South Africans Welcome World Cup With Pride

The highly anticipated World Cup 2010 kicks off today in South Africa. The month-long soccer craze is engendering a sense of hope and promise in the country still healing from apartheid and struggling with widespread poverty. The Rev. Peter Storey, a South African faith leader, and Sunday Times Columnist Pinky Khoabane discuss the mood in their country as the games begin.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It is wedding season and it's also gay pride month, and many same-sex couples are taking advantage of changes in the law to tie the knot. But we have a provocative conversation with an author and activist who says, hold the champagne, gays should not be trying to participate in a failing institution. We'll have that conversation in a few minutes.

But, first, it's almost here less than a day now to the first game of World Cup in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Rustenburg, where the U.S. plays England on Saturday. South Africa will take the world stage.

Now, the players will take to the field in a state of the art stadium between Johannesburg and the township of Soweto - that longtime symbol of South Africa's poverty and resistance to oppression. President Jacob Zuma says this is a time to be proud.

President JACOB ZUMA (South Africa): For us, the World Cup has already begun. It is clear that millions of our people have waited for years and look upon this tournament with hope, pride and a sense of belonging.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Indeed this is a chance for the country to spotlight the progress it has made on race relations and the economy. But it also puts the spotlight on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, crime, and the huge black lower class.

We thought this was a good time to hear just a couple of voices from South Africa, to hear what they have to say about all this. So, we've called the Reverend Peter Storey in Cape Town. He's a seventh generation South African, a past president of the Methodist Church of South Africa and of the South African Council of Churches. He was also a member of the selection committee for the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Also with us, once again, is commentator Pinky Khoabane in Johannesburg where she writes a column called "On Fire" for South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper.

Thank you both so much for speaking to us.

Ms. PINKY KHOABANE (Columnist, Sunday Times, South Africa): Thank you for having us.

Reverend PETER STOREY (Former President, Methodist Church of South Africa): Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, Reverend Storey, we'll start with you. Sixteen years removed from apartheid, something you fought against for much of your career, and of course you worked to heal the country afterwards, as we discussed, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One day away from this event, which brings the world to your doorstep, what do you hope the world sees?

Rev. STOREY: Michel, I wish the world was all here at the moment. This is the happiest country in the world, as of today. Everybody's happy. We know that not everything's right. We have lots of problems and I can wax eloquent about them. But first and foremost, I think I must just emphasize the spirit of joy which is just flooding across South Africa, people of all races at the moment.

We do realize that this is a very special moment. And it is an opportunity for us to show off one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And to show that the people of this country have incredibly big and warm hearts. And I hope that that's going to happen. I also hope that we will rise above some of the petty bickering, which I think cheapens the story of South Africa over the last few years.

We will rediscover something of the idealism and the sense of being able to be a model for the rest of the world, which we found during the Mandela years, during the immediate post 1994 years. There's no reason why we shouldn't rediscover that. It's not about problems, it's about spirit.

MARTIN: Pinky, what do you hope the world sees?

Ms. KHOABANE: Well, I hope the world realizes - I mean, in the last, since 2004 when we started the World Cup, we've had such negative press, especially from Europe, England, Germany, especially; about crime, about the problems that we have - and we do have problems. But, you know, to the extent where the British press sells bulletproof vests to its people, tells them to have warnings about what to look out for in South Africa, I hope the world comes here and realizes we are a wonderful group of people.

We have problems, we have crime, we have HIV/AIDS, but we also have the beautiful country that we can showcase. And despite the racial divides, this country can rise above all the problems that we have and unite and we've seen that happening for the World Cup.

MARTIN: In this country, in the U.S., when we've hosted major events, there's often been some ambivalence on the part of some who say, well, the resources that we put into this, we could be putting into something else. Are there those feelings there, Pinky? And then Reverend Storey, I'll ask you the same question.

Ms. KHOABANE: Absolutely. I'm one of those who said we've spent over 50 million rand on building stadiums, building roads, and yet we have problems with our education system, we have problems with housing, we have problems with essential issues like water and toilets. So there are many of us who are saying we should, perhaps, have spent more of those resources on developing our country, developing our people.

But, heck, the World Cup is here, let's embrace it. And most of us, generally, are doing that. There are those who are hell-bent on making this look like a horrible event on the back of black people, generally, who are struggling. But on the main, people are united, as Reverend Storey was saying. We are all behind this event.

MARTIN: Reverend, what about you? You were saying that Pinky was saying that there are people who have been skeptical, but now that it's here, embrace it, what do you say about that? What do you think is true?

Rev. STOREY: Well, I agree entirely with Pinky, that of course, the issue of priorities arose. And we'll do with any major sporting event like this. And the expenditure has been, frankly, quite horrendous. A lot of it has gone into infrastructure, however, which will benefit us after the World Cup.

But I think there's something else that one has to take into account. And that is the incredible sense of pride which has just welled up in South African hearts, whether rich or poor, black or white, that we've been able to put this on. We've been able to show the world we are ready to welcome them on a world class stage.

And I don't know how you can measure that in rands and cents or dollars and cents. We don't want to paper over our problems. They are deeply real, and I don't believe they're being tackled properly in this country. But we at the same time do want to say, we can do this.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's just days away from the beginning of World Cup. We're speaking with two voices from South Africa to hear what it means to them. We're speaking with the Reverend Peter Storey. He is a past president of the Methodist Church of South Africa and a leading religious leader in South Africa.

Also with us, commentator Pinky Khoabane. She writes a column called "On Fire" for South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper.

Pinky, what if something happens, something untoward happens? I mean, in Beijing, for example, before the Olympics, which was, you know, spectacular in many respects, but there were a couple of incidents. There was a murder of a tourist. There was a lot of sort of to-ing and fro-ing about that and what did all that mean? If something untoward happens, will it mar the event, do you think, for you?

Ms. KHOABANE: Not for me personally, because I understand that these things happen everywhere. And fortunately for you, you virtually said, these events have happened. We've already had journalists, I think, who were robbed somewhere yesterday or something to that effect.

So, these things happen, but I think we need to look at the broader picture and say, of the 300,000 visitors that will be in this country, how many had encountered the crime? How many of them had these problems? And I think going through the World Cup, we need to constantly be putting it into perspective. Because what often happens is the naysayers, the doomsayers are just waiting for those little events for them to say, well, ah-ha, we told you, you know, it wouldn't work. But on the main, this event is on and it's rocking, Michel. That's it.

MARTIN: Okay. All right, it's rocking, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And speaking of rocking, let's talk about the teams. Dare I ask who you're rooting for, Pinky?

Ms. KHOABANE: One and only, Bafana Bafana.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KHOABANE: But can I just say something about...

MARTIN: Sure.

Ms. KHOABANE: ...what the reverend was saying about the pride? You know, I have never felt like this in my life. As I was driving, I'm feeling the kind of feeling I felt when I was - the first elections that we had, you know. But there's a different sense of it. I was almost in tears driving here thinking about it: the pride, just the joy that was everywhere in the streets, you know. We've got our flags, a country that is so united, you see an Afrikaner woman, old, wearing a Bafana Bafana T-shirt - this country is special. I'll tell you that.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. Well, thank you for sharing that.

Reverend, dare I ask who you're rooting for?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rev. STOREY: I'm rooting for a team which has not been given, you know, too much of a chance, and that is Bafana Bafana, the South African team. But I believe that South Africans have proved more than once that they can pull surprises out of the hat, and we can surprise the world. And I wouldn't be surprised if our young men of Bafana Bafana go onto the field and perform way above their usual sort of standard. And they will have a whole nation of 45 to 50 million people rooting for them.

I do believe that this is a time for us to showcase our nation. Nobody can actually predict I mean, Munich had the worse tragedy ever at a world games, and I'm sure that they had no idea it was going to happen. These things could possibly happen. But I agree entirely with Pinky. I think our security people have done a very, very good job.

And I get tired of people who paint Africa as a place of danger, and so on. I think that there are streets in the United States which are just as dangerous as the streets of Johannesburg. And so people should come with a very positive spirit, and they should expect to have a very good time.

MARTIN: Speaking of paint, is anybody going to paint his or her face for the game?

Ms. KHOABANE: No.

Rev. STOREY: Not yet...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rev. STOREY: ...but my grandchildren might tempt me.

Ms. KHOABANE: I've got a whole lot of South African regalia. I'm actually wearing a football hat as I'm talking to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KHOABANE: It's got all the colors. It's got football two footballs on top of it. I've got my Bafana Bafana shirt. I've got my pufuvela(ph) ready. I am so ready. I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're in full regalia. Painting your face is one step too far. Okay, well, if you change your mind, send us a picture.

Ms. KHOABANE: I don't think there will be space for it, because I've also got Bafana Bafana sunglasses. So I don't think...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Excellent.

Rev. STOREY: You need to realize that there are people in this country who actually worship the sport of rugby, and we have had to be converted. And the conversion is happening fast.

MARTIN: The Reverend Peter Storey joined us on the line from Cape Town. He's a former Methodist bishop. He was a national ecumenical leader during the anti-apartheid struggle, as well as a member of the selection committee for the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Also with us, Pinky Khoabane. She writes a column called "On Fire" for the Sunday Times in Johannesburg. She joined us from the studios of the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation in Johannesburg.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Rev. STOREY: Thank you.

Ms. KHOABANE: Thank you for having us.

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