Daily Maverick Politics

Africa is not a country: football and nationhood

As submitted to The Daily Maverick.

In the minutes before Ghana took on the USA in the first round of 16 game, a friend and I were discussing where our support lay. She wanted Ghana to win, and I expressed a preference for a USA victory. I wanted the American team to win on grounds of their footballing culture, in that the approach the USA has taken to professional football of late seemed a better example of what the South African team and football administrators should aspire to.

I can understand why South Africans, and Africans in general, like the idea of one of “our” teams doing well. But it doesn’t quite make sense for me, as a football fan, to support teams simply because they represent an African nation, because there is much about Africa that is difficult to support. From female genital mutilation in Egypt and homophobia in Malawi, to assorted human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, there are things about this continent that clearly expose a fundamental divide between Africa as a collective concept, and the sort of world I’d prefer to live in.

As an example of African football, Ghana is of course also a complicated example, given that only one of their squad of 23 actually plays football in Ghana. When the vast majority of the national team lives and works outside of the nation reflected on the covers of their passports, to what extent does it still make sense to think of them as representatives of Africa?

Daily Maverick External World

The vuvuzela discriminates against smokers

More on the vuvuzela, as submitted to The Daily Maverick.

Any claim made repeatedly does not become increasingly true in proportion to the number of repetitions. Yet, according to much of what you read on websites where the vuvuzela is discussed, it is now taken for granted that this musical instrument is “part of our culture”. Furthermore, one gets the impression that many believe it to be a long-standing part of our culture, such that its existence and continued use is beyond criticism. Attempts to raise questions about its cultural status – or more prosaically, about its value – are frequently deflected by accusations of “lacking gees” (on the civilised end of the debate), and of simple racism at the less civilised end.

Something being part of any given culture is, however, not a reason to regard that thing as being good. Instead, we should remember that things become part of cultures because people value them – whether we’d prefer they did so or not. Our culture has come to value democracy, because we regard democracy as having properties that are valuable to us. We don’t simply value democracy because we see it defended in the media every day (or at least, we shouldn’t). To value something simply through habit or programming is a prejudice, which puts it on the same epistemic level as sexism or racism.

External World

The vuvuzela is cooking my gees

I suppose it was predictable enough, but I still can’t help being somewhat disappointed by the fact that the entire nation now appears to believe that the vuvuzela is “part of our culture”, and also that this somehow makes it a good thing. If it’s part of South African culture at all, it’s a relatively recent addition to that culture, with widespread use of it dating back only to the 90’s. Even it’s claimed “invention” by a Kaizer Chiefs fan occurred contemporaneously with the emergence of a similarly annoying trumpet at football games in Latin America – in other words, this is not something that South Africans have been using since Dingaan.