Watching the confetti drift down on Spain’s jubilant World Cup-winning team, it was hard not to be proud of South Africa’s accomplishment. The country not only pulled off a glittering event, but did so with consummate ease. The naysayers were silenced, and the pessimists largely converted.
And Africa too will bask in South Africa’s glory. There will be a warm glow across the continent, and relief; this was Africa’s coming out party, and it needed to be good.
Of course, South Africa’s success shouldn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the continent. It is a contradiction that many Africans, myself included, frequently gloss over. When something negative happens, we are quick to point out that “Africa is not a country”, and that Darfur has absolutely nothing to do with Botswana; or that what happened to the Togolese football team in Cabinda is irrelevant to the World Cup in South Africa.
But when the good times roll, as they are now in South Africa, we are just as quick to embrace the pan-African ideology. This has undoubtedly been “Africa’s World Cup”, with almost every country on the continent jumping (and being welcomed) onto the bandwagon. A friend complained that Africans had much more fun in the World Cup, because we had six teams we could support passionately; he just had England, and when they went out he was only a spectator, and no longer a supporter.
Before we are so quick to judge outsiders for their naïveté in viewing the whole continent as one, homogeneous entity, we should remember that the pan-African identity was one of the legacies not left by colonialists, who were much less fond of unity than they were of divide and conquer. African solidarity was instead forged in the intellectual hothouses of the independence movements, by the great names of African history – Kwame Nrumah, Julius Nyerere, Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, etc. They created pan-Africanism. If we want to criticise anyone for a simplified view of Africa, it should be them.
But I don’t want to criticise. I want to claim South Africa’s World Cup as Africa’s success, and let as many people as possible have a share in the glory.