Friday, July 2, 2010

South Africa and the World Cup

As a South African living abroad during the Wold Cup Soccer, I have been humbled and at the same time, feel enormous pride to hear the stories coming out of my beloved country during this incredibly exciting and never to be forgotten time. It saddens me that I am not at home to share in the spirit of things and of course the fun. Bafana Bafana gave it their best shot and remained good sports to the end, even if things aren't always completely fair.
One article stands out from the rest. It is about the fifth time someone has sent it to me, but it brings tears to my eyes every time. It describes the true South African spirit, which one only knows about if one has spent some time in Africa. Read on. It is beautifully written and it fills my heart with pride to be a South African!

The Huffington Post
Shari Cohen
International development worker in the public health sector
Posted: June 15, 2010 11:35 AM
South Africa Rolls Out the Ubuntu in Abundance
I went on a rant the other day regarding the cost of the 2010 World Cup
versus all the critical needs South Africa is facing and whether or not the
most vulnerable of this country would gain anything from having the World
Cup hosted in their country. At that time, I also had some very positive
things to say about our hosts for the 2010 World Cup and I wanted to
share that side of the coin as well, because it is equally important.
To say that I have been blown away at the hospitality South Africa has
shown the rest of the world would be an understatement. I think back
on recent Olympics and struggle to remember much reporting in the
USA of athletes from other countries. I remember when a Togolese guy
won a bronze medal in kayaking and NBC reported it and I thought to
myself, "where are all the other fascinating stories like this the
Jamaican bobsledding team." In today's America, sadly, we have drifted
so far towards being so US-centric that we only seem to root for the
Not so here in South Africa. I've been here since early May and each week
I have become more and more impressed with the global embrace that
South Africans have offered up to the world. On the way to the airport a
couple of weeks ago, I heard a radio program that said each day they
would focus on one country that would be coming to South Africa for
the World Cup, and they would explore not only that sport's history in
soccer, but also their politics, religion, and socio-cultural practices. On the
television, I've seen numerous programs that focus on a particular country
and it's history of soccer and how the history of that country is intertwined
with their soccer history. I've seen programs on India, exploring why India
enjoys soccer but hasn't really excelled at the global level... yet. And I've
seen shows on soccer in Muslim countries. Maybe it's planned, maybe it's
unplanned, maybe it's by chance, but it is happening. It's not just about
South Africans showing off their varied and multifaceted culture to their
global guests, it's also about using this opportunity to educate South Africa
on the rest of Planet Earth's inhabitants.
As I moved through my work here in the provinces over the last six weeks,
I had a pivotal meeting with the Board members of a rural NGO. They were
explaining their guiding program philosophy of Ubuntu. No, not the Linux
program. I'm talking about the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu that
essentially says, "No man is an island."
I found a better explanation from Wikipedia:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human.
Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human
being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be
human all by yourself, and when you have this quality -- Ubuntu -- you are
known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated
from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects
the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of
To me, Ubuntu is the acceptance of others as parts of the sum total of
each of us. And that is exactly what I have experienced during the lead
up to, and the initial days of this World Cup. There is nary a South African
citizen that I've met on the street, or in shops or restaurants or hotels,
that hasn't gone out of their way to greet me and make me feel like I am
home. And I don't mean that in the trivial, "Oh, aren't they nice, homey
people here... " sort of way. I mean real, genuine interest and questions.
People seriously want to know where I come from. What it's like where
I live. How does it compare to where I am now. What do I think of South
Africa. Oh yes, and what do I think of Bafana Bafana... The questions
and conversations are in earnest. They are honest. And they are had with
enthusiasm and a thirst to know more. South Africans are drinking deeply
from the cup of humanity that has been brought to their doorstep. I would
never imagine that an American World Cup or Olympics would ever be this
welcoming to the rest of the world. And that saddens me for the state of
my home country, but it also makes me feel the pride of the South African
I have been truly humbled on this trip. And while I have my gripes
regarding development here, I cannot say one negative thing about how
South Africa has handled its duties as host and hostess to the world. If
I could say one thing to sum up being here during this once-in-a-lifetime
experience, it would be that I've learned the value of Ubuntu, and that
when found and offered in abundance, the world is indeed a better place to
live in.
So, if South Africa accomplishes nothing more on the playing field, it
will still have won as a host country. I am a cynic, no doubt about that.
And yet I have to admit, I'm a little teary just writing this because I leave
for home next weekend and I will be leaving a little piece of myself here
in South Africa. I just hope I have learned enough to bring back a little
piece of Ubuntu to my homeland, where perhaps with a little caring and
a little water, it will take root as naturally as it does here, in the cradle of
civilization. It's funny, many people in America still ask me, "are the people
in Africa very primitive?" Yes, I know, amazing someone could ask that but
they do. And when they do, I usually explain that living in a mud hut does
not make one primitive, however, allowing kids to sell drugs to other kids
and engage in drive-by killings -- isn't that primitive behavior? I think it is.
When I think of Ubuntu and my recent experiences here, I think America
has much to learn from Africa in general, in terms of living as a larger
village; and as human beings who are all interconnected with each other,
each of us having an affect on our brothers and sisters.
As the 2010 Cup slogan goes, "Feel it. It is here." Well, I have felt it,
because I am here. Thank you South Africa, for giving me this unexpected
gift. I am humbled.

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