Sifiso Ndlovu – Research at the Africa Institute
Communication, Media and Sport in Africa
February 22-23, 2008
Ohio University, Athens Ohio
Dr. Sifiso Ndlovu has a PHD in History obtained at the University of the Witwatersrand . He is currently a Director of Research at the Africa Institute of South Africa based in Pretoria South Africa.
“Resist by all means! the savage barbarians are coming!!!”: White dominated media in South Africa and the 2010 World Cup
This paper will discuss the racist nature of the white dominated media in its coverage of events leading to the 2010 Football World Cup. It seems that on the southern tip of Africa, whiteness is still a country of the mind and, in colonial mythology, the barbarians are always at the gate and they have to be kept out. It is common knowledge that white South Africans have abdicated their duties as citizens but normally use sports, particularly rugby and cricket, to express political feelings about national issues. For example , through the Springboks’ exploits during the 2007 Rugby World Cup staged mainly in France, voices of white South Africa took a central stage and became part of the national discourse after a very long time. Some even voiced their disappointment that the boisterous and proud President Thabo Mbeki, after the final whistle, accompanied both the British Prime Minister and the French President to the podium and in the process celebrate with his victorious team. This, according to them, was unacceptable because, as far as they are concerned, rugby is a white man’s sport and hence Mbeki, ‘the interloper’ was a ‘gatecrasher’- and according to them, Madiba (Nelson Mandela), who, like a patriach, graced the 1995 win, should have been in Paris to grace the occasion . In short, their argument is that South Africa does not belong to all but to whites and Europeans. President Mbeki, the barbarian, had to be kept out of the Rugby World Cup proceedings. In 1995, the white dominated South African media took a positive view of their ‘white’ rugby World Cup and now, some of the still white dominated media are putting a negative slant on the forthcoming football World Cup. When South Africa successfully hosted the 2007 Pro-20 Cricket World Cup recently lead stories about crime, poverty and AIDS infested South Africa disappeared into thin air. Thus, it is clear that the 2010 football World Cup is perceived as the white man’s burden and this epitomizes much of the self-deluding posturing of whites in South Africa.
International sporting events have been utilized for both national unity and reconciliation by other countries, as an example, the 1998 Seoul Olympics held in South Korea and the 2006 Football World Cup staged in Germany. One might also include the 1998 World Cup hosted by France because the composition of the triumphant French national football team challenged the nation to confront and vigorously debate issues of race. But the opposite is true in the South Africa context whereby South Africa’s 2010 success is being undermined by the enemy within. This enemy is white and does not want the football tournament to succeed. This rabid racism expressed by white South Africans (and some of their European counterparts) defines the second part of the paper. Though the enemy within possesses South African citizenship, it will, as an example, provide vocal support to England, Portugal and Holland national teams, not the South African national team, as teams of choice if the Europeans do qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Not to be outdone, the majority of South African football fans will adopt African teams as second teams of choice after the South African national team and in most cases, South American and European teams will have to compete for the support of the African fans who, for the first the first time ever in the history of the football World Cup or any other international global sporting event, will be in the majority.
The first part will, in historical terms, analyse the meaning of the 2010 World Cup as “Africa’s call”- including Samuel Eto’o Fils, a victim of racist demagogues in Europe , as the face of the 2010 World Cup. Symbolically, this is done in order to challenge the notion and widely shared prejudice that while South Africa is a part of Africa geographically; it is not culturally and politically, and certainly not economically. In this section we will point out the fact that it is not enough to attribute the Pan Africanist stance linked to the 2010 event solely to Mbeki’s call for the African Renaissance but to other historical events highlighting the existing symbiotic relationship between Africans in South Africa and their brethren within the continent. The internal diaspora, defined by various migrations into ‘exile’ began with pre-colonial political dynamics in the area now referred to as Kwa-Zulu Natal. Various communities from this region migrated to areas now referred as Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and still exist.
It then becomes apparent that economically, culturally and politically, South Africa is linked to the various regions in Southern Africa. For example, the economic link was made obvious by the migrant labour system which began during the late 19 century as a result of the mining revolution, meaning that, Africans in South Africa had experiences of working and living together with their counterparts from the then Bechuanaland and the Central African Federation (Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia). Politically, the rising tide of African nationalism during the 1960s and the coming of independence in Africa meant that political ties between the different liberation movements in Southern Africa were cemented. This is an integral and resolute part of South Africa’s historical heritage. Moreover, the politically inclined and South African based citizens from the above-mentioned colonies were members of the African National Congress. In fact the founding members of the ANC included power-brokers from other colonies in southern Africa, for example, King Sobhuza of Swaziland. Culturally, the journeys to exile undertaken by South Africans in the 1960s travelling through Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) were made easier by the shared language, traditions and customs of both Nguni and Setswana speakers. Most of the military cadres who undertook this challenging journey were first trained in Algeria and Egypt before they were transferred to the Soviet Union to consolidate military training during the heydays of the Cold War. The road to the north has a long history’ amongst Africans in South Africa as they spent most of their lives in other parts of the continent as exiles- hence the decision to proclaim the 2010 World Cup as an event belonging to all Africans, ‘with Africa as a theater and South Africa as the stage’. Before 27 April 1994 this motto defined the politics of international solidarity through the Organisation of African Unity. The difference now being the road to the 2010 World Cup is from the north and leads to the south where the stage is located.
Also, this Pan Africanist approach to hosting the 2010 World is intrinsically linked to the broader political evolution of Pan Africanism dating back to the early 20th Century and black South Africans were connected to this movement from its inception. The idea of Pan-Africanism first arose as a manifestation of fraternal solidarity amongst Africans and peoples of African descent based in the diaspora. African scholars from the various colonies intermingled with African-Americans and Africans from the Caribbean inspiring and conscientising the latter to return to their roots. It was in this atmosphere that Advocate Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad (who practised at the English Bar at the end of the 19th Century) decided to call a Pan-African conference in London in 1900. The aim of the conference was to set up a forum of protest against colonialism, to co-ordinate their efforts with all abolitionist traditions of British people and “to protect the Africans from depredations of the empire builders”. Through football, this clarion call is both resonant and relevant in the 21st century. The empire builders of today might read UEFA , “G14 clubs” and European Football in general.
The 1900 Pan-Africanist conference was indeed a foundation of African Nationalism as the plight of the oppressed majority in South Africa was a standing item on the agenda in subsequent conferences. It was William’s friendship with John Tengo Jabavu (A South African) that led to William’s immigrating to South Africa in 1903. Williams had met Jabavu in London in 1899. Pan Africanism as a movement of liberation in Africa itself dates from fascist Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and above all from the Pan Africanist Congress held at Manchester in October 1945. For the first time in the history of pan-African movement, African delegates predominated in the Manchester Congress and the main focus of the discussion was the decolonisation of Africa. The Manchester Congress was organised by, among others, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, George Padmore of Trinidad as joint secretaries, Peter Abrahams of South Africa as publicity secretary and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya as assistant secretary. Altogether there, there were over 200 participants, mostly from British colonies in Africa, among whom were future presidents of independent African states. In the spirit of Pan Africanism, Samuel Eto’o articulated the view ‘I like my country to win (the 2010 World Cup) but I am first an African before being a Cameroonian’. Taking note of Eto’o’s comment, white resistance to the 2010 World Cup has a rich history to contend with and a steep mountain to climb indeed. Often before they really noticed, white South Africans and the white dominated press , will not just be overtaken by the locomotive of the history of Pan Africanism, but unceremoniously run over by it.
To conclude, we can only contextualize Africa’s call to host the 2010 World Cup in historical terms and not through the ghastly deeds perpetrated in the name of racist purity and white supremacy by the white dominated media in South Africa.