So much has been said and written over the past week about FIFA, Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, SAFA, Danny Jordaan, Fikile Mbalula and the rest of the ‘2010 World Cup Corruption Dream Team’ that it doesn’t need to be rehashed in massive detail once more. You’re tired of it, I’m tired of it and the sooner we can put it to bed the better, right?
The mood seems to have fluctuated between surprise, anger, apathy and, in some cases, a big ‘so what if we bribed FIFA because we loved our World Cup’. It is this last one that really irks me – I have seen people talk about how a hungry man sometimes steals to feed his family, about how we were due a World Cup after losing out narrowly in 2006, about how the means can be justified by the end – a tournament that brought us together in a common cause for one glorious month back in 2010.
With that last point I cannot argue. We did unite, there was dancing in the streets, the blaring of the vuvuzela became the rhythm to which we all danced. I returned home from working abroad and couldn’t believe the vibe, the feeling of national pride, the sense that this belonged to all of us and it was our responsibility to look after its well-being. We entertained the world and its visitors, proudly showing off our crown jewels and changing more mindsets and preconceived notions than we may ever understand.
And then this past week it all came crashing down as FIFA’s (and our own) indiscretions were dragged from the darkness and exposed for all to see. Fikile Mbalula’s sustained denial was blown out of the water by Chuck Blazer’s admission that football’s top dogs had accepted bribes, large sums of money channelled into dirty hands with the sole aim of carrying favour in the race to host the World Cup. Whilst the exact details will no doubt emerge over time the truth remains – we bought, not brought, the World Cup to Africa.
Over the last few days people with no interest in football have asked me what is going on and, after outlining our vehement denial and the subsequent Blazer bombshell, the facts elicited little more than a conceited shake of the head. Ag well ja no fine – that’s South Africa hey, who really cares?
I have also heard it said that we were only playing the game. After all, Blazer admitted that France too had paid bribes to secure their 1998 tournament. That will be seen around the world as no more than a blemish whereas ours, however, will be a permanent stain.
If every World Cup bid since 1998 can be seen to be somewhat corrupt ours stands, at present, the most sullied of them all. I’m sure Russia and Qatar will be next to tumble but if theirs are the standards to which we hold ourselves we are in far worse shape than we think.
But this isn’t just about football, sport, bribery or the shit-stained glasses through which the world now watches this circus unfold – it is about how indifferent we ourselves have become to the brazenness with which our leaders rub our noses in their dirty messes. Corruption is a disease so rife in our political system that if our governance was a patient any doctor would have written it off as beyond repair, sent it home and told it to live out the remaining days surrounded by loved ones.
As Mbalula stood in front of the world’s media and refuted the mounting evidence he did so with a confidence that belies something very troubling – that he cares not for protecting the reputation of the country he represents and only for serving himself and his cronies. The most accurate description of our Minister of Sport and Recreation comes from Richard Poplak of the Daily Maverick. I’ll hand over to him here:
Like Skelator from the old He-Man cartoons, he seems to literally increase in strength and size as the world around him unravels. The dude seems to be having a blast, Tweeting away in his own improvised vernacular—a version of triplespeak has no precedent even in the ANC—while he doesn’t protect his office so much as spin it around his head and fling it back at anyone who has the temerity to doubt his spin. Like almost everyone in the ruling party, Mbalula’s job is to make things up so that fiction writers don’t have to—he is a storyteller, a weaver of elaborate fictions, a Borgesian creator whose maze is so dense and complicated that all who enter it eventually give up and die.
You see the problem with Mbalula and Zuma joking, jesting and humouring themselves in public is that they are not laughing with us, they are laughing at us. In an open letter to Thabo Mbeki penned back in 2009 Mbalula spoke of how we should all serve a greater good than our own, an extract of which can be seen below:
What happened to the values of the ANC, which at some point in your political career embodies and taught others? What happened to the ethos that says the ANC is bigger than all of us, we are but humble servants of this revolutionary movement? What happened to the pursuit of the founding ideals of the ANC, which the giants of our revolution who include Cdes Langalibalele Dube, Sol Plaatjie, Walter Sisulu, Moses Kotane, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and many others personified?
I’m not going to summon the ghost of Madiba to play headmaster over the rowdy schoolchildren who run the show here at home. We cannot measure everyone by his standards – the man was an exceptional human being against whom we all come out unfavourably. What pisses me off is the lip service, the empty and false emotive used daily by our leaders to try and pull the wool over the eyes of those who have put their misguided faith in them. It’s embarrassing and it’s insulting.
This fiasco might, on the surface, look to be about making sure that a bunch of overpaid men kicked a ball around on African soil but it is really so much more than that. It is just another example of misuse of power – power that is sought by those who have watched their friends grow fat off the back of underhanded dealings and now want their own slice of the pie. Back-scratching is rife, even demanded, and those who refuse to hand out their fair share of tickles are destined to never sit in the positions of power that ultimately have a profound effect on the day to day lives of ordinary South Africans.
It doesn’t matter what you think of football because this is so much bigger than that. It is, ultimately, something that should make us all very, very angry.
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