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Why a reluctant patriot loves the vuvuzela
Driving out of the driveway of the complex in which we live I had to wait for another car to pass along the road. The driver of the car, coincidentally the of the same make and model as the one I drive, gave me a look, you know that look, as if to say, “Where the hell do you come from and what gives you the right to be here, anyway?”
I was puzzled by the look, which really was full of venom. Then as the car passed I noticed the sticker in the rear window. It was of the “Vierkleur” (Four-coloured flag), the flag of the old Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, the flag adopted as theirs by many of the right-wingers in the new South Africa who have still to get over the perceived loss of “their” country to the largely black majority. My car, in celebration of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, was rather colourfully decorated with the flag of the new South Africa, that reality so much hated and despised (or is it, feared?) by the right (wrong-) wingers! So that was what that glare, that look of naked hatred, was about.
Now I am not by nature a flag-waver, I rather dislike patriotism and really do not approve of nationalism, as my ideas run more to internationalism. So it is unusual for me to drive a car decorated with a national flag, and maybe it's appropriate at this time, when the first Fifa Soccer World Cup on African soil is over, to reflect a little on why I, with some enthusiasm, be it said, decorated my car with the flag, as did many millions of other South Africans.
The "new" South Africa
Firstly let's get rid of the idea that I might have been saying anything about the superiority of South Africa over any other country. That is not my feeling at all. I have not been converted to patriotism and even less to narrow nationalism. That out of the way, I want to give a kind of potted history of what the flag of the new South Africa (to the older generation like me, the democratic South Africa still feels very new at 16 years!) means to me, and why I so thoroughly enjoyed this World Cup when I am not even a big soccer or sports fan at all.
From May 1948 until 26 April 1994 South Africa was ruled by the National Party, which was essentially an Afrikaner nationalist party, a party of which some members had been openly and vociferously against South Africa joining the war against Nazi Germany, because they had definite Nazi sympathies. I'm not saying all the members were Nazi sympathisers by any means, but there were quite a few who were. This party implemented the apartheid policy, which was a not very disguised fascist policy based on the assumption that the “white” race had a God-given duty to preserve its “purity”, its “identity”, against the other races who also occupied the country.
To maintain the “purity” and the “identity” of the white race the policy was to deliberately deny personhood to members of other races by such demeaning practices as the so-called “Pass Laws” which made it a legal requirement that every black person carry on his or her person at all times a “Pass” which was like an internal passport. Any black person caught without this pass was summarily taken to court, charged and fined, or imprisoned. The police spent a great deal of their time and energy on this.
Apartheid denied the personhood of people
The other indignity suffered by blacks was the Group Areas Act and its many amendments, which stipulated where what race could live. As the Land Act of 1913 had already divided South Africa into a “white” section (about 87% of the country's surface area) and a black area (the remaining 13%) Group Areas were as defined by the Act were grossly inadequate for the black majority. The 13% designated black was almost exclusively in the poorest and least arable parts of the country. The Group Areas Act effectively made blacks “foreigners” in their own land, doomed to being, in the words of one nationalist politicians, only “temporary sojourners” in the white areas, where they were required as labourers.
The personhood of blacks was further eroded by the deliberate imposition of a second- or even third-rate education. This was explicitly done to prevent blacks from “getting ideas above their station”. Where before black students had written the same examinations as white students, although they mostly had much poorer schools, they now wrote examinations set by the Bantu Education Department, which were noticeably of a lower standard than those written by white students. Even universities were segregated, in violation of the principle of academic freedom.
The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the derisively inappropriately named “Immorality Act” made the government the arbiter of who could love whom, who could marry whom. These two Acts were the cause of great suffering and indignity, with the police peeking through curtains and sniffing bed sheets to try to catch offenders. It was all so ludicrous it might have been funny had it not been for the terrible anguish and suffering it caused.
Of course the black majority did not take kindly to all of these assaults on their dignity, all the trampling on their personhood and individuality, this deliberate denial of basic human rights. So to keep it all together the government had to institute draconian measures, like the removal of the right to habeas corpus, like successive “states of emergency” which were in essence the imposition of martial law, like bannings (a person could be “banned” which meant they were not allowed to continue with normal life, could be with one other person at a time, could not participate in any social, political or educational activities that they could not do alone, etc), like indefinite “detention” (i.e. imprisonment) without trial and without access to legal assistance, banishment to remote rural areas.
The propaganda machine
Since only whites had the vote, the government had only to keep the white electorate happy and in line in order to continue to rule as an elected government. This they did by means of an elaborate propaganda machine which included the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) which in theory was supposed to be a public broadcaster along the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), but in fact this powerful medium was the mouthpiece of the government.
The method of the propaganda was to call anyone who opposed the policy of apartheid “unpatriotic” and “un-South African” and even “communist”. Any disturbances, any protests by anyone against any aspect of apartheid was said to be the result of “instigators” and “communists”. The old South African flag, in which the old “Vierkleur” had a place at the centre, became a central symbol of the government and so was soon associated with apartheid.
When the struggle against apartheid finally won and a new South Africa was to be born, a new flag, at first called “temporary”, was designed and at midnight on 26 April 1994, as the day of the first truly democratic elections were to be held was coming, the old flag was ceremoniously lowered from flagpoles across the country and the new “temporary” flag hoisted in its place.
Whereas the old flag had incorporated elements of the history of South Africa, including the Union Flag of Britain and the flags of the former Boer Republics, this new “temporary” flag was totally neutral, having no link to anything or anyone from the past. I think, largely for that reason, it has been accepted and with growing enthusiasm by most in South Africa.
Certainly flying the new flag, publicly displaying it, is an indication of a break with apartheid.
The new flag was not initially popular with many whites and there was considerable consternation when, after 1994, some people, especially at sporting events, continued to wave the old flag. This was seen as indicating a reluctance on the part of those waving the flag to accept the death of apartheid and the new reality of a democratic, black-led South Africa.
During the past month of the Soccer World Cup the “new” flag has come into its own as never before. I have seen little old white ladies proudly flying it from their cars, young Afrikaners also, and it has been seen all over the stadiums, along with that ugly but loveable plastic horn, the vuvuzela.
Between the flag and the vuvuzela I think the final nails have been hammered into the coffin of apartheid. Now we just need to get rid of the ghost (in Afrikaans the word “gees” can mean spirit, in the sense of World Cup spirit, and ghost) that still lingers, and that might take a little longer.
It is now a struggle between the “gees” of the World Cup and the “gees” (ghost) of apartheid. The vuvuzela might be the thing to blow that “gees” away, as it blew the other “gees” into being!
And maybe that young man with the Vierkleur sticker might smile the next time he sees me.
The results are more than a new world champion!
The 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup (SWC) has generally had a beneficial effect on South Africa. It h certainly profoundly altered some of the self-perceptions of South Africans for the better.
The country has received high praise from many quarters as a result of the success of the SWC. The opening and closing ceremonies were beautiful. The games went off without any hitches. The gloomily forecast crime wave did not materialise – indeed, from accounts in the press now it would seem that crime, which is a problem in South Africa, actually declined during the SWC.
The doomsayers have effectively been silenced. Before the SWC started some British entrepreneurs were proposing to sell “stab-proof vests” to fans comeing to the SWC. These were not necessary, and the image of the country as a violence-ridden place has, I hope, been stilled.
No doubt there are still problems. No doubt the SWC was very costly to host. Perhaps the hoped-for economic benefits will not be as great as expected.
The psychological benefits, though, are in my view, enormous.
Just before the SWC two rugby games were played in Soweto for the first time in history. They were a semi-final and the final of the annual Super Fourteen tournament between rugby franchises in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Whites flocked to Soweto, most of them for the first time in their lives, and were shocked, astonished, at the warmth of the reception they got there. All the stereotypes of the violence of the place, of the antagonism of the local people towards whites, were dispelled. There are now many stories of the fun white rugby fans had in the taverns near the stadium with new-found black friends. They exchanged cell phone numbers and email addresses, they braaied wors together and drank litres and litres of beer together.
The point of this is that these games had to be played in Soweto because the rugby stadium where they should have been played, the home of the Bulls in Pretoria, had been taken over by Fifa for the SWC.
And then came the SWC itself and the opening concert, and the games themselves, saw stadiums filled to capacity with crowds of all colours and all countries shouting and blowing vuvuzelas and generally having fun together. Just being normal football crowds, not white and black, just people.
South Africa has been changed profoundly. And not only by the massive infrastructure investments either. By the new self-confidence of its people, the new realisation that we can do it, we can be a people together, finding each other and discovering that we are not all that different after all, we all want pretty much the same things. We want a decent education for our children, we want decent work, we want to know that we count.
After 450 years of racial antagonism and mistrust, that is one giant step forward. I just hope we can keep the momentum going.
- "Vuvuzela," "staycation" among 2,000 words added to Oxford Dictionary - Books, Arts & Entertainm
The third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, the largest single-volume English dictionary, was released on August 19. According to an announcement made a day earlier, the new edition contains such newly added words as vuvuzela, micro-bloggi