In a compelling analysis of identity and nationhood in post-apartheid South Africa published shortly after the country’s hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, South African sociologist Neville Alexander provocatively posed penetrative questions.
He asked whether the country’s recent political trajectories suggested “a new historical community” was being forged – one in which apartheid racial divisions have been fully transcended. He also wondered whether the liberation ideals had been attained.
Media images beamed across the world showed South Africans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds proudly displaying the national flag and blowing the ubiquitous vuvuzelas supporting the national team, Bafana Bafana.
From the perspective of the government, the World Cup represented the pinnacle of the achievements of the rainbow nation after 1994.
The positive assessments of the nation-building momentum were countered by critical appraisals from several public figures and intellectuals, who questioned the authenticity of the feel-good sentiment evoked by the event.
Ultimately, the debates centred on the impact of the socio-economic or socio-culturalbenefits the country would derive from the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Also, they reflect a long-standing intellectual problematic debate on how to grasp the dynamics between sport, politics and identity, and how to understand the role that sport has historically played in the country.
Many who are old enough will remember the efforts made towards building social cohesion, and the role the then sport minister Makhenkesi Stofile played. This included the boycott of the all-white Springboks encounter with New Zealand’s All Blacks, because, according to him, the team wasn’t reflective of the South African demographics.
He noted that sport played an integral role in the balance of forces in any country. He argued that “despite sport competing for public resources with many other worthy causes, his department would not tire in its attempts to persuade the cabinet to maximise access. He emphasised pursuing rural sports development, to build sports infrastructure, to enhance drug-free sports and promote school sports and excellence at all levels of participation”. At the same time, his department was mindful that many children were “organically” excluded from participating in elite sports such as rugby.
For that reason, stakeholders were called to work together to intensify the development of sport and to deliver support to pupils who displayed talent.
Articulating the position of the ANC on sports from the 2007 Polokwane conference, Stofile was concerned about the commercialisation of sports, and highlighted that it needed to be regulated. Stofile bemoaned the “privatisation, monopolisation and commercialisation of sport” as far back as 2018.
The question is, he argued, did we trust our historical oppressors about our total liberation through sport? When presenting his budget, he told parliament, quoting from Albert Luthuli, “the black ox” can no longer eat in isolation.
He was, I suggest, implying that due to the country’s demographics, it was right to have as many Siya Kolisis as possible included in the national rugby squad.
This, he argued, could only be realised when there was mass participation of black children in school sport programmes – an effort that could give birth to what we are celebrating today – the Springboks victory on the world stage. The Springbok’s victory is traceable to Stofile’s firm foundation, especially for the black children.
Today’s efforts must address Alexander’s discomfort on the state of today’s fragile social cohesion, with all its inherent problems.
Eighty minutes of patriotism in France on the field of play does not grow food to stop poverty – it does not ease petrol hikes; it doesn’t equalise society.
What does the current sport minister think? What progress has been made to unite sports since 1995 – and in the words of an African scholar, John Henry Clark – is the country managing the nation judiciously?
- Mdekazi is an ANC member from the AB Xuma branch in Boland region, Western Cape.