Sunday 25 September 2016

Many South Africans suspicious of West's motives

David Smith

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

LETTER TO BLATTER: Thabo Mbeki
LETTER TO BLATTER: Thabo Mbeki

South Africa's original bid book for the 2010 World Cup finals shows how the event was charged with political import. "We want to ensure that, one day, historians will reflect upon the 2010 World Cup as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict," wrote the president, Thabo Mbeki, in a letter to Sepp Blatter. "We want to show that Africa's time has come."

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Sceptical western journalists were branded "Afro-pessimists" during the build-up to the tournament, and its successful, even joyous, organisation was seen as a landmark in the national story 16 years after the end of apartheid. Questioning its integrity with grubby allegations of bribes is therefore more sensitive and sacrilegious here than in any other host country: tread softly because you tread on our dreams.

"It depresses me so much I don't want to think about it," said Carlos Amato, a journalist with South Africa's Sunday Times. "It's such a travesty that this is deemed, rightly or wrongly, to have been bought. It's just horrible."

But while grief at the tainted symbolism is universal, there are mixed opinions over the US Justice Department's motives and the loss of man who oversaw hundreds of football development projects in Africa. Amato believes Blatter deserves some acknowledgement, but will not be missed.

Oshebeng Alphie Koonyaditse, author of The Politics of South African Football, said: "There is a saying, first impression lasts - in this case it actually is last impression lasts longer. For all the good that Blatter has done, history will forever remember him as the man who nearly ripped Fifa apart.

"South Africa will forever be grateful that they became the first African country to host the World Cup with Blatter's support. Even so, I don't think they would ignore the fact that it is Blatter who polarised the world football governing body. Like everyone else, they are looking forward to hail the new Fifa king, whoever he or she shall be."

South Africa's official sports hierarchy, however, has expressed shock at Blatter's demise and increasingly played the race card. Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister, said: "Sepp Blatter has been a good friend of South Africa. We will not lie about it. He played a major role in terms of shifting the world focus on Africa in relation to the hosting of the World Cup for the first time. He's the president of Fifa who delivered it. History will remember him for that. That's how we'll remember Sepp."

After that tellingly familiar reference to "Sepp", Mbalula went on to say that it was for the United States and Britain to fight their own battles, adding: "We have fought colonialism and defeated it and we still fight imperialism and we will fight it whenever it manifests itself."

It was a theme he developed in another statement on Friday, claiming the allegation that the $10m (€9m) South Africa paid to Caribbean football was a bribe is being used to "pursue political agendas".

"Underlying much of the commentary is a thinly veiled offensive against South Africa's right to determine her own foreign and domestic policy," he said. "In this context, a policy affirmation to the African diaspora which has suffered the crimes of slavery and racism sets a bad example to those who want to keep Africans as hewers of wood and drawers of water."

The governing African National Congress's youth league (ANCYL) has gone further with words that echo Robert Mugabe's fiery anti-colonialist rhetoric. It described a "moving speech" by Blatter as he resigned, then added: "The ANCYL seeks to expose the workings of the playground bully amidst us, who despite losing a vote democratically, used its political and economic muscle to push the democratically elected Fifa president to resignation.

"The ANCYL notes with great disgust the workings of the west who perpetually assume a big brother/playground bully status within global politics. What has transpired in Fifa over the past few days has been a clear sign of the West's hunger for power and total control. They cannot tolerate that the World Cup was in South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014 and will be in Russia in 2018; Brics countries who have successfully hosted the game, sending a clear signal of a shift within geopolitics and the entry of a new power block within the playing field."

South Africans are suspicious of America's motives in the case, one observer said. "Given the history of who was on whose side during apartheid, there's a great deal of sympathy for that view. Prince William's speech at the FA Cup final summed up a lot of feelings here: if you want credibility you have to undo the legacy of treating Africa and Asia with contempt."

© Observer

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