Today we should be talking football. It’s the World Cup final on Sunday, a billion people will be watching Soccer City and Holland or Spain will become the first new winners since France in 1998.
But suddenly, as this vibrant tournament draws to a close, I feel the need to talk ubuntu.
There are a lot of translations of this curious African word. The closest I can get appeared in the South African newspaper the Daily Dispatch this week. It says ubuntu is “the acceptance of others as parts of the sum total of each of us”. Some might just call it mutual respect. Others see it as a kind of warm, all-embracing African love story.
My dad, born in Portsmouth in 1933 but a resident of Pretoria since 1970, says ubuntu is: “Treating everyone like you’re all one big family.”
And that’s what we’ve had here isn’t it? From the opening concert at Soweto’s Super Stadium to that moment the World Cup turns orange or red on Sunday night. At outpouring of African affection.
Don’t confuse that with the massive support for Bafana Bafana early in this tournament. Or the outpouring of grief when fellow Africans Ghana were cruelly put out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage. It may have something to do with the incredible lack of animosity between fans here, the lack of real problems in a nation still growing.
Ubuntu is that feeling you get when you’re lost in South Africa expecting trouble from the group of lads up ahead... only to find gleaming smiles and offers of help.
Ubuntu is when you’re standing in a lengthy cue for the park-and-ride at Polokwane, and everybody wants to talk about Wayne Rooney rather than whinge about the delay.
Ubuntu is when you’re in Sandton trying to pay for parking, and the dodgy looking fellow in overalls comes over and uses his change to get you out.
Ubuntu is when you cower as a local comes rushing towards you in the dark outside Soccer City... and hugs you in sympathy because you’re wearing the Three Lions.
Ubuntu is when dozens gather round to help you blow your vuvuzela properly, and at the right time.
Ubuntu occurred even before the big kick-off on June 11 when, before the tournament began, Pretoria’s Blue Bulls were forced to play their Super 15 rugby final in Soweto because Loftus Versfeld had been booked by FIFA. Ubuntu reigned supreme for a fortnight among folk who have barely heard the term.
And when Adrian van der Bijl, a the prominent local businessman who owns Irene Lodge, the home of the USA in this tournament, left his mobile phone in a shebeen and thought it was lost, ubuntu ran through him when his wife’s cell rang. The shebeen workers had found his phone.
Ubuntu is Africa, despite a thousand years of pain.
American Shari Cohen, the international development worker who very publicly came out against this costly World Cup before it began, ended up admitting: “To say that I have been blown away at the hospitality South Africa has shown the rest of the world would be an understatement.”
And on the subject of ubuntu, she said, in an open letter published on the Huffington Post website: “South Africans are drinking deeply from the cup of humanity that has been brought to their doorstep. I would never imagine that an American World Cup or Olympics would ever be this welcoming to the rest of the world. And that saddens me for the state of my home country, but it also makes me feel the pride of the South African people.
“I will be leaving a little piece of myself here in South Africa. I just hope I have learned enough to bring back a little piece of ubuntu to my homeland ...
“When I think of ubuntu and my recent experiences here, I think America has much to learn from Africa in general, in terms of living as a larger village; and as human beings who are all interconnected with each other, each of us having an effect on our brothers and sisters.”
A total over nearly 30 billion people have watched this World Cup. Did they feel ubuntu across the airwaves? What happened to all those predictions about crime and bloodbaths? Was that ubuntu at work?
Ultimately, though I love Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben and long for Robin van Persie to score, I don’t care that much about Holland winning. Given Paul the Octopus and his muscle-bound support for Spain, perhaps this whole World Cup was never really about who triumphs on the football field.
It matters not. There has been only one winner. Africa. Ubuntu.