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Of Diski, schools and class analysis: the significance of the 2010 Soccer World Cup

| September 11, 2010
By Guy Hartley

In 1995, owing to a variety of factors, I came to live for two years in a small rural mining town on the West Rand.

Situated in the North West Province, Fochville was home to a largely conservative, middle-class Afrikaner suburban community, with a black working class populace inhabiting the nearby township, Kokosi.

The year 1995 saw the Rugby World Cup on home soil in South Africa and the famous 15-12 victory over the All Blacks. My recently-wed spouse and I watched the tournament in our tiny townhouse, with growing anticipation as the Springboks dispatched one team after the other.

Then, the masterstroke: Nelson Mandela donning the number 6 captain’s jersey, followed by the iconic Stransky drop goal and finally the lifting high of the Web Ellis trophy by Francois Pienaar. It was a moment of national glory and the mood countrywide was euphoric. Bursting with national pride, my wife and I took to the streets of Fochville to share in the celebrations. We acknowledged fellow citizens with clenched fists of triumph, hooters sounded, the new flag was waved, and a helluva party was had in the President shopping parkade. Just over a year into the new democratic order, a new nation had arrived.

Another sporting moment – but a national silence

Just one year later, my wife and I sat in the self-same townhouse to witness another landmark event in our country’s own backyard – the African Soccer Cup of Nations. Once more, our excitement peaked and as our aging team of local stars grew in stature as the tournament progressed. Doctor Khumalo, Mark ‘Fiiiiiish’, Phil Masinga, Lucas Radebe, ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu, amongst others – the team was quickly transforming into a pantheon of national heroes. The final arrived against Tunisia and who could
forget Mark Williams’s classic winning goals and Clive Barker’s jet-flying impersonations?

Again we were filled with pride as Nelson Mandela, clad in Bafana Bafana colours, handed the trophy over to captain Neil Tovey. We could not contain our joy and
once more took to the streets of Fochville. This time, we were met by a shocking silence. It could have been any deserted late Saturday afternoon in a highveld country dorp. Just the weak, far-off sound of a lone vuvuzela from a rickety, broken-down vehicle emerging from Kokosi suggested something mildly different in the air. The starkly
contrasting image was unforgettable.

2010 a triumph – but why?

Fourteen years later and the 2010 World Cup is over. What a triumph! What a success to drown out the doubts of a whole host of so-called ‘first world’ nations. The warm reception and friendly hospitality towards international visitors; a country unified to celebrate the soccer spectacle; black and white together – all these have been  something indeed to behold.

But, for me, the real significance of the 2010 World Cup lies not in terms of the international accolades or racial cohesion. More importantly, class barriers have been breached countrywide. Unlike the experiences of 1995 and 1996, it has taken the 2010 Soccer World Cup to foster a move towards class togetherness, class cultural recognition and working-class affirmation. It has been truly remarkable to view the nation rally around makarabas and vuvuzelas – with the centrepiece of the World Cup,
Soccer City, showcased in the heart of Soweto. As such, working-class culture has been ‘mainstreamed’ and affirmed not only in South Africa, but across the globe. This has helped to break down cultural barriers and class divisions, and provide us with a new start to achieve social acceptance, social harmony and stability.

Schools cannot exist as enclaves

There is no doubt that the huge dichotomy between rich and poor inSouth Africa remains our country’s biggest challenge. Many prestigious, traditional schools – both government and independent – can no longer afford to exist as enclaves separate from the social realities of their surrounding communities. Genuine class connections
need to be made at every possible turn, and we must all refuse assimilation approaches, which only serve the dominant culture’s ends.

Social activism in the form of community service needs to be embraced as central to the co-curricular programme. Meaningful service activities offer so much in terms
of awakening a societal vision, developing historical consciousness and a deep appreciation of class differentiation processes.

Soccer deserves its rightful place in schools

Soccer also can no longer be neglected in our schools. Diski, with all its socio-economic and class implications, needs to be given its rightful place and not simply assimilated into the middleclass culture as a secondary activity. The 2010 World Cup has indeed given us new impetus to foster social unity, class cohesion and stability.
However, we should not be blinded by the euphoria and self-congratulation of hosting such a successful global event.

We should be reminded for instance that, ironically, World Cup stadium attendance was largely a bourgeois and elitist affair with prohibitively high ticket prices and
access to tickets out of the reach of most regular black, working-class Diski supporters. As such, there lies the danger of the sport (especially at school level) being fashioned into ‘acceptable’ structures separate from the game that receives mass support at local and rural levels.

1Goal needs everybody’s genuine support

Furthermore, initiatives such as the 1Goal campaign need not just celebrity backing, but a groundswell of popular support to secure not only an education for every child, but quality schooling across the board. So-called ‘subordinate’ groups must be affirmed in their “ways of being, speaking, and conducting their everyday lives”, to quote renowned educationist Professor Crain Soudien.

Strategic action must be taken to benefit from the momentum and goodwill of the 2010 World Cup. Having recently celebrated Nelson Mandela International Day, we should be reminded that the former president not only fought for racial unity, but a better life for all. This entails uplifting people, breaking cycles of poverty, raising income levels and increasing the equitable distribution of resources. Let us be frank about the pressing class and social issues with which we grapple, lest we be beguiled by the high spirit of present optimism. We should have learnt these lessons from the sporting highlights of 1995 and 1996.

Guy Hartley is Headmaster of Merrifield Preparatory School and College in East London.
Contact him at


Category: Spring 2010 Edition

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