For African Cultural Operators: It’s ‘Do-it-Yourself’ Time At the 2010 World Cup
Velma Kiome visited Johannesburg in September 2009 interested in whether the Football World Cup will be the African cultural showcase it has promised to be. She takes us on a short tour around some of the issues topping the World Cup agenda in South Africa.
Photo inset: Local fans at the opening of the Confederations Cup 2009 and the ubiquitous Vuvuzela (Photo credit: Gallo Images).
With all the hype on the brink of the world’s largest sports extravaganza coming ‘to Africa’, not least its global TV viewership (as advertisers get ready to subliminally drip-feed their ‘brand’ to 2 billion consumers), are we in danger of losing sight of what the football world cup signifies for Africa?
The hype is fuelled, in part, by the simple fact that Africa’s monopoly satellite TV broadcaster is South African, and there are already, in the build up, massive advertising and viewership revenues accruing, with all eyes on South Africa. As the South African corporate world would have it – it is all about leverage.
The continent is transfixed, proud and looking forward to the first ‘African’ world cup. The ideal curtain raiser took place earlier this year when Ghana served up some sumptuous football to become the first African country to win a world trophy - the under-20 Football World Cup, also held in Africa, in Nigeria - dispatching Brazil in the final. Now that would be a dream for the ‘big one’.
Meanwhile, back in South Africa, poor and densely-populated outlying urban centres have been wracked by strikes, street marches and civil strife over what communities see as 'lack of service delivery' to their communities.
South Africa was shocked when elements of the army tried to strike over pay earlier this year; over 1000 soldiers marching in Pretoria (Tshwane) were fired on with rubber bullets by police anti-riot units. Tens of thousands in communities in Mpumalanga and Gauteng have marched on municipal offices - toyi-toyi style, burning tyres and buses, vowing to make their towns 'ungovernable'.
What image of Africa will South Africa portray to the world? And are they, or we, ready? The most advanced economy on the continent is also, for much of Africa, one of Africa’s youngest nations socially and culturally.
South Africa has been half-jokingly described as the only African country without a name (implying, unfairly, ‘without an identity’). And yet, it is perhaps this very namelessness that allows the country to be a pot of transient cultures, at least from the street-eye view if not in its anonymous and sterile shopping malls.
Transformation is turning out to mean many different things. While millions of African economic migrants have flooded in, South Africa is still at the start of its journey towards healing poisoned hearts and minds; the still sour race relations were hugely complicated by the waves of xenophobic attacks on other Africans in May 2008, which continue at ‘low intensity’ until today.
Enter South Africa’s gleaming O. R. Tambo International Airport (still referred to as ‘Jan Smuts’ on paper and by some travellers), and you get an impression of a modern, European-level bustling economy – but just take a few wrong turns on the way into downtown ‘Jozi’ and the social dichotomy that permeates every aspect of South African life is jarring.
If anything sums up South Africa in Africa, it is its isolation from Africa. South Africa has been laagered for so long from cultural connectedness with the rest of Africa, and it shows. An inward-looking notion of ‘African-ness’ has enveloped everything, in so many ways ‘manufactured’, so that South Africans picture themselves at the epicentre of the arts and culture universe of Africa. When South Africa says ‘Africa’ it means the local codified version. In reality, most South Africans know little about the cultures of African peoples beyond their borders and most African immigrants are isolated from mainstream cultural life.
The hope of the World Cup was that it could show something of the ‘big Africa’ and its diversity beyond the Limpopo River, but prospects for African cultural exposure are sketchy and if strategies are in place, they seem cloaked in secrecy.
Steven Sack, Director of Arts and Culture in Johannesburg says the city has plans for strategic points for sale of African crafts either within the stadiums – or along the fan walkways and at ‘tourist destinations’. However, he is non-committal about what prospects there are for other African countries.
And he’s quick to add that it’s important for the business community in Africa not to raise their hopes and rather focus on more sustainable ventures – beyond 2010. He is of the opinion that the onus is on African governments to support their own artistes to gain access to showcase their craft.
Sack says that South Africa will ensure that the local South Africa local business community benefits; with the local government elections coming up in 2011, local authorities will be measured on their performance in 2010. Despite R 21.6 billion (US$ 2,9 billion) allocated towards building and renovating stadiums and public utility infrastructure, Sack is of the opinion that funding for the cities is too small for over-elaborate plans for cultural events.
Erika Elk, executive director of Cape Craft and Design Institute says there are possibilities in Cape Town for craft sellers from all over Africa but spaces have not been confirmed, as a lot of the prime areas will be FIFA-controlled.
Mariam Asmal-Dik of Cape Africa Platform says South African venues for showcasing the arts are still available, but concedes that budgetary constraints may be at the heart of authorities’ reticence about announcing opportunities for African cultural exchange during the World Cup.
Interestingly, Cape Africa Platform is hoping to take art and culture to a wider audience by showcasing works in unlikely public spaces – sidewalks, libraries, taxis and in local schools and public buildings. The call by Cape Africa Platform for works that depict playful, daily life is out and the venues currently open.
On the music front, Gregory Zoghby of Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) says that since SONY has sole rights to put together the music line-up for the official engagements, there is likelihood that non-continental African artiste may be the main opening act at the World Cup.
Somali-born Canadian rapper and poet, K’naan’s song “Waving the Flag” has been selected as the anthem for the global World Cup trophy tour. The song is a call for a maturity of minds and hearts as Africa charts its future. K’naan is a positive cultural icon (or export perhaps) from war-torn Somalia, and comes from an artistic family - his late aunt, Magool is one of Somalia's most famous singers, while his grandfather, Haji Mohamed, was a noted poet.
There is an interesting ‘soccer culture’ clash brewing around cheering, embodied in the ‘vuvuzela’ - a plastic trumpet that is a part of football ‘fanhood’ in South Africa. The vuvuzela draws loosely from the Kudu horn traditionally used in Southern African celebration; it later evolved into a long tin horn used in church ceremonies, to become the sound track to South African football that it is today.
The extremely loud braying sound of the ‘vuvuzela’ has been described as an “elephant-like blast”. Ten thousand vuvuzelas in an enclosed stadium are a scary prospect for the uninitiated. The debate was ignited by FIFA officials who feared not being able to control advertising on the vuvuzelas.
While Johannesburg bus and rail transport is being massively expanded, the first phase of the much anticipated Gautrain Rapid Rail Link that will dash visitors from the ever-expanding O. R. Tambo International Airport into highbrow Sandton in 12 minutes is at an advanced stage, but it is unclear whether it will be ready in time. The final stage to Pretoria will only be completed towards 2011.
It is not easy to get figures for international arrivals into South Africa for the World Cup. It would seem South Africa is expecting up to 350,000 arrivals by air (half of whom will remain in Johannesburg, the other half disbursing mainly to Cape and Durban) and an unpredictable number by road, since many Africans from South Africa’s hinterland of half a dozen countries will drive – if they can get tickets. And accommodation, we are told, is “as good as sold out”.
At the 2009 Confederations Cup (the ‘pilot’ for the World Cup), movement of tourists between Johannesburg to Cape and other provinces was high. However, airfares on the national airline have already increased five-to-seven fold for the world cup period. Many locals are in shock.
Cape Town is a 13-hour drive from Johannesburg so visitors will need to fly that route. Mpumalanga, on the other hand, to the east of Johannesburg is 4 hours by road and world famous for its picturesque landscapes and wildly diverse flora and fauna. It has entered a deal with Swaziland and Mozambique to create a scenic tourist route and joint tourist packages. This could work.
At the top of everybody’s list during the World Cup, for good reasons, is safety. Emotive “shoot-to-kill” type statements by political figures have been announced as South Africa braces under the strain of armed crime – the highest in the world together with Brazil. Not coincidentally, the two countries also share the highest disparity between rich and poor. These “shoot-the-criminals” statements remain decidedly ‘loose’ without amendment to the laws to protect police, already accused of excessive use of force, from being charged. Other proposals to increase security inevitably include cooperation with private security companies, who already employ about 3 million security guards in South Africa.
As Africa celebrates the World Cup 2010 as ‘its own’, the signals coming from officials in South Africa are clear - local organizers at every level have little choice but to focus on the immense logistical challenges - it is up to cultural entrepreneurs and operators to get involved if they want to create an Africa-wide cultural impact.
World Cup credibility within South Africa will revolve around benefits to local business, maybe local communities, and success in smooth operations with FIFA - not on how well Africa’s arts landscape may or may not be represented.
Is it too late to throw the door open for partnerships and joint ventures to promote intra-African and Africa-wide arts and culture at the 2010 World Cup?
The overall impression one gets is that South African cultural authorities have been inundated by approaches from Africa and can barely take it all in, much less set up an Africa-wide cultural programme at this late stage; while the real business of the World Cup is to ‘leverage’ South Africa by showing how Africa can put on a ‘European-standard’ football event.