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What the World Cup tells us about peace in South Africa

June 14, 2010

The symbolism behind South Africa’s refurbished national stadium strongly represents the spirit of the New South Africa.

The spectacular Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg. It seats 94,700 people.

The centrepiece of World Cup 2010 is South Africa’s refurbished national stadium, Soccer City (Afrikaans – Sokkerstad) in Johannesberg’s Soweto district.

The imagery of this spectacular stadium, its location and the path South Africa took towards not just the World Cup, but also peace, will ensure that this stadium will probably be looked back upon as the most historic since Berlin’s infamous 1936 Olympic stadium.

Built to look like a giant traditional African pot, the stadium sits in one of Johannesburg’s most famous districts. Soweto was the scene of the eponymous uprising against the apartheid regime. When the ruling National Party government tried to enforce Afrikaans language lessons on the English speaking black population, over 10,000 students marched against the government. The government retaliated by shooting and killing 23 students on the first day alone.

The fact the world’s eyes are now fixated on this district once again, but under such a radically different context, provides a stark contrast between the South Africa of then, under apartheid, and now: the New South Africa.

The imagery of the stadium-as-melting-pot, fusing the different disparate people of South Africa into a united people is mirrored in the post-apartheid flag of South Africa: the V or Y shape represents “the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity”.

The stadium’s cladding represents “earthen colours” and fire, with lights around the bottom representing the heating of the pot, heating which allows the fusion of all the various ingredients. The imagery and narrative of creating a new cosmopolitan and united nation of South Africa out of the many, previously separated peoples, is profound.

The odds of South Africa ever hosting one of the largest sporting events in the world looked million-to-one just a generation ago. The focus for global derision and sports boycotts, how could SA ever put on such an event?

Nevertheless, against all odds the unthinkable has happened and the once boycotted state has made a spectacular turnaround. Now more legitimate and vibrant than ever, South Africa is the host of what is being called the African games, the games are being lauded as a source of hope not just for SA, but the whole of Africa.

We can see that the story of peace in South Africa and its route to receiving the accolade of the World Cup are very much a part of the same narrative.

Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa

Constructing the Stadium, Constructing Peace

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