Friday, April 30, 2010

London Book Fair 2010: World Cup discussion at the Southbank Centre

"I may have kissed a few guys I didn't know the day that Seth Blatter that envelope," said writer Zukiswa Wanner at the Southbank on Wednesday night. The discussion on what some South African writers feel about the 2010 World Cup as "referrreed" by Mark Gevisser. It was an interesting and lively discussion, despite Henrietta Rose-Innes and Nadia Davids declaring that they both weren't sport mad. Also joining the panel was Andrew Feinstein, who said that he was a passionate football fan and felt that although the World Cup will provide short-term jobs, the event will either be "disastrous or exceptional".

Rose-Innes confessed she hadn't wanted to be part of the panel, having even left her note-taking for the discussion for the last minute. She mentioned that she had been published in "Elf", a German-language book of short stories on the World Cup by 11 South African writers - and yet no South African publisher was interested in printing it in English and there was no interest from the government. The arts seemed to have been neglected in reference to the World Cup.

Nadia Davids was similarly uninterested in football although she professed an intense patriotism, even when just hearing Nkosi Sikelel' iafrika being sung.

She said she was cautious about the World Cup - that we're spending millions making the country comfortable for foreigners, yet there is still so much inequality in South Africa.

Njabulo Ndebele said he had been a soccer player in "my great days" and said that the country had to put up a great show. "We're the first in Africa, and we've got it now. It's got to work. It's about our self-respect, and making the best of it in a sustainable way." His words kept echoing with their truth: "If we don't win maybe it will make us stronger and more focused on achieving."

Davids added that the mythology of the rainbow nation meant that there were huge expectations on South Africa. She remembered talking to a Zimbabwean man who had told her: "We need you to succeed. All eyes are on you."

The discussion moved on to the fracas that erupted over choosing musicians for the opening concert and how so many local musos were sidelined. Wanner added that artists and small traders had not benefitted from the World Cup with Fifa imposing limitations on who can and cannot sell goods in or near the stadiums. Feinstein added that it's the poor who will have to deal with the economic consequences of the event -for example, Joburg is bankrupt with building the stadium.

But the evening ended on a positive note. Feinstein said it wasn't the best way to spend resources, but to make the best of it, while Rose-Innes said she found happiness was a "valid initiative". Davids cautioned that some of that will is needed elsewhere, as in building houses. Gevisser had the last word: "The must be a balance between dignity and happiness. Hopefully we will see a vision about what itmeans to be South African emerging from this event."

(First published here)

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