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Column

Patriot games

The World Cup dream has arrived, but don't forget to return to the hard work of fighting corruption and nation building when the world packs up and goes home.

"I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good good night"

Orlando Stadium in Soweto is rocking as The Black Eyed Peas infuse the crowd with Fifa fever for the opening ceremony of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. A beaming Fifa President Sepp Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma were on the stage earlier, and soon the show will give way to Freshly Ground and Shakira singing “Waka Waka (this Time for Africa)”.

The flags, painted faces, open smiles and euphoria is reminiscent of 1995, South Africa's halcyon 'rainbow nation' days when SA's rugby captain Francois Pienaar and then President Nelson Mandela held the Rugby World Cup high in the air and our nation rejoiced. A pivotal moment that later became a book, and then a movie directed by Clint Eastwood; that memory of unity was deeply etched into South Africa's collective consciousness.

Small wonder then that current President Jacob Zuma dedicated the World Cup to Mandela. The 91-year-old elder statesman was pivotal in bringing Fifa's shindig to South Africa, but more so, he embodies a more carefree, hopeful, and less troubled time.

Bruised rainbow nation

It's been a difficult few years. From Polokwane to Zuma's election as president; to our first recession in 17 years; to the violent service delivery protests; to Malema; to Chancellor House; to the rolling electricity blackouts; to the murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche; back to Malema and the realisation that we are a nation divided with deep racial wounds; to strikes, more strikes and the threats of strikes; to corruption scandal after corruption scandal after corruption scandal.

Like a battered wife reeling from all those beatings and desperately hoping for a better life, the World Cup has come right on cue, offering a dream that is all too easy to believe in. It is the romance of the game, the seduction of being in the global view, of the world's celebrities landing at OR Tambo and kissing the African earth they call home. It is the advertisement that the 2010 Soccer World Cup unites us all under the banner of 1 Goal ā€“ the promise of delivering education for all in Africa. It is the dream that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will make South Africa a better nation. After all, it is our time, or as the song goes, “this time for Africa”.

The extent of the euphoria experienced by South Africa as the games begin is significant, but it speaks eloquently to our desperation to divert our gaze from government's lack of service delivery, mismanagement, greed and corruption. We have had such a hard time of it lately that we desperately need to let go, to party, to forget our collective troubles.

Sweet dreams

As Desmond Tutu said elatedly when he stepped towards the microphone at Orlando Stadium to speak at the opening concert before the kick off: “Can you feel it ā€“ can you touch it? It is unbelievable man. Wake me up, wake me up. What a lovely dream.”

Just in time

The World Cup has come right on cue, offering a dream that is all too easy to believe in.

Tutu has hit the nail on the head. The 2010 Soccer World Cup is a dream. It is a moment of fantasy that we can all retreat into for a brief period of time to escape the Selebi trial; the fact that the ANC Youth League is trying to make the Western Cape ungovernable; that the Blue IQ directors were milking the system blind; that we have a government that refuses to hold the criminal and unethical accountable for their actions.

It is a dream, and like all dreams it is not based on reality. Like all dreams, it will exist for a short period of time during which we will be able to get lost in it, until we have to wake up. And the end point of this dream will be the final whistle, and the world will pack up and go home.

That's when we'll be nursing a collective headache and will have to return to reality. That's when we'll realise that the benefit of the 2010 Soccer World Cup wasn't as widespread as we'd hope it would be.

It will also be about the time the Mail & Guardian will receive 1 700 arch lever files of tender documents that have until now been kept under lock and key by the Soccer World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC). The Mail & Guardian recently won a legal battle to get access to the LOC's tender documents, and as the final games are being played, the investigative paper will likely be poring over the documents to uncover who tenders were awarded to, who the ultimate beneficiaries of those tenders were, and whether there was an impropriety with the tender process.

Given South Africa's corruption climate and Fifa's tarnished track record, it's likely that 2010 corruption stories will flow thick and fast after the end whistle, and many of these obviously will be broken by the Mail & Guardian.

So while it's fine to feel the Fifa fever, know that it's delusion and that a time will come to wake up and get back to the reality that is South Africa ā€“ the hard work of trying to make government accountable, and of fighting greed and corruption.

While we watch and get lost in the beautiful game, let's not completely take our eye off the ball.

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