Returning to South AfricaPosted by admin on 11/08/10 • Categorized as Fall/Winter 2010
By Christina Eddington
In 2004, I was living and working in South Africa through a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I felt drawn to this country, intrigued by its use of 11 official languages and its history of racial segregation. Two observations about my surroundings stand out from the time that I lived there: the fences and the hopefulness of the people.
While I had done enough reading to know about the multiple boundaries of segregation, I didn’t expect to see so many physical manifestations of those boundaries. Fences, gates, and walls were almost everywhere, as was crime; they went hand-in-hand. In an early newsletter to friends and family, I wrote, “The boundaries of the university are gated, and my house is within the gates. I want to say that it seems like all the security isn’t necessary, but I am, on the other hand, glad to have it even though I haven’t figured out who it’s keeping out (or in).” Eventually, I got used to the fences and walls. The crime was a different story.
While one initial observation faded in significance, another rose to the surface. As I learned firsthand from people about what it was like to live under apartheid, I became ever more impressed by their growing sense of hopefulness. In spite of numerous challenges, including high unemployment, extreme poverty, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, here was a country in which the pride and enthusiasm of a relatively fresh democracy and unifying focus was unmistakable—and contagious. For as well as celebrating its 10th year of democracy in 2004, South Africans were also celebrating their newest title: host of the 2010 World Cup. The first African nation to host the Cup, South Africa would embrace the extensive steps needed to prepare for this international event—no small feat, despite having the largest economy on the continent.
When local newspapers printed a photo of an exuberant Nelson Mandela hoisting the World Cup trophy, I clipped the article and mailed it to my uncle in Ohio. In addition to being a wonderful uncle and an inspiration for my love of Africa, he is also a certified soccer nut (for an American). In response, he sent an email: “Wouldn’t it be great if we went to South Africa for the World Cup in 2010?” And so we did.
The fences and walls are still there. This time, though, some of them were helpful in guiding football fans toward buses and stadiums, into sections, or back to parked cars. Crime was there, too, though so were the “peace officers.” Also, there was that sense of hopefulness, multiplied many times over.
In 2004, it seemed a hesitant, careful hope. In 2010, it was an ecstatic hope. Everyone we talked with was enthusiastic, proud, and helpful. Actually, it’s rather amazing to think that after years of building up to the Cup, followed by an intense month of action and hosting visitors from around the world, all the work surrounding this international sports playoff came to a screeching halt.
It’s not yet clear how the Cup has impacted South Africa. There are genuine concerns about job losses, businesses shutting their doors, the money allocated toward building stadiums when so many citizens continue to be homeless, and the increased racial tensions fragmenting a still-fragile democracy. Yet that feeling of working together for a common goal has permeated the air and the red soil.
I keep going back to the World Cup’s 2010 slogan: Ke Nako, which means “It’s time.” The World Cup brought renewed hope to South Africa and allowed the rest of the world to share in it. South Africans and those of us who love the country and its people want that hopefulness to grow ever stronger. As this World Cup recedes into history, may this continue to be South Africa’s time.
Christina Eddington, an English-as-a-second-language instructor, began teaching at Beloit in 2008. She previously lived and worked in South Africa through a U.S. Department of State fellowship.