World Cup 2010: United South Africa

Goal.com's Noah Davis brings us another first person account from his journey to SA.
JOHANESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- There's a sense here that things are changing. You see and hear it everywhere. Smiles. Happiness. Vuvuzelas.

At 12 p.m. Wednesday, the people of the host nation stopped for a moment to blow their favorite instrument. The Bafana Bafana parade got a bit louder (or perhaps the buzzing just happened to be more coordinated). Kids stood on highway exit ramps, sporting red Avis shirts and blew on their horns until their lungs tired. Then they started again. Grocery cashiers paused mid-checkout to make a racket in the store. 

Moments later, a DJ on UJFM called the experiment "a magical moment."

And, quite honestly, it was. 

Vuvezelas have their detractors -- and for good reason -- but they symbolize South Africa. The demonstration of unity was a promising sign for a country that's as racially and economically divided as any in the world. The nation is coming together, just in time.

Three weeks ago, whether that would happen remained in doubt. After radio commentators discussed the significance of the 12 p.m. pause, they inevitably spoke about the turning tide of public opinion. National sentiment has shifted dramatically for the better during the past fortnight. Instead of assuming the worst, South Africans have embraced the Cup, vowing the wow the world. Aside from one or two incidents, so far so good.

In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski dispel the notion that hosting a World Cup is economically advantageous for even the most developed countries. South Africa will struggle even more, as the government built $100-million stadiums with sight of township where people live on less than $2 per day. The money President Jacob Zuma burned through to bring the world here could have been used to more effect elsewhere. At the end of the month-long tournament, we will depart and the country's residents will remain in poverty.

But there's another part to the story: pride.

Successfully hosting the people of planet Earth may not bring cash, but it does bring dignity. That's sentimental, tacky junk? Perhaps, but try telling that to the teenagers in Germany four years ago who were allowed to be proud of their country for the first time in their lives. Previously, being German wasn't a sin, but being happy you were was. That changed during the 2006 World Cup as an entire generation of children could point to something positive in their country's recent history. Their improved attitudes reflected this reality.

South Africans are beginning to feel the same way. What this country needs more than anything is a collective conscience, a reason to work together to make life better. An employee at the Vodacom store who plans to start a weekly local paper said the only way his nation could stop the massive corruption that haunts every walk of life would be to unite.

"Is this possible?" he was asked.

"Possibly," came the reply.

The richest country in Sub-Saharan Africa has the resources; it doesn't have the resolve. This next month might alter the way its citizens relate to their home. It did for one minute at high noon.

No matter how much the visiting masses complain, keep those vuvuzelas blowing, my friends.

Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team and is reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.

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