behind Ghana. It seemed that this was bound to happen. From the start, most South Africans I spoke to had realistic expectations for the African sides in the competition and didn’t expect many of them to make it out of the group stages. After South Africa became the first host nation to ever fail to advance from the group stages it was time for Saffers (South Africans) to pick a new team. For a moment, the country had been united behind Bafana Bafana. There was little time to dwell on this painful exit as one by one the other African sides crumbled. After the fall, it was the Black Stars that remained. So, Ghana it is. Would South Africans have preferred to root on the likes of the Ivory Coast with deadly striker Didier Drogba? Maybe, but that’s irrelevant now, we’re not rooting for Ghana, we’re rooting for Africa. Besides, at least its not Algeria, right? It is the duty of every African to set aside what qualms they may have with Ghana and support their brothers. For the most part, it seems that South Africans black and even white have done just that. I was at a bar in Johannesburg for the US vs Ghana match and I was surprised to see white South Africans blowing the Vuvuzela for Ghana just as hard as the black South Africans next to them. When I asked them why they were rooting for Ghana they clearly stated, “I’m African too. Ghana is our last chance.” This thrilling display of Pan-African unity will likely dry up as soon as the last of the “Six-pack” is finished. For the time being, however, it is something to revel at. It took a game for Africans to realize how much they had in common with their brothers and sisters to the north, south, east, and west. But if this fairytale story of African’s standing together as one family sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

While on the surface it may seem that Africans around the world have put aside their differences and rested their collective hopes and dreams on the broad shoulders of the Black Stars, there is more going on here. There are some schisms in society that four weeks of euphoria can’t possibly fill, some gaps that football can’t bridge. South Africa, a country once known for the horror of Apartheid, has a new nightmare. In recent years there has been an onslaught of xenophobic violence directed towards the immigrant community. Africans from across the continent have come to South Africa to work and to live. Unfortunately, some South Africans haven’t shown them the hospitality that they’ve been so quick to list as a selling point for why tourists should come for the World Cup. The world is welcome, bring your dollars and your euros, hell we’ll even take pesos. The world is welcome, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you, put on a grand show for you, come, enjoy, Africa is yours. The world is welcome, but our fellow Africans are not. In recent weeks there has been an increased number of threats towards “foreigners”. Don’t worry, the tourists here for the World Cup are safe, its African immigrants living throughout South Africa who find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment. There has been an influx of threats of violence towards “foreigners” after the end of the World Cup. How strange that once the cameras have gone home, once the world has turned its gaze elsewhere, South Africa may erupt.

After receiving a number of threats, Zimbabwean Kisswell Dhliwayo is temporarily closing his tuckshop in the township of Tembisa, Gauteng from July 11, when the World Cup comes to an end. “I’ve been told by so many of my customers that all foreigners must go after the World Cup. I’ve also been warned by my neighbours that people have said they will loot my shop, so I’m going to move out my stock,” he told the Mail & Guardian (a prominent South African newspaper). “I’m going to close up, maybe for a week, and see what happens.” Fearful for his safety, Dhliwayo sent a text message to a South African human rights organization, which in recent weeks has received more than 50 text messages from foreigners located in different parts of the country, complaining of intimidation and threats from locals. Human rights organizations, as well as those working with refugees and migrants, are concerned about what has been described as a “climate of threats” that points to the possibility of outbursts of xenophobia and violence. Some organizations say the government is not doing enough to try to prevent the xenophobic violence of 2008 from recurring in South Africa. Sixty-two people died in the wave of attacks two years ago, yet questions have been raised about what the reconvened inter-ministerial committee dealing with xenophobia is doing to counteract the wave of threats. This is a very serious matter; the Scalabrini Centre recently conducted a survey and found that 68% of foreigners surveyed reported receiving threats.

This was supposed to be Africa’s World Cup a time for change and yet, even amid this thrilling sense of pan-Africanism there remains the same problems that have plagued Africa for decades. I want to believe that Africa can overcome, that the euphoria that this World Cup has brought can be used as a catalyst for long-term positive change. But, I fear this unity that we are experiencing dissolves when we leave the realm of football. There are racists around the world who can root for a black football player on the pitch and then hurl a nasty insult at a black person walking past on the street after the match. In times like these I feel that football is an exception. South Africans are happy to root for their “African brothers” from Ghana ready to treat them as one of their own, but when a hard-working Zimbabwean immigrant tries to set up a shop in their neighborhood he is unwelcome and tormented. I should stop and clarify that there is only a small section of the population that is perpetuating this abuse and that as far as I know most South Africans live in perfect harmony with these “foreigners”. However, to trivialize this issue is the wrong approach. We must try to examine the root cause of this unrest that has led to a “climate of threats”. This World Cup has been full of broken promises. It did not bring the economic boom or the jobs that were promised. The result is increased economic competition among a sector of the population that is easily manipulated by local leaders with a South Africans first agenda. The same thing has happened around the world, in England, in the United States, and anywhere where there are immigrants, which is everywhere. South Africans have been on their best behavior with the global media in their backyard, it would be such a pity if the first African World Cup was remembered for what happened afterwards. When the World Cup ends I hope people won’t forget that 11 Black Stars once lit the way for the continent, lit the way towards an Africa united. Let this sense of “Africa as one” transcend football, please.


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