South Africa and the World Cup

Former South African President and leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela.

It is heartwarming to see the World Cup being played in South Africa today. It is an event that crowns South Africa’s transition from apartheid and racial enmity to a truly, free democratic nation where whites and blacks co-exist peacefully. Twenty years ago, the apartheid regime’s soccer team was barred from participating in FIFA events, a part of the sanctions that would ultimately force the end of segregation and discrimination in Africa’s richest nation. The tournament being played this week is an exercise in symbolism that demonstrates the power of sports to bring different people together and reminds us of the positive influence they can have on the world.

This event is not an anomaly. Afrikaners and Zulu are forming dialogues with each other as their country becomes more integrated and united, and as racial divisions slowly fade into the past. Whites have trekked intro areas they would have never gone too during the apartheid era and many blacks now live in the desegregated city of Johannesburg. The New York Times’s Barry Bearak wrote a great article this month about how Afrikaners — who are big ruby people — chose to hold their rugby matches in Soweto, which was a redoubt of resistance to apartheid and a hotbed of black nationalism.

White Afrikaners and black Zulu outside a rugby match in Soweto, South Africa.

Yes today, in South Africa and in the wider world, racial inequity still persists. Yes, South Africa faces challenges, like the AIDS crisis and poverty, which appear intractable. Yet, it is finally shaking off the legacy of colonialism, which has haunted it for the last half-century and fulfilling the vision Nelson Mandela saw of a post-racial nation in which all people were treated equally.


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