World Cup a "shot in the arm" for South Africa

Hosting the football World Cup is a “shot in the arm” for South Africa, as it still struggles to overcome deep-seated divisions, according to one of the country’s moral heavyweights, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

In an exclusive interview with the German Press Agency dpa in Cape Town on Wednesday, the 78-year-old Nobel peace laureate said he hoped the tournament would help repair the damage caused by a recent spate of divisive political rhetoric.

“It just gave us a good shot in the arm because we haven’t had, you know, this … feeling good about ourselves too much. There have been things that didn’t make you feel too thrilled,” said the outspoken bishop, who won the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his doctrine of peaceful resistance to apartheid.

Two years later, Tutu became the first black archbishop of Cape Town, at one point leading street demonstrations in his purple cassock. He retired in 1996.

Tutu took aim at the ruling African National Congress and the populist leader of its Youth League, Julius Malema, over the resurrection of an anti-apartheid song that calls on blacks to “shoot the Boer (white farmer).”

When white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche was murdered on his farm in April, allegedly by two black workers, his supporters accused Malema of incitement for singing the song, which the ANC defended as being part of its heritage.

Tutu said there may have been a time when songs inciting violence “could be justified,” but coming 16 years after black South Africans gained their freedom, such songs were “thoroughly inappropriate”.

The World Cup, which kicks off on June 11 in Johannesburg, could help put South Africa back on the path to racial reconciliation, the former head of the 1996-1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission said.

“Sport does have that extraordinary capacity to unite people, it seems,” he said, recalling how black township dwellers joined in the celebrations when the virtually all-white South African team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Using the biblical analogy of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, Tutu said: “We all left the house of bondage, we all crossed the Red Sea and we traversed the wilderness, but only some have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. And that’s a sadness.”

At the same time, South Africa has achieved “many good things” in 16 years of democracy, Tutu said.

“It’s amazing that we can still have the stability that we have,” he said, taking heart in the number of people who “still want to make a go of it (unity).”

Despite threats from white extremists to avenge Eugene Terreblanche’s killing in April – threats they later recanted – there had not been “a huge kerfuffle,” he pointed out.

Having had Mandela as the country’s first democratically elected president between 1994 and 1999 set the bar very high for South Africans, perhaps unrealistically so, Tutu said.

While the liberation leader, now 91, sought only forgiveness and reconciliation after 27 years in prison, “most us are not aware of how much apartheid damaged us,” Tutu said.

Germany is proof that reunification was never simple – even when reuniting people with a common ethnicity and language after a separation of half a century.

“The former East Germans have been alienated from their fellow Germans and more surprising is discovering they have a nostalgia for the GDR (Communist East Germany),” Tutu said.

“I had expected that barring a few exceptions, on the whole it was going to be a fairly straightforward business, but it isn’t,” he added.

In South Africa, people are also divided over the legacy of his TRC, which granted amnesty to the perpetrators of apartheid atrocities in return for an often unrepentant account of their deeds.
Tutu defended his work, saying simply: “Most of the people (victims and perpetrators) who went through the TRC are a great deal wholer.”


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