World Cup Success Is Giant Step Forward for Africa: Thabo Mbeki

World Cup success giant step for South Africa: Thabo Mbeki
Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg

July 12 (Bloomberg) -- For a few minutes on July 6, 2000, time stood still for many in South Africa, Africa and the African diaspora.

Encouraged by the report of the FIFA Inspection Group that Germany and South Africa were both “very well qualified” to host the tournament, these millions awaited the important decision from Switzerland that South Africa would host the 2006 Soccer World Cup.

This was not to be. Rather than vote for South Africa during the last round, as directed by his region, Charles Dempsey from Oceania decided to abstain and thereby, by that one vote, tilted the balance in favor of Germany.

This outcome confirmed exactly what we sought to bring to an end -- the confinement of Africa and the Africans to the periphery of human society as unequal members of the human race.

By 2006, Europe, North and South America and Asia would have hosted the Soccer World Cup. The decision in Zurich in 2000 meant that Africa would continue to be excluded from this company, left in the cold as the orphan among the continents.

This communicated the dehumanizing view that the rest of the world continued to see Africa as “the hopeless continent,” incapable of taking its rightful place in the ordering of human affairs.

Demeaning Stereotype

We were convinced that were we to win the right to host the Soccer World Cup, this would make a decisive contribution to the achievement of the goal of vital importance to all Africans, of destroying the demeaning stereotype of a hopeless continent.

South Africa had to wait for four years for the decision it had expected in 2000 that it could host the Soccer World Cup.

When we presented our bid to host the 2010 World Cup to the FIFA Executive Committee on May 14, 2004, I said the millions of Africans on the continent and the African diaspora had “embarked on an exciting human journey. This is a journey away from a history of conflict, repression and endemic poverty.”

Through the 2001 decision to rotate the hosting of the World Cup among the continents to give Africa a chance, “you conveyed the message to all Africans, both on the continent and the African diaspora, that you are ready and willing to accompany us on our journey of hope, and give us the strength and stamina we need to traverse the difficult terrain that separates us from Africa’s renaissance,” I said at the time.

During the years we fought to defeat the apartheid system, Africa and the Africans united to assist us to achieve victory. Our liberation in 1994 opened the way for the African continent to focus on the vital task of improving the quality of life of millions of Africans, and thus free Africa from its subservient status as an object of global pity and charity.

Equal Members

In this context, we were determined that South Africa should use such capacity as it had to help all Africans, including ourselves, to regain our dignity as equal members of human society. We were convinced that the possibility to host the Soccer World Cup offered Africa and the Africans a golden opportunity to help achieve this objective.

South Africa and Africa have now hosted an eminently successful 2010 Soccer World Cup. The Afro-pessimists who thought we would fail because we are “the hopeless continent” have been proven wrong.

A giant step forward has been taken toward achieving the goal of destroying the age-old negative stereotype of Africa and the Africans. Similarly, as Africans we have also made an important statement to ourselves that we are as capable as any in the world to organize for success that brings a sense of fulfillment to billions.

For us, our success in hosting the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup means Africa is well poised to continue its advance towards its renaissance, hopefully supported by the rest of humanity, acting as partners for Africa’s renewal.

Africa must therefore proceed from the 2010 playing fields to claim the 21st century and liberate itself from the accumulated weight of centuries of the denial of human dignity.

(Thabo Mbeki was the president of South Africa from 1999 until 2008. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Thabo Mbeki at mukonit@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net