World Cup Aftermath

So far, it’s been great. But I am now looking ahead to the end of the World Cup and I’m worried. What’s going to happen to all the happy South Africans on July 12th? Will we forget about the goodwill and go back to hating each other? Will all the flags come down as we start bickering about the money ‘wasted’ on our international extravaganza? And will we fall back into the funk of negativity which characterised our pre-World Cup condition?

I hope not but I think the real answer is ‘probably’. And there’s nothing much we can do about it. Once our month long soccer party is over and we emerge from our blinkered state of sport-induced euphoria, I predict that the hangover will be severe.

Crime, unemployment, poverty, corruption and all the old bugbears will begin to dominate our conversations once again (Malema, anyone?). Furthermore, rabid reactionaries and dreary liberals alike will unite in their condemnation of all the frivolous FIFA-related expenses. And our nation will most likely revert to its usual state of reductive inertia.

Much of this corrective behaviour is unavoidable and necessary. We can’t keep living in a never-never land where football is God and everything else is secondary. We simply have to re-engage with reality and resolve to tackle our challenges harder than ever before. But the thing I’m dreading most is the tiresome round of arguments that are bound to erupt regarding the pros and cons of investing so much in the World Cup when we have dozens of other socio-political issues to address.

The thing is, as far as I can make out, it isn’t a question of either/or. The fact is that South Africa is not really short of money. After all, our tax collection system is one of the most highly functional arms of government. The real problem relates to implementation.

Recently, a number of reports have come out detailing how various municipalities and government departments across the country have proven themselves unable to spend their budgets correctly; either underspending dramatically or wasting the money on crooked, shambolic projects that don’t get anywhere.

And, when considering the big picture, I think this is actually good news because it means that we aren’t financially bankrupt. We are just poor in skills and/or ethics.

So let’s move beyond the ‘expensive stadia’ controversy and address the more relevant issue of service delivery. The money is there but it isn’t getting used correctly. We need dedicated public servants (as ‘to serve the public’) who are motivated and capable of implementing projects successfully and without party- political interference.

Thankfully, we now know that we can do it. With the successful implementation of our World Cup mega projects such as the Gautrain and the soon-to-be reviled stadia, we have tangible proof that we are capable of just about anything – as long as there are good managers in place and a firm deadline against which things can be measured.

In other words, it’s time to leave political rhetoric behind and start treating government like a business; a corporation in which every South African holds shares. And if SA Pty Ltd doesn’t deliver on its targets, we have every right to remove our erstwhile executives from their positions.

In the final analysis, then, I don’t care to haggle with people who declare that the money could have been better spent somewhere else. I mean, duh! It’s obvious.

I also have no interest in discussing the aesthetic merits of our new sporting precincts. Some self-proclaimed style gurus may dismiss the marvellous Soccer City as a giant turd, freshly laid on the Highveld, while others bemoan the fact that Green Point stadium looks like a bedpan or a toilet bowl squatting at the foot of The Mountain. But I honestly don’t give a damn. The money’s been spent and it’s futile to debate the matter any further. Instead, let’s just concentrate on getting down to business and thereby prove, once and for all, that we haven’t scored an own goal. IMHO.

[Originally posted 28/06/2010]

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