I have recently read a whole series of sensationalist articles suggesting that due to the unrest and violence that has occurred during the African Cup of Nations (held in Angola), the safety of the football World Cup being held in South Africa should be questioned. This is idiotic at best.
Angola is about 2,000km away from South Africa. A similar distance can be found between Spain and Mali, or Greece and Iraq. Angola only gained independence from Portugal in 1975. From there it slipped into an intense civil between the MPLA and UNITA (1975-2002). In this time about 500,000 people were killed. It was one of the ‘conflict theatres’ of the cold-war that lasted the longest. This war provided one of the few significant links between South Africa and Angola; apartheid South Africa supported (along with the US) the anti-communist UNITA.
The civil war spawned a terrible humanitarian crisis, internally displacing about a third of Angola’s population (about 4.2 million). In 2003 the UN estimated that 80% of the population did not have access to basic medical care and 60% did not have access to safe drinking water. The life expectancy in Angola is less than 40.
Are we completely surprised then, when the world gives a country (or terrorist movement) a media hook like the Cup of Nations that violence should ensue? The Togo football team defied organizers demands to only fly in and took a bus from neighbouring Congo. The following attack left at least 3 people dead. Adebayor, the ex-Arsenal Striker was left holding one of his best friends as he passed away in his hands. This sort of attack, with its high profile football stars, filled the Western Press (see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article6982463.ece).
There is no doubt, that this Cup of Nations has shown some outstanding football, but this has been over-shadowed by the politics and violence that surrounds it. Commentators have suggested that this has set a precedent for coming competitions, including the South Africa World Cup in the summer.
This is ridiculous! Firstly, it suggests that this is a new idea (to attack a large sporting event to gain publicity – remember the Israeli athletes at 1972 Olympics?). In this sense South Africa is no more under threat than it was before the latest violence in Angola. I strongly suspect, this is another example of the media exploiting Europeans ignorance of geography and politics to paint these two “southern African” nations to be similar. They have both been through turbulent recent histories, but to suggest that they share much more than this is wrong.
South Africa became an independent republic in 1961, and the government decided to continue to legislate based on apartheid until the early 90’s. Since then, the country’s politics have been dominated by the ANC, fist with the figurehead of Mandela, then Mbeki and now Zuma. There is still a high rate of crime across South Africa, especially for murder and rape. One in three women questioned in a recent survey said that they had been raped in the past year (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/258446.stm). There are clearly problems facing South Africa, especially in relation to the security issues in the run up to the World Cup; but do you:
A) Think that FIFA have not discussed this with them and are satisfied with their plans and
B) This has any connection to the violence in Angola?
What does this mean for the average footy fan? It means you should be vigilant when travelling in South Africa. Have a read up on the risks before you go, take sensible precautions. Just like with every world cup, there will be a small surge in crime, especially petty. Should you be afraid of a violent terrorist attack, I really doubt it – you are much more likely to get your wallet stolen.
This African Cup of Nations and the coming World Cup will hopefully illustrate an awkward juxtaposition between the extravagant wealth of modern football and the relative hardship faced in South Africa (and the extreme hardship faced in Angola). Let the football be enjoyed, but let’s not forget the politics.