29 April 2009
Take a bow, South Africa. Four free and fair democratic elections on the trot, and the country has cleared another significant hurdle en route to hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
A gruelling election campaign marred frequently by signs of political instability over the Jacob Zuma corruption trial has clearly affected the psyche of the nation, which now needs to regroup in order to ensure that the final preparations for the world’s biggest single-code sporting event go according to plan.
About a year before the 2006 World Cup, Germans were convinced that the tournament would be a failure. There were serious divisions in that society, and it took the launch of a major initiative to unite the country.
Government, big business and citizens united behind a holistic brand campaign which improved the economy, attracted international investment and produced a spectacular tournament.
It’s safe to say that South Africa is in a similar position to Germany was at this stage in its preparations, albeit for different reasons. Nevertheless, after months of discord and uncertainty, it can now look forward to a period of stability.
Zuma is keenly aware of the divisions the split in the ruling African National Congress has caused. As a result, he has reassured South Africans that his party will unify the country.
As the incoming President, one of the immediate challenges he faces is resolving disputes over the Bus Rapid Transit system. The first phase of the system was due to kick off in Johannesburg ahead of the Confederations Cup, but the initiative has been rejected by many taxi drivers, who believe their jobs and income are now threatened.
Nevertheless, Zuma has built a relationship with them, and he says he is looking forward to resolving any outstanding issues.
Thanks to years of hard work by numerous role-players, many of the other key 2010 challenges – particularly the stadium construction projects – are well on target. Nevertheless, the next few months will be crucial for this country’s 2010 preparations.
The Confederations Cup – a key curtainraiser for 2010 – needs to provide the spark for a wave of patriotism that will once again see the rainbow nation uniting for a crucial cause.
At the end of the day, when the history of the 2010 Fifa World Cup is written, Nelson Mandela will be remembered for the pivotal role he played in securing South Africa the rights to host the event, Thabo Mbeki for delivering on many of the formidable commitments made to Fifa – and Jacob Zuma for presiding over Africa’s first World Cup.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010