An African journalist reflects on South Africa’s reputation

Mark Namanya is a Ugandan sports journalist who attended the Twenty Ten Allstar training in Egypt. Ahead of his visit to South Africa next week for the FIFA World Cup draw, he reflects on what his impressions had been before he’d visited the country, and to what extent they had been shaped by the ‘Western media’.

The 2007 World Cup preliminary draw was as glamorous an event as any organised by FIFA anywhere in this or any decade. Held at Durban’s International Convention Centre, it was the first time the world media got a glimpse of South Africa’s preparations for the 2010 World Cup. The city’s sea front, conducive weather and unhurried nature (it’s everything Johannesburg is not), set the stage for a ceremony to remember. And succeed it did without glitches.

Africa Media Online’s Reinhardt Hartzenberg snapped this image of people playing soccer at Durban’s beachfront, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium visible in the background.

As a first time visitor, I had heard so much about gun crime and the dangerous streets in the country. I was not sure whether I could feel safe. I frequently looked over both shoulders to be sure no one was tracking me, moved swiftly and entered my hotel room before 7pm. Today, when I recall my trip to the land of Nelson Mandela in that late November, I can’t help but see how foolish I was.
By the end of the trip, I had experienced the beautiful Ushaka Marine World, visited the Moses Mabhida stadium under construction and felt the treat of Africa’s busiest port. On the eve of the draw, I even got the chance to watch the world famous Soweto derby at ABSA stadium. Durban and South Africa were not what I expected. My six days there were incident-free and I returned to Uganda in one piece.
Which constantly kept me thinking: why has there been a sustained campaign to undermine South Africa 2010 in sections of the Western press? Mid this year, I attended virtually all matches of the Confederations Cup. I experienced Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg and saw scant reason for trepidation ahead of the tournament.
It reminded of the Beijing Olympics in China last year. For those out of the People’s Republic, the Olympics were going to be a nightmare. We were told the pollution was prohibitive and the country’s human rights policy towards Tibet was unacceptable. When I travelled to Beijing in May, I saw nothing to distract from a successful Olympics. Fast forward now and everyone associates the Games with the heroics of Usian Bolt, Kenenisa Bekele and China’s medal rivalry with traditional powerhouse USA. There is no mention of pollution.
There is no denying that South Africa’s progress to 2010 has not been without glitches. But because it is Africa’s first World Cup, a strike by workers is deemed unprecedented. When a death (and I’m not in any way attempting to condone crime) is committed in Johannesburg, the excessive tone in coverage makes you think it’s never happened in Berlin, London or New York. When the African crowds introduce the unique vuvuzela horn into stadiums, there is an outcry, apparently because ‘it irritates ears.’ Give me a break!
When the final is played on July 11 in Soccer City, the news will deservedly be made by the teams that contest the final. The everlasting legacy though will be of a successful African World Cup, which changed the Western perception of South Africa and the continent of Africa as Mandela so wished.
I can’t wait.