Out of My Front Door, I See that Hope for South Africa Springs Eternal…


I’m here. In my beautiful country cocoon of Stanford. It’s a glorious sunny Cape winter’s day and I could tell you that many birds are lunging out their unique songs in the garden but that wouldn’t make it very much different from many South African gardens.

What is perhaps different is, that from where I sit, I can see – over the roofs of white Victorian cottages – the craggy tops of  mountains, glowing in shades of green and muted mauve. The Kleinrivierberge. It is said that wild leopard still roam in these mountains. Although Geoffrey Phipps, a local youngster who himself roams the mountain range in his mission to remove gin traps and assorted evils, says he has only ever seen their spoor and never actually clapped eyes on the elusive beasts.

So why am I telling you this? Because I feel seriously blessed to live here in Stanford, a very special place which attracts special people. And because, since South Africa’s almost excruciatingly magnificent World Cup ended 10 days ago, I have felt both elated and mentally exhausted. I have had to take a break. An unscheduled remission from the giddy-making carousel of SA-positivity which swept me up and spun me around for four weeks. As it did many of you.

As I have drifted slowly back to earth, I have understood how absorbed, nay swallowed whole, I was by my country’s party of a lifetime. I did eat, drink, breathe and live World Cup 2010. OK. I confess. I had a one-month stand with it. A seemingly unstoppable orgy. And, then, cruelly, as the last pyrotechnical rocket popped above Soccer City, I was dumped.

I know that I am a fool. A fool for love. For the love of my flawed, frustratingly fraught with corruption country, at turns horrible and heartwarming, at once wearying and wondrous. This is no easygoing relationship, hooking up just for the good times.

This is like being madly in love with a woman once condemned to death row. Relishing the gift of every moment spent together, luxuriating in the heady scent of her dusty, musty backwaters, delighting in the amusing nuances of her body language, always agog at her ability to poke herself in the eye with a big stick and then break out in a dervish-whirling, devilishly beautiful dance on the world’s table.

We showed them, didn’t we? We showed them how to be truly human and still pull off a successful World Cup. Hugely successful. Triumphant beyond even my wildest dreams. Pay no mind to those number crunchers who now sit like vultures with calculators over the handsome corpse of our World Cup and point to percentages, mumble about margins, groan over graphs and spit out told-you-so’s over new stadiums which may lie unused for a period of time.

To them I say: it’s not about the numbers, you boring farts… it’s about hearts and minds. It’s about inspiring children. It’s about South Africa growing up in the eyes of the world. It’s about perceptions. It’s about seeding a belief that we can overcome our many challenges if we believe enough in ourselves and our 16-year-old democracy. It’s about beautiful things not immediately tangible, by-products not easily assessable by one-eyed accountants obsessed with their abacuses. It’s about a vibe. So kindly shut up.

Instead, if you are of the “SA-positive” persuasion, it is not hard to continue to find the good. The microbiocide, researched by South Africans, that promises to help our women to stem the dreadful tide of HIV/Aids that has threatened to overwhelm our people.

So, as I recover from our ballsy celebration of all that is bloody marvellous in the state of the South African psyche, I look out of my front door and see no despair, only timeless and immovable mountains that offer me strength and hope.

And, now for reasons that should be apparent to you, I offer you some visual inspiration that came my way on my darkest day…

Oh, wait. I should first tell you that, after I pumped every ounce of my passion for South Africa and football into the World Cup, I was flat. Flatter than a pancake baked by the honorary secretary of the Flat Earth Society and then placed on the treadmill trampled on by the people in that awful The Biggest Losers programme. Pap. Introspective. Oh, OK, I was depressed. It wasn’t a World Cup hangover. It was cold turkey. And I felt burnt out. Then somebody sent this to me…

That’s Nick Vujicic. He loves living life. And he’s happy. And his attitude to life is massively inspiring. To everybody to whom the universe has thrown any sort of challenge. It’s how you get up. And it’s how you finish. Now, my little period of papness post-World Cup is as nothing to what Nick has had to overcome. But it’s always worth being reminded of how fortunate we are.

And I so wish I had seen Nick’s video back in 1996 when I did crash and close down. When I spent a month alone in my flat in London, mostly in bed, not working, not eating, not living. I was burnt out. But I did eventually get up, with two arms and two legs, and started again. It’s how you finish.

The link to this video was sent to me, unknowingly, by a man with whom I shared an adventure earlier this year. He rode a unicycle from Durban to Cape Town to raise awareness of the landmines that do remove arms and legs (and lives) and I drove the support vehicle. We lived in a parallel universe for two months… and, for both of us, there was a huge, gaping void at the end of it. But we finished.

I hope that he doesn’t mind me telling you this but Geoff Brink, the unicyclist, also fell down a few years ago. He went into rehab to flush out the accumulated poisons of drugs and alcohol from his body that threatened to ruin his life. It’s one hell of a story, that only he can do justice to.

But Geoff got up. He not only got up but he climbed on to a unicycle only two months after learning to ride it and pedalled it for 2,000km over a period of two months.. I watched him do that. Every minute. Every kilometre. And I will never know how he did it. It’s about how you finish.

So, we South Africans can stumble over each other to grumble and moan about how much it cost our country to stage the 2010 World Cup, how many houses could have built instead of shiny shrines to soccer. How many people could have been uplifted. All very well.

Some may say, now that our throw-everything-at-it party is over, that our country remains down on one knee. I would point out that, down on one knee we may be, but our hands are held up high in triumph. Because, in one short month, we won over the world. And, as Nick Vujicic keeps telling us, it’s how you finish that counts.

Fred Hatman
Fred Hatman (AKA Howard Donaldson) knew he wanted to be newspaper journalist at age 13. He has worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the Daily News and Cape Times, both based in South Africa and Wimbledon News, Today, London Daily News, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, all based in London .
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