A few years ago Manchester United came to South Africa, I wrote the piece below. So this past week when EFF demanded that “Die stem” be removed from the national anthem, I was reminded of it. The piece does not refer to the national anthem or Julius Malema. But it does touch on the issue of social cohesion or the lack there of. I hope you like it
Societies are created differently. For example in April, 2012 the manager of the Miami Marlins (American baseball club) Ozzie Guillen inferred that he liked the Cuban President Fidel Castro’s leadership style. A public backlash ensued, people protesting outside club offices, the man was almost fired. He had to make a public apology, and suffered a five match suspension as a result. In the USA, a statement such as that will get you fired. In South Africa a statement such as that one is considered a demonstration of heightened political consciousness. Why? It’s because societies are created differently.
In England, you can shout derogatory racist slurs at a fellow competitor on the field of play; you will probably get away with a fine and a few match suspensions. And then life will carry on like nothing happened (ala Luis Suárez and John Terry) Terry has just been exonerated by the court and there are those who are now calling for FA to take similar sanctions to Suarez. But in South Africa, if you do something like this in a private conversation you can get fired (ala Andre Markgraaff). Why? It’s because societies are created differently.
In Botswana, it is not unusual to see a Black man and an Indian man talking about the weather on a street corner, in pure Setswana. Because in Botswana it is not acceptable to call yourself Motswana, carry a Botswana passport and not speak Setswana. Like in Netherlands where you are expected to be fluent in Dutch to qualify to be a citizen if you are an expat. Ivorian international, Salomon Kalou would have qualified for them but failed Dutch exams. But in South Africa, you can walk into a meeting with three black people and one white person and immediately assume that it is OKAY to chair the meeting in English. Why? Because this is the society we have created.
Over the years, South Africans may have intended to create a society ideologically oblivious of racial differences; but methodically – and perhaps historically – went on to create a society that accommodates the craters that are the divisions created by systems of our past. This perhaps is the underlying fact that we are not homogeneous society, however hard we may wish we were/are. As a result, after twenty years we still have unspoken rules which recognize some things reserved for other people and other things reserved for some. It is for this precise reason that when Loftus Stadium is packed to the rafters for the celebrated enjoyment of a rugby match (at R350 a ticket mind you); the demographic make up of those attending does not match the greater demographics in our country. Just as much as the demographic make up of people who attend a football match at Orlando Stadium to watch the world renowned Soweto derby present a conspicuous absence of certain sectors of our population.
In our infinite wisdom, we can argue that the reason is the uneven distribution of disposable income or lack of historic interest etc; but the reality is this is the society we have created. Because the same person, who claims not to have a historic interest in South African football, happens to be the same person who could not help but trip over himself in an effort to buy tickets for a Manchester United match two weeks before the actual game. Or spend R100 000 on a table at a mayoral gala dinner, just because it is Manchester United on the bill. This is the society we have created.
This is yet another example of the destructive venom of self contempt which permeates our every being as South Africans. For this type of expenditure comes from that section of the population which believes it is okay to lay out the coat for the Reds; while South African clubs are unworthy. A behavior veiled by vaguely fathomed arguments about the quality of our football; while we continue to incubate a malignant cancer in our national self esteem. This is the society we have created.
So as thousands descend on Moses Mabida and Cape Town Stadium to watch Man United this week, please remember this. It is not the economy that crafted the diabolical contradiction of stadiums hosting PSL matches standing empty, while Manchester United sells out two weeks before the event. It is the challenges related to complex matters such as social cohesion, or the lack thereof. Because in South Africa, it is okay to go about your life blissfully not wanting to learn the difference between Ntshingila and Ntshangase; all the while being proud of having an intimate knowledge of the difference between Scholes and Cole.
Because, this is the society we have created.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A. Dikgale