Jeremy Gordin on disturbing undercurrents beneath the World Cup bonhomie
One of the oddest things to emerge from the world cup this week was the comment allegedly made by Jacob G Zuma after the Bafana/Arsenal B match on Tuesday night.
According to the report I heard, Zuma said that, now that Bafana are out, we Seffricans must support the African teams, and if they all disappear (as they might in the next 75 minutes - I'm writing this during the German-Ghana game), then we must support the South Americans because they're from the southern hemisphere, as are we.
And if the South Americans disappear (which they won't - but if they do), then are we supposed to support the Europeans because they're the only ones left? What is this? The old south-north struggle? The war of the hemispheres? Sometimes JGZ should think before he speaks.
But enough football talk for the nonce.
Until recently, say four-five weeks ago, when my car radio gave up the ghost, I spent a fair amount of time, while doing the early morning school shuttle, listening to John "don't call me Robbie" Robbie on Radio 702 - carrying on about the possibility of new xenophobic attacks.
I have written "carrying on" because I found it irritating - and irresponsible. Why keep putting things into people's heads if they aren't there? Why raise issues that don't need raising? Why sew panic?
But it seems that I might have been the arse.
A focused look across the news of the last three weeks or so shows that xenophobia has raised its ugly, ugly head again, so much so that the government has re-established an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to deal with xenophobic attacks against foreigners during or soon after the world cup.
"The IMC will liaise with civil society structures to ensure that a country-wide approach is adopted to prevent any form of violence against anyone," cabinet spokesperson Themba Maseko said.
"Government," he added, "would like to re-iterate that any attacks are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to act speedily and decisively against anyone found to incite or participate in violent acts against foreign nationals."
Most chillingly - for me, anyway - was a conversation I had yesterday with a Wits student who is part of the "2010 football newsroom" that I am news editing at Wits' Journalism school (www.witsvuvuzela.2010.co.za).
She hails from Limpopo and went last weekend to visit some relatives living in Diepsloot. There she interviewed some locals who said they were going to "attack" foreigners as soon as the world cup was over.
I said to her that I wasn't happy with running a story in which unidentified people made these "hate" claims about what they would do later to foreigners living in their community.
"I mean, this is serious stuff we're talking about. The last time this happened, there were 62 people murdered," I said.
"I know," she said - and then told me the background story to her interviews.
She had encountered a huge crowd that had gotten hold of a young Zimbabwean. Crowd members claimed they had caught him stealing soccer tops from a vendor - and they had beaten him to a pulp.
"Blood was running down his face when they took him away, I was very frightened," she said to me.
"Taking him where?" I asked.
"Some of the kids who went with the crowd told me later that he had been killed. They told me that they were killing people like that Zimbabwean almost every day."
"Weren't there any policemen around?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied, "they arrived later, after it was over. I believe that what happens is that the police make sure that they arrive late in Diepsloot. If they intervened and tried to save the victim, the crowd would attack them - and they're frightened of that."
Her story had, alas, the ring of truth. It seems that while our police are being coerced into worrying about young women in orange mini-skirts or irascible English fans going to talk to their team in the changing rooms, serious, murderous mayhem is brewing again.
Maybe we're not as far as we like to think from Saigon, Kabul or Baghdad or from Algiers in the late 1950s.