Saturday, June 19, 2010

South Africa and Soccer

Millions probably learned more about South Africa in the last few days than they ever knew, as a result of the coverage of the World Cup. I myself never knew they had a Youth Day, a holiday to commemorate the students who protested apartheid, and their inferior (Bantu) education in particular, including the many who lost their lives as a result. I'm not a soccer fan but the footage of the buoyant South African faces, the colorful attire of Zulu women with their signature hat crowns, and the design of the South African flag itself have been captivating.

I don't wish to be in that stadium mashed in with all the people and melting into the buzzing sound of those horns, the vuvuzelas, but I want to visit South Africa. I want to witness what was brought into being in that land through struggle, sacrifice, and generosity of spirit. I want to witness the beauty of Capetown's landscape as well as the shanty towns that still exist. I want to be on that soil and pay homage. I will never forget the day I stood for 7 hrs, along with my daughter, along with hundreds of other black folks in Harlem to see Nelson Mandela. What a moment! There was an amazing electricity of connection in the crowd, a love voltage, a feeling of being joined with and validated by his freedom.

How sad that his joy at having the World Cup held in his land has been stolen by the tragic loss of his great granddaughter. Divine timing is hard to understand at times. How unbearable for her mother, who wrote such a lovely piece about her daughter, saying in essence that she should have allowed her to wear all the make up she wanted to wear, let her sleep later when she said she was tired because maybe if she had her daughter would come back to her so that she could hold her one more time.

But that does seem to be the nature of life, grief and joy, horror and grandeur, dry and soaked side by side, even as it seems like one does not leave room for the other, and yet there they both are, time after time. I've enjoyed seeing the locks on some of the soccer players, the natural hairstyle of Graca Machel, Mandela's wife, the young people teaching the soccer dance, and hearing the melody of the South African national anthem. I didn't see Desmond Tutu dance but I can imagine so well this expressive man who calls out what needs to be called, who bent over with grief during the Truth & Reconciliation Commission at hearing the inhumanity of man. Such greatness abounds!

And yet one thing I'm tired of in the coverage is the repeated message of African teams unable to win even as the hosting continent for the World Cup. It has been difficult to see the losses, especially the two games South Africa played. I was rooting for them to win, for themselves, their country and the continent. And that very yearning is what I see as the subtext to all the commentary of the reported "heartbreak" of the African teams. You might host the World Cup but you're still inferior. Maybe that's just my imagination, or a reflection of my own woundedness from the historic shaming of Africa. But if I know that I have more healing to do, then it's likely that others do too. This legacy of shame is not like baby oil on the skin that leaves its mark as a sheen on the surface, it's more like BP oil in the Gulf that's coloring the ocean's surface and the depths you cannot see from sailing. A fishing boat with deep net, maybe.