“Do not underestimate the South African achievement.”

Excellent op-ed in he New York Times by Roger Cohen, who spent part of his childhood in apartheid South Africa. It’s worth reading the whole thing but here’s the best bit:

South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation’s miraculous (if incomplete) healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.

“The country is going to the dogs,” — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.

This is still a country where only 60 percent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are H.I.V. positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 percent. High walls — and 300,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.

To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don’t erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. “Non-racialism” — President Jacob Zuma’s commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the United States does.

Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.

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