But it was also a country with dangerous levels of crime, and unfulfilled expectations of millions of blacks still living in shanty towns.
Black and white newspaper editors and TV directors expressed concern that the infrastructure needed to handle hundreds of thousands of World Cup visitors could not be ready by 2010. Airports needed to be remodeled, hotels built, rail lines laid, ambitious stadiums constructed in different cities.
There were questions as to whether huge, crowded multiracial gatherings of blacks and whites could take place without violence. (There was concern, too, that the government would exert subtle pressure on media outlets to produce only “happy journalism” and downplay the problems.)
As we learned in 2010, the fears proved groundless.
With more than $5 billion spent on preparations, the facilities were more than adequate. Transportation and lodging were abundant. Crime at the various venues was controlled. International TV showed cheering multiracial crowds in fabulous stadiums, against backgrounds of stunning South African scenery. It was a splendid coming-out for the new South Africa.
A model for the continent?
With the festivities over, the question now is whether the government can make a serious dent in urban crime, tackle corruption, lessen poverty, and shape South Africa as a model for a continent wracked by economic and political problems.
As David Fanning, a white South African and retired editor and columnist for one of the country’s major newspapers, puts it: “We need to capture some of the wonderful patriotic spirit and bottle it for future use…. It is time to ask why sport seems able to bring the nation together. Why are there such huge national differences when it comes to issues like race, politics, and economics?”