Of course, this question has been asked hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It’s been asked about our national soccer team Bafana Bafana and the answer is clearly “No!” It’s been asked of our stadiums and the answer seems to “Yes, if …”. It’s been asked of our transport “systems”, and the answer is “Possibly”. It’s been asked of our organisers, and Sepp Blatter’s answer is an unequivocal “Yes!”
It’s been asked of our hospitality industry and their answer is “Bring it on!” — and they’re probably right. It’s been asked of our ports of entry, mainly the airports, and the answer has been “Yes” (with fingers crossed behind their backs). It’s been asked of our political leaders and they’ve all said “Yessssss!” But then again the last honest political leader was Moses and he died without ever seeing the Promised Land.
It has sort of been asked of the people of South Africa and they have sort of said, “Ja, well no, sort of. We think …”
One of the fundamental differences between previous World Cup events we’ve held — successfully, might I add — is that this time we will clearly be purely the hosts and not serious contenders. Our national pride lies not in the vision of holding a trophy aloft, but in that of being praised as great hosts.
And that is a totally different question.
A good host relishes in making his or her guests FEEL welcome, SERVICES their needs and ENSURES their enjoyment of his or her function.
With isolated and disconnected fragments of exception, the answer then is unambiguously “NO! NO! NO!”
Okay, I hear the chorus warming up. This is not a cliched complaint. It is a thunderous protest. This transcends having adequate infrastructure and pretty stadiums and the technological oomph to touch the glittering goal of glitchlessness. Although all of these efforts need to get out of second gear. My protest speaks to the spirit.
To be decent hosts to several hundred thousand visitors from Everywhereville there are five key things, in my view, that we need to radically change:
- moral fibre
- unity of purpose
- the service ethic
- management paradigms and
- our dysfunctional mindset.
In fervent hope I scrutinise the daily drama of “South Africa — The Real Thing” and I cannot see a radiant golden moral thread running through the fabric of our society. Odd flashes here and there maybe, but the closer one examines the soul of the nation, the less evidence there is of high moral values.
Dissect our crime statistics (which are as bad as the crime itself). Of course, crime is global, but analyse the types of crime and the casual, savage, primeval violence that makes us unique. From the highest murder rate outside war zones and hotspots of political conflict in the world, to the unbridled brutality of mob violence (the xenophobic attacks, domestic violence, school bullying, rural “justice”), police retaliations and the mindless arbitrariness with which victims are stabbed, slashed, torched, raped, brutalised or gunned down, we are the title of Philip Altbeker’s landmark book “A Nation At War With Itself”.
And crime is only one of the symptoms of moral Aids. When someone sneezes, we usually say “Bless you” purely out of habit. We don’t mean it. Just like we say “How are you?” never expecting an answer. But if that person carries on sneezing. we say, “Are you alright?” with genuine concern, because those sneezes could be a sign of a cold or the flu.
The kiddies rhyme Ring a-ring of roses was born at the height of the Black Death, which killed 75-million people in the 1300s. The final stages of bubonic plague are characterised by uncontrollable sneezing — “Atishoo! Atishoo! We all fall down”. Dead. That’s where South Africa is with crime.
Add to that brew the ingrained notion of entitlement, the deep-rooted cover-my-arse attitude that says it’s as acceptable to pay a bribe as it is to demand one. Just look to our MPs, DGs, MECs, mayors, cops, prison warders, government bureaucrats: if you told me that 75% of them had accepted bribes, I would believe you without a second thought. Our deputy president has been accused of fraud, for fuck sakes! The multifaced man who would be our next president is the antithesis of moral behaviour. Our entire judiciary, supposed paragons of moral rectititude in any civilised society, have been cast into the shadow of suspicion by the actions of two of their own.
We dodge taxes, fines and bend the rules — and our arch-enemy, the state, retaliates by imposing immoral taxes, fines and rules on us. Morally South Africa is a nation of straw.
What about unity of purpose? Don’t make me laugh! From politics to painting, from governance to gardening, banking to begging — it’s everyone for himself. The daily commute makes a highlight package of Survivor look like a game of pick-up-sticks. We bandy insubstantial words like “teams” about, but I have yet to see one. Let alone those mythical beings called “team leaders”.
Eight years ago I attended an international conference on marketing in which the myth of the rainbow nation was shattered. The presenters spoke rather of an “archipelago of islands”. Since then that archipelago of islands of people has multiplied 50-fold to now be insular members-only cliques drifting about like so many ping-pong balls in the green sludge-monster called the Hartbeespoort Dam.
Never has the idiom “birds of a feather flock together” been more applicable. We have shattered into a million little pieces. From the Rainbow Nation to a Noah’s Ark of inherently diverse creatures, living in cages uncomfortably close to each other — because we have no choice.
Rather than mellow and mature with time, we have sent our true feelings underground. Like the disastrous epoch of Prohibition in the US, we banned intolerance so intolerance has become invisible subterraneans. We put on this ill-fitting mask of politeness and do the daily danse macabre.
Visitors and ex-pats arriving at ORT speak of feeling a palpable wall of aggro in the air. You feel it in shopping malls, in supermarkets, in movie queues, in traffic jams. Maybe it’s that thinly-veiled animosity that was let out of its cage to rampage in Skielik and terrorise foreigners in Alex and Ramaphosa.
Whenever I can I visit our old ancestral farm in the Green Kalahari still called the Ghaap by the Griqua aborigines. The treasured farmhouse is now virtually a ruin where cherished memories whisper across the dusty linoleum floors. It belongs to a second cousin now, but it still feels like our little corner of Africa. I go out there to try to find the “me” I’ve lost.
The 700km drive back always makes me feel like a grizzled war veteran heading back to the front lines after being wounded yet again. The R&R is over and time to get back to the killing fields.
This is the perpetual civil war of entrenched attitudes, of African versus African, tribe versus tribe, old-style colonialists versus new-style colonialists; believers against believers, too blinded by self-preservation and might-is-right to even remember what we’re fighting about.
Aah, my favourite bugbear — the Service ethic. Outside of the hospitality industry, we do not have a service ethic in any manner, shape or form. Just look at how consumer watchdogs have proliferated, how websites such as www.hellopeter.com have mushroomed, how the insulting phrases we have to listen to ad nauseam from the cancerous growth of call centres are now the material of jokes and ridicule and you get an eyeful of the myth called service in SA.
In the past month I have had to lay eight official complaints and in one case — Telkom — legal action is pending. Not one of these complaints is scurrilous. In only one instance has a company dared me to give them a second chance — Dial-a-Nerd (I will too). And if that does not speak volumes, nothing will.
Here are the top 30 corporate powerhouses that should hang their heads in abject shame for service levels that consistently rank as “Extremely Poor” — Telkom, Eskom, Microsoft, SABC, Discovery, Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Standard Bank, City of Joburg, Sars, Pick ‘n’ Pay, CNA, Avusa, DStv, Vodacom, Cell C, MTN, SAA, Incredible Connection, Edgars, Makro, Mr Price, FedHealth, HiFi Corporation, Shoprite Checkers, Nokia, Samsung, SA Post Office and, of course, Independent Newspaper Group. They are all hugely profitable and have (mostly) happy shareholders. But they are disaster areas when it comes to trying to drag the vaguest modicum of service out of them.
And here the non-existent service ethic overlaps with that other leper of modern SA, the brutish, rigid, authoritarian, hypocritical hierarchy called the management paradigm.
Take the 30 companies above and add another 700-odd legal entities and you find the pleasant pasture where reclusive CEO’s inhabit cotton wool castles. They don’t want to know about us, the great, unwashed masses. They are the Willy Wonkas of our grey wasteland, never making themselves accessible to consumers — let alone accountable for the millions of daily tragedies they call “business”. Their boards of directors are mostly callous, naive, cavalier bureaucrats and odious fat cats (too many these days are privileged products of cronyism, nepotism, affirmative action and good old mama neccessity making up the BEE quotas) who know nothing of who keeps their bottom lines and their bums so bulbously healthy. It’s all Fritzlishly incestuous too.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. It’s their money that’s making most of 2010 happen. They are pouring billions into the event (of course, all with the motives that are purer than the driven snow) and they altruistically fund the front organisations like the IMC, SA Good News (never let the facts spoil a good spin) and battalions of other white-washers. And, of course, the government.
They talk like thunder and walk like fish. Unless they overturn their thinking from counting out their money to hanging up the clothes, Africa will not see another Fifa World Cup for at least 50 years. That’s how long it will take to get the “foul and pestilent congregation of vapours”, the lingering after-taste out of the world’s mouth. Conventional consumer consensus rates their chances of achieving this paradigm shift as “highly unlikely” to “nil”.
And finally the national mindset. What mindset? The haves will have more and the rest of us have-nots will have less. No amount of supernatural, paranormal positivity is going to change that. About 5% of South Africa will make shit-loads of money. About 25% of the population will make some money. The rest of us will benefit about as much as we have from the Beijing Olympics. Are we going to be a whole lot better for 2010? Oh, the babbalaas will linger for a year at least. Books will be written (they always are). DVD collections will be compiled and sold.
But by 2012 we will have all but forgotten the Camelot we shared for a while. It’ll be drudgery as usual. The poor will be still be poor and with us. Crime will still be our biggest single employer. We’ll have several impressive, white elephant stadiums scattered here and there for political rallies and the odd music concert. Catchy jingles and irksome kwaito rubbish will be replaced by “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day”.
I doubt if there is a South African that does not want 2010 to be our long-awaited El Dorado. I certainly do. God knows, we need it as we face the bleakest Christmas our so-called “democracy” has ever faced. Next year is not going to be much better either the examiners of economic entrails warn. And if the canny communists sink their vampire fangs deeper into the jugular of the ANC/Tripartite kakistocracy, economic meltdown is a certainty.
It will be out of recession, gloom, political uncertainty and probable bloodshed, job losses, stagnancy and spiralling corporate bankruptcies that a dysfunctional, despondent nation will open its front doors to the world in 2010.
Will 2010 happen? Hell, yes. Are we good enough to pull it off? Hell, no! And that’s the bottom line.