A victory for South Africa greater than any in sport

SOUTH Africa – from all one hears, and every picture you see, it’s an astonishingly beautiful country.

I’ve been invited there a few times over the years and I can’t say I’m not tempted.

Even 16 years after apartheid’s official end I’m not sure it’s the happiest, or most secure, country to visit, though.

And, fascinated though I am by wildlife of all kinds, I’m not sure I really fancy going “on safari”, a pampered tourist in a four-wheel-drive bubble of privilege.

The invitations have been of two kinds, neither terribly specific.

There was the time, 23 years ago, when I stood among a crowd of enthusiastic anti-apartheid campaigners in a very English marketplace to hail a speech by Desmond Tutu.

Thanking us all for supporting the struggle, the good archbishop ended by declaring: “You must all come and visit our wonderful country… in a few years when all its people are free.”

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Rousing. Heartwarming. And in a curious way I still feel a little as I felt then, that he meant it.

As, no doubt, do those South African friends I have made online who have suggested visits since.

Friends whose sumptuous photographs have on the whole revealed more of South Africa’s natural beauty than of the reality of life for its people.

And for all the enormous strides taken since apartheid’s end, that reality is still hugely divided between those who have a lot and those who have very little.

Which, of course, means a climate of constant fear and insecurity for those on both sides of the divide.

Too many of the photos have shown the splendour of Table Mountain – that same proud aspect which has formed the backdrop to Gary Lineker’s cosy chats with his footy pals this past couple of weeks.

Not that Table Mountain isn’t a wonderful sight to behold. But I would welcome a little more insight into the life of the city, Cape Town, which sprawls at its foot.

The BBC have been trying. I can’t recall any previous World Cup at which telly coverage included nightly excursions to meet the ordinary folk living in the shadows of the sparkling new stadiums they can’t afford to enter.

What some of those folk have made of Alan Shearer standing on their doorsteps repeatedly muttering “uh-huh” in response to their tales of hardship, only they will know.

I hope they’ve been pleased that the rich world has noticed them and listened – even if only for a moment – to hints of their life stories.

I hope – though I doubt – that they feel this festival in the world’s spotlight has been worth the billions spent on those stadiums while nothing has been spent to alleviate their own poverty.

Whether this World Cup turns out to have been a success for South Africa will depend on far more than the progress (or, rather, lack of progress) of their wholehearted but limited football team. Or, indeed, any other football team.

What use is made of those stadiums once the circus has left town is one thing.

What effect, if any, the money spent, the visitors hosted, the month in the world’s spotlight have in the long run is another.

It will be hard, if not impossible, to judge. Opinions on it will vary wildly.

But one can already see that there is at least one positive.

When I stood and applauded Archbishop Tutu in 1987, South Africa was still officially segregated. Nelson Mandela was still in jail. Black people and white were still kept apart, not just by economics, but by law.

Law savagely enacted and often savagely enforced.

The country was an international pariah, cut out of official participation in international sport.

The staging of sport’s biggest jamboree there is a colossal symbol of how things have moved on.

Much remains to be done before it becomes a country one can visit, or live in, without reservations.

But that such a huge change has been accomplished without a bloodbath, or the grinding terror and dysfunctionality of neighbouring Zimbabwe, is in itself a South African triumph. A victory far, far beyond anything attainable in sport.

And, incidentally, a beacon of possible hope for another troubled country.

Another where racial divisions, enforced by economics, law and armed might, have created unsustainable tensions and inequalities.

As someone wiser than I once put it, the best way out of Israel’s impasse would be for the Palestinians to turn their struggle into an anti-apartheid-style civil rights campaign.

Well, it worked once. Twice, if you include America’s South.


QUESTION put this week on a popular Facebook page: “Do you think solar and wind energy can sustain the current demand on the power grid?”

Bearing in mind that the questioner lives in the United States, that’s a pretty big demand he’s talking about.

And the answer – well, my answer anyway: “Reducing waste and lowering preposterous expectations is probably a necessary start. But yes, harnessing solar energy in the Arizona and Nevada deserts could power even America.”

Converting all the Las Vegas casinos into one massive solar panel would be pretty much a win-win scenario.