Stuck in a world of racist stereotypes

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Vasco da Gama fans beat up an Atletico Paranaense fan during their Brazilian championship match in Joinville in Santa Catarina. Picture: Reuters/Carlos Moraes/Agencia O Dia

Johannesburg – It’s amazing how next year’s World Cup hosts, Brazil, in spite of being beset by internal problems relating to their readiness for the tournament, have enjoyed a fairly positive press coverage from almost all corners of the world.

In the last few weeks, there have been incidents which, had they happened in the lead up to South Africa 2010, would not only have made front-page news and lead stories in major news networks, but also exacerbated calls for the World Cup to be taken elsewhere.

Some of us remember this because, regardless of how you may feel about the country today, it hurt then to read entirely false reports, designed to propagate the myth that an African country could never organise a successful World Cup.

We remember how some English tabloids paraded on their front-pages old pictures of a half-built Bafokeng Sports Campus just four months before the World Cup and claimed their team England’s base was a “dump”.

Barely weeks later, reporters from these publications were invited to tour Phokeng and see the said “dump”, which had been transformed into a world-class facility that it is today.

It is also still fresh in the memory how some of these shameless tabloids sowed fear in the minds of their readers, going as far as predicting a “full-blown racial war” and a “bloodbath” in South Africa following the murder of a right wing leader in the months leading to the World Cup.

People eager to see the World Cup taken away from South Africa spoke of “Plan B” at every given opportunity, linking even stories which had little relevance to the event to the World Cup.

So convincing were some of these reports that unsurprisingly, due to the sad history of South Africa, some within our country started to believe them. Others stuck in pre-1994 racist ideals set up websites dissuading people from coming to the World Cup. Yet the very people had enjoyed the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2003 Cricket World Cup on these shores. A well-known reactionary columnist, without a hint of shame, implored Fifa to “take this bloody World Cup and give it to Australia”.

Ah, Australia, the preferred “Plan B” for many, was always at the forefront of discrediting South Africa as a host, with the mistaken belief that it would benefit somehow in the event Fifa succumbed to the scaremongering and actually activated the imaginary “Plan B”.

The “racial war” lie is no different from the equally unfounded assertion peddled by the same brigade that, upon the death of President Nelson Mandela, South Africa would be a “war zone”. Needless to say, our country remains united in mourning the great statesman, without a hint of racial violence.

Having had to contend with all this nonsense, it is surprising then, that little is heard of damaging incidents in Brazil, six months before the World Cup kicks off there. In recent weeks, two workers have died as a crane at the Arena Corinthians, the Sap Paolo stadium meant to host the opening game, collapsed on them. Imagine the screaming headlines had it been Soccer City before World Cup 2010!

And last week, violence in a Brazilian domestic match did make headlines, but without the sensation of calling for the World Cup to be “taken away” from the South Americans.

We are now told that three stadiums in Brazil, including the Arena Corinthians, will miss this month’s Fifa deadline to be complete. Suddenly, this is seen as a normality, rather than a heinous offence by Fifa to hand a World Cup to a supposedly backward country bereft of expertise.

Amid all these problems, we are yet to hear of “Plan B” should the Brazilians fail to deliver on promises, as they are clearly failing to meet deadlines.

That, however, shouldn’t surprise us because we live in a world of entrenched bigotry, stuck in old, racist stereotypes. I say this because some of the people who, after their efforts to prevent the World Cup from coming here failed, made the vuvuzela their next target. Yet we saw them at departure gates packing this “monstrous instrument” in their luggage after the World Cup. These are the very hypocrites who are ignoring the current mess in Brazil.

*Matshe’s column returns on January 11, 2014

*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng

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