Two stories that highlight South Africa’s continuing divide

South Africa was a country that fascinated me when I visited it last summer and continues to fascinate me now that I am back in the UK, totally removed from what was an amazing and eye-opening experience.

Obviously, earlier this month and last the world focused on SA as it hosted what was generally acknowledged as a successful World Cup. In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, one Cape Town friend told me that I should have visited this summer, not last, in order to savour the magic and buzz he had felt throughout the tournament. And he hadn’t even been to any games, priced out of it like many other South Africans, but that’s another story….

However, from the South African World Cup there emerged all too frequent stories about the stark inequalities that still exist in the country less than two decades after the end of apartheid.

For South Africa to properly escape from the era of social and cultural apartheid may take a generation, maybe longer. You don’t reverse decades of a mentality that permeates a society as a result of a total divide of different races in a few years.

One story out of Bloemfontein highlights that rather starkly. The humiliation of Free State University black employees by former white students who forced them to carry out typical student initiation acts for a video that became a world-wide sensation for all the wrong reasons is shocking but not so surprising for many familiar with the problems of racial integration in SA.

The students claim this was a satirical take on racial integration within the country. But humiliating black workers in this way is in no way satirical, it’s not even a little bit funny.

It’s just another example of a subconscious feeling amongst certain white people in South Africa that they remain superior to the black majority. The story of the “Reitz Four”, as the offending students became known, is a dark reminder of why South Africa cannot fully escape its past.

However, the story of same-sex marriages becoming increasingly popular in the country is one that offers hope that bit by bit South Africa is emerging as a true rainbow nation. Cape Town, with what The New York Times describes as its it’s “gay-friendly culture”, is in many ways a shining example of what South Africa can become in the years ahead.

But even the Times article, largely positive about the country’s progress with same-sex marriages highlights the near total domination of gay marriage by white Afrikaners.

For those in the socially conservative and economically deprived areas of the townships and settlements, many located in the suburbs of Cape Town, they have yet to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage or engage in it.

This is probably because they are more concerned about reducing the crime rate, and ensuring they have basic facilities like running water and electricity. Afrikaners may be increasingly embracing same-sex marriage because they don’t have to fight for basic human rights like those in the townships and settlements.

The growth of same-sex marriages is a positive example of how South Africa is progressing in the post apartheid era.

But the almost total incomprehension of the idea by the black majority and the awful case of the “Reitz Four” in Bloemfontein is a stark reminder of however much progress may have been made in the last few years, there is much more that needs to happen in order for South Africa to properly break free from the shackles of its horrible past.

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Making sense of ‘Le Hand of Henry’

A lot said, a lot written but in the end nothing done. No replay, no hope, the Irish nation, and those of us who have moved away, mourn one of the greatest injustices in the history of football.

And how galling to have perhaps the best player to ever play for the country telling us to get over ourselves. Easy for you to say Roy Keane as you earn a comfortable wage for guiding Ipswich to relegation while the millions back home struggle to cope in the worst economic crisis in the history of the republic.

Qualification on Wednesday would have been a boost for a whole football mad nation. Who knows what the knock on effects of reaching the World Cup might have been for the people, for the economy for the future of our struggling nation.

Instead we were robbed at the hands of Thierry Henry’s will to cheat, the incompetence of a referee and linesman and the corruptness of FIFA.

How surprised are we to see no mention of the dubious handball on FIFA’s website and the utter silence of the most powerful man in football, Sepp Blatter who decreed that the World Cup play offs would be seeded just weeks before the draw, an illegal move if ever I saw one.

Now I must admit to being a little embarrassed to see FAI chief executive John Delaney plead for a replay on the basis of some precedent set in some obscure Asian qualifier a few years ago.

A replay was never going to happen but then we are all a bit desperate for something to cling to and the emotion of it all is raw.

But Delaney did make one good point in that this wasn’t a league or group game whereby the situation could have been redressed. This was a one off situation, a winner takes all scenario.

Ireland will not get chance to redress what happened on Wednesday. Instead they’ll spend next summer watching the greatest show on earth on TV.

And I doubt any Irish people, I know I won’t, will take pleasure in watching the World Cup next year, knowing it should have been us and not the French that are competing in South Africa.

Even the French themselves are embarrassed by it all. It is the great shame of a great footballing nation, world champions just over a decade ago, that they have cheated their way to the finals with the help of one of their greatest ever players.

And what gall for him to come out and call for a replay not long after FIFA and his own football association absolutely ruled out the possibility. A cynical PR move from a player once respected throughout the world but who will now be remembered as much for as his talent as for his will to win at all costs, even if it means cheating, handling the ball not once, but twice.

Surely this is a landmark moment in football. The calls for video evidence, extra officials, or something to cut this out are deafening and must be acceded too.

A system whereby a referee can stop the game a limited number of times to look at a 20-30 second play back on a controversial incident might work.

Failure to implement something that will prevent or at least lessen the chances of incidents like Wednesday’s happening again will only tarnish the game further and make a lot of people, me included, lose  faith in a sport that is increasingly allowing cheats to prevail.