Sumantra Maitra - Kolkata, India
Footie World Cup has arrived! The phrase the "greatest show on planet earth", is the most cliched, hackneyed description used by us reporters. I have to wait four years for the big game and this time it got a little less of a welcome from me.
The volatile Indian politico-economic situation, pressure at work, and renovation of my apartment are the the main conspirators behind my lack of enthusiasm. Moreover, I am used to getting strange looks from my colleagues - being a football lover in this morbidly cricket obsessed country is certain to mark you out as weird.
However, I managed to watch the coverage of the opening ceremony, and the first match between the South African and Mexican teams. I was keen to view the event having heard so much about the Africa renaissance, and metamorphosis. And I had one word for it...wow!
The opening ceremony was simple, not the jazzy affair we are used to seeing at a European, American or even a Latin American event. But it had a distinct African flavour to it. Different bands from a number of African countries, with their own distinct style of music performed. I particularly liked the Cameroon one, with its very catchy tone. Algerian born singer-songwriter Khaled's famous song Didi was a shot of nostalgia from my childhood, and the thousand copies in different hopeless Bollywood B-grade movies.
The South African kids of different colour: Black, White, Brown, (Indian Sub-continentals are the second largest minority after the whites there!) were dancing together with the intoxicating rhythm of the huge African kettle drums, in that absolute egalitarian tableau, with no apparent racist undercurrents.
I suddenly realised something. The beautiful cities, the scenic countrysides and the low crime rates, didn't happen overnight.This was a result of years of dedication, political will, consensus and a desire to prove themselves to the rest of the world.
Hundreds of South Africans were evicted from their homes and shifted to make Johannesburg look like a world class city. Criminals were detained beforehand to make the city safe. Condoms were distributed to the tourists, to stop the spread of Aids, the single most deadly disease in the country.
Each one of these bold decisions would have been subject to major criticism from somewhere by someone. But that didn't stop the leadership of South Africa from doing it. I mean, come on! You've got to take brutal, disciplined decisions at times, for the greater good, and that strong-spined sternness is what differentiates a quality leadership from an average one. National pride is a feature which leads a country to greater glory.
One small example is the use of the Vuvuzela by South African football fans. It is a long horn, with a distinct sound. Okay let's face it, the continuous locust like drone it produces is a bit irritating at times, especially in tense moments of a match. However, lets not deny that without that noise, the feel of Africa would not be there. It almost sounds like a battle cry, a war horn, a crusade against the feudo-colonially minded world summed up in the words of South African president Jacob Zuma who said "The time of Africa begins..."
Can we, here in this subcontinent, be like South Africa and take those bold steps? Won't there be a thousand odd moral groups, and intellectual no-hopers rabble rousing?
I honestly wanted South Africa to win the first match as it would have been a dream end to the day. But not all wishes are granted. Some other time maybe.
Before I end, I should say this:I have a friend who is a promotional editor, working in South Africa now for a Tv channel. Coincidentally we had a talk that night. He said:"We can do all the things they are doing now...if only we kick out some of our crybabies, and have the guts and discipline these folks have..." How very true.