6 Jun 2010

World Cup: magic of Mandela for host team

South Africa star Aaron Mokoena captains his national side and, in his first UK interview, tells Channel 4 News’s Keme Nzerem that the magic of Mandela will see his team through.

For many South Africans, apartheid injustice and heinous tribal and political violence is still a very real memory.

Aaron Mokoena – who plays his club football for Portsmouth – might not have survived to be South Africa’s captain had his mother not had the quick wits to hide him when partisan mobs torched his township of Boipatong in Johannesburg, slaughtering 46 people.

It is said they wanted to exterminate the next generation of men – so Mokoena’s mother dressed him as a girl.

They were, said Mokoena, “tough, tough times”.

But for him the byword of the first African World Cup is legacy. Are the billions the South African government is spending on hosting the World Cup worth it? Yes, he says, because it’s created jobs and will prove to the world what his country can achieve.

He set up an educational foundation helping the most needy – he says investment in his old school has rendered it unrecognisable, but there is still much work to do to attract investment to a country with one of the highest crime and HIV rates in the world.

Today the South African President Jacob Zuma and the Fifa President Joesph Blatter added their backing to 1goal, a campaign for universal primary education.

Currently 72 million children worldwide can’t go to school.

Fifa’s current campaign aims to build 20 football-based community centres across the continent of by the end of 2010.

The South African venues are in two of the poorest townships in the country, Alexandria, in Johannesburg, and Khayelitsha, in Cape Town.

Speaking to Channel 4 News’s Keme Nzerem, Mokoena said that he hoped the World Cup would leave a legacy.

“So far there are loads of jobs created for underprivileged people,” he said. “That’s the aim of this big event, to leave a legacy.

“Yes there’s loads of poverty still in South Africa but there’s loads of improvement at the same time.”

He said that when he met former President Nelson Mandela recently, he had been “overwhelmed”.

“He said: ‘I know you will make us proud.’ Those were his exact words,” said Mokoena. “And I was overwhelmed.”

Could the World Cup change how South Africa is seen? Football author Steve Bloomfield thinks so.

Football has always been the biggest sport in South Africa, just as it is in almost every other country across the continent.

And football can tell us a great deal about a country, whether it is the top English clubs with their mountains of debt or the Kenyan football association with its corruption and scandals.

The World Cup, which kicks off at the gloriously rebuilt Soccer City a week today, will be a chance for South Africa to tell the world the sort of country it has become and what it hopes to be.