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Image Revisions: South Africa, Africa, and the 2010 World Cup

Noble Savagery: Racial Ideology and Reportage of the 2010 World Cup [The title change

reflects the editors’ table of contents.]

Guy Berger


The 2010 World Cup in South Africa entailed a substantive volume and variety of media

representations. However, many of these reinforced essentialist stereotypes. This article

examines a selection of the reported discourse around this issue. To the extent that the content

was evidently deemed fit for publication, the discourse is “mediated,” even though much is

often verbatim from sources rather than subjected to specifically journalistic significations.

However, by being made manifest within the media, the discourse’s assumptions are

promoted uncritically in the public arena. As such, there is currency to simplistic notions of

identity and race, and elisions between “South Africa” and “Africa.” Assumptions of a

uniform continent informed by “noble savage” imagery inform much of the discourse, with

emphases on one or another aspect—while nevertheless remaining within a narrow

paradigm. This creates a challenge for journalism to produce more complex representations

that are less bounded by narrow ideological parameters.

<a>Keywords: Africa, FIFA, ideology, journalism, media, nation, noble savage, race,

representations, South Africa, stereotypes, World Cup.

[Please see comment regarding the notes with Web addresses that I have inserted between the

References and the endnotes.]


In For all soccer World Cup events, much discourse is nationality colored and accordingly

partisan (see Kuper, 1994). Likewise, ideology that links soccer and masculinity is inevitably

reinforced by male-centered sports events such as the Fifa World Cup for men (see Creedon,

1994; Meân, 2010). The World Cup is also an occasion for renewed constructions of fandom

and for the caricaturing of youthful exuberance/hooliganism. Another theme in discourse

around football events is racism by (European) football supporters (Back et al., Crabbe, &

Solomos, 1999; McDonald, 2010). However, such topics would likely characterize the World

Cup event no matter where it is held. As important as they are for consideration, this article

focuses in upon what is more specifically generated by the actual location of this 2010 mega

event (see Czeglédy, 2009). It considers what the “symbolic geography” of the 2010 Cup

mean in terms of the observation that “media events have the power to redefine the

boundaries of societies” (Dayan and Katz, 1992, p.197).

In this regard, the WC2010 competition has been signalled in relation to two

explicitly and implicitly inter-related locations. It is frequently remarked that 2010 marks the

novel experience of the World Cup being staged on the continent of Africa—an observation

that is accompanied by much verbiage about the event coming to “African soil.” The

connotations of this phrase (appearing even in Kenyan media1) articulate with notions of

ownership of “the land,” which in turn hark back to a preindustrial age (and to the bulk of

rural Africa) and also to the emotive issue of the restoration of title to indigenous peoples

after a brutal period of colonial confiscation and theft. These are common threads in African

nationalism and national liberation. Seen against this historical backdrop, the reference to

“African soil” in relation to the World Cup implies that the location of the 2010 event

constituted a belated but deserved recognition of the worth of a vast hitherto neglected and

exploited place. It entails a sense of profound justice for the residents of a region being

finally granted equal status to other regions of the world.

The phrase also feeds the notion that the 2010 World Cup is about “the promise of

prosperity and the arrival of African nations on the world stage” (Burnett, 2009, p. 10). As

expressed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki in 2009: “May the reward brought

by the FIFA World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth

it.”2 The same sentiment was expressed, albeit more garishly, in 2010 by FIFA’s Sepp Blatter

100 days before the scheduled start of the games: “The FIFA World Cup in Africa is a love

story—a love story between the African continent and myself which began when I was the

technical director of FIFA. It has come a long way in a long time. . . . When this country was

awarded the World Cup, there was a lot of work to do. We had to convince people that one

day we would give back something to Africa. Africa has given so much to the world and to

the world of football. I’m very proud and very happy that this love story is coming to the

‘wedding celebration.’”3

Blatter seamlessly equates “this country” with “Africa” in his remark, but the rhetoric

aside, the exact location was, of course, not Africa as a whole. It was a single country at the

southern tip of a very disparate larger entity—which and this entity in turn is a category that

entails a conflation of social with geographical characteristics. This fusion between the

(South African) part and the (African) whole has a history.

How the connection came to be created should be understood against the background

of post-apartheid South Africa having overcome its international isolation to not just

reintegrate with the rest of the world (including countries on the African continent), but to

also punch above its weight internationally and above that of other African states (and often

in their name as well).

This phenomenon is partly a legacy of the global participation in the campaign against

apartheid, in which most African countries were united against the last bastion of white

domination on the continent. When a remarkable negotiated settlement produced a new

democracy with an advanced constitution and a viable economy, it was widely seen as a fresh

breeze blowing on the continent. The role of Nelson Mandela, the first president of post-

apartheid South Africa, was part of this, and as an enduring icon of the country’s promise, it

was to be expected that, despite being retired, he was mobilized as a contributing factor in

persuading FIFA to award South Africa the rights to host the Cup, and to publicize the event


Especially in its first decade of democracy, South Africa was arguably a symbol of

how a broader Africa could overcome problems of despotism and underdevelopment. Indeed,

Mandela’s immediate successor, Thabo Mbeki, played a major role in keeping South Africa’s

international and especially African profile at a high level—for example, through peace-

keeping efforts around Africa, the reform of the discredited Organisation of African Unity,

into the African Union, and the launch of the “New Partnership for African Africa’s

Development” (NEPAD) program. Under Mbeki’s leadership, South Africa also maintained

prominent involvement in the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the G20. In

addition, post-apartheid South Africa succeeded in hosting several major sporting and other

international events. World-class convention centers have been built in the major cities, and

the tourism industry has grown enormously in the past decade. These factors set the stage

for why in 2004 South Africa could win the bid, in the name of the continent, to be the

location of the World Cup in 2004 2010 (even though internal FIFA politics also played a

part in working towards this ultimate outcome) (see Van der Merwe, 2009).

However, notwithstanding the list of achievements, an amount of gloss had also worn

off the “Rainbow Nation”rainbow nation by the 2004 award date, and the tarnishing

continued thereafter. Mbeki’s support for the dictatorial regime in neighboring Zimbabwe

and his denialism over of HIV/Aids accounted for part of this. Social problems such as crime,

poverty, and (more recently) violent xenophobia towards other Africans also marred the

country’s image. Closer to the 2010 staging, economic mismanagement leading to disruptions

of electrical power damaged the standing of the country as transcending Africa’s chronic

black-out problems. Racial abuse and political intimidation (including of the judiciary)

contradicted earlier representations, which had highlighted reconciliation, tolerance, unity,

and the rule of law.

From a media point of view, adding to the negatives were legal and administrative

restrictions such as the 2009 Film and Publications Act Amendment Bill, and the gagging of

state prosecutors from speaking to journalists in 2010. Weighing in more broadly have been

clouds of corruption hanging over leading politicians, including cronies of the state president

Jacob Zuma. Negative representations of these developments were exacerbated by Zuma’s

sex life, which has fed into a stereotype of rampant black male libido. For instance, tabloid

reportage in the United Kingdom included that on March 2, 2010, when the Daily Mail

wrote: “Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children. So why is

Britain fawning over this vile buffoon?” 4

It can therefore be legitimately posited that prior to the FIFA WC2010, post-apartheid

South Africa had entered an image phase that no longer differed from the perceived wider

African pattern of incompetent and authoritarian governance. Instead, by 2010, South Africa

had in several ways come to more closely resemble the image of many of its fellow countries

on the continent. No longer sheltered by an image of exceptionalism, the country thus became

susceptible to being placed in the same basket of negative judgments about much of the rest

of Africa.5

Parallel to this, the long-burning disaster in Zimbabwe, the violence in Kenya early in

2008, piracy off Somalia, and major tensions in Sudan did nothing to modify negative

perceptions of the continent as a whole. On the contrary, these phenomena lent themselves to

reinforcing a blanket image of a uniformly troubled entity. It can be posited too that the

demise of rhetoric (and the reality) around the African Renaissance, NEPAD, and the African

Peer Review Mechanism would have generated a sense of defeatism and cynicism in its wake

that may well have been less pronounced than if hopes had never been raised around these

initiatives in the first place.

In sum, prior to the World Cup, South Africa was a candidate for acquiring the

stubborn connotations of Africa being a vast black hole, where what little is known about the

totality is that wild and tribal identities provoke violence, that rapacious and corrupt Big Men

wield power, and that ordinary people on the continent are ravaged by conflict, poverty,

hunger, malaria, and Aids (Berger, 2010).

In Thus in this context, two countervailing discursive tendencies may be said to have

coexisted ahead of the Cup. One was a hangover leftover (but weakening) romanticism about

South African success, and the other was a growing “Afro-pessimism” about its failings.

Examples of the two are easily identified in the media (see below), and they are clearly

intertwined with meanings of “Africa” as a broader construct. As will be elaborated in this

article, the World Cup build-up in effect presented these two views as alternatives—indeed,

as being the opposite extremes of desirable and undesirable representations. However, the

pair can just as easily be analyzed as twin dimensions of a single basic stereotype of (male)

“noble savagery.”

<a>Theorizing the Roots of Representations

By way of exploring some of the factors that may have shaped the representations around

South Africa and Africa in the context of the Cup, one can consider possible dynamics

relating to the kinds of stories and language that surfaced in the media. The occasion of the

Cup fits with what Whannel (2002) has dubbed a “mega media event” which serves as a

“media vortex” that goes beyond narrow football coverage as such. Research in Finland into

coverage of the 2005 IAAF World Championships (Nylund, 2009, p. 126) shows that “what

caught the attention of the international press were the sports rather than the host city or

country.” This experience contrasts with frequent remarks that South Africa more broadly

than the soccer matches will would be the center of world attention (see, e.g.,

www. A sample claim is that made by Verwer, et

al.Broere, and de Bode (2010, p. 19), who state: “In the run-up to the World Cup and during

the event, Africa will be centre stage for a while instead of being forgotten.”

The truth probably lies between the two perspectives. Certainly, the anticipated

television audience, the numbers of visiting media, and the broad palette coverage were much

hyped by proponents of the Cup. However, for reasons related to South Africa’s unique

history, as well as the linkage to Africa more broadly, the Finnish experience of narrow-based

foreign coverage is not directly applicable to South Africa. Furthermore, it can be argued that

in the particular circumstances of questions whether the hosting would be successful, even a

narrow framing of the games inevitably also encompasses logistics, infrastructure, and

services. and tThese matters also reflect more broadly as generalizable information about

South Africa and Africa, rather than as items sui generis.

An earlier example of this phenomenon was occurred during the 2009 Confederations

Cup contest in South Africa, where the Egyptian team was reported to have been robbed. The

story, although the facts of the case were never entirely resolved, spun off into many other

angles. One was the wider narrative of crime in the country, including Brazil’s team also

being robbed, as expressed in the statement: “The incident made international headlines, amid

persistent concerns over high crime rates in South Africa in the run-up to the World Cup next

year.”6 Whether the theft was authentic or not was another issue raised. A further angle was

about male behavior, and dealt with whether the team had entertained sex workers in their

rooms, giving rise to headlines like “Carousing Egyptians Caught with Pants Down”7 and a

range of misogynistic labels as regards the alleged female thieves. A fourth aspect was the

Egyptian counter accusation that the prostitute story was a smear intended to divert attention

from the main issue of security.8 Similarly, and therefore unlike the Finnish case, the 2010

Cup could not but resonate more widely than the specifics of the matches themselves.

Another dynamic impacting on coverage of the World Cup relates partly to news

flows and agenda setting. This is not to generalize too much or to replicate stereotypes about

“Western” coverage, as if that was were homogeneous. However, visiting journalists would

inevitably have been informed to some extent by local coverage that they would either have

replicated or followed up on, even though also highlighting angles of relevance to their home

media constituencies. This was portrayed in a particular way by the Deputy Minister of

Police, Fikile Mbalula, with regard to the Egyptian burglary story noted above. According to

Mbalulahim: “Even with the Confederations Cup, the people who were promoting the story

of the Egyptians, exposing it and blowing it out of proportion, was the SA media and yet

when you come at an international level they feed that [on – GB] negativity.”9 It might have

been the case that some visiting journalists would have inevitably practiced “parachute

journalism”—i.e., poorly informed reporting that draws upon stereotypes and secondhand

representations (often produced by colleagues in the “pack,” and especially local journalists).

On the other handAlternatively, a different news flow direction has also been suggested.

Thus, government minister at the time Essop Pahad said in 2008: “We are aware that negative

stories will, from time to time, emerge in the international media. But the critical question

is[—]will the media in South Africa simply parrot those stories”?10 (see also Eberl, 2009).

The point emerging from this is that news flow itself does not mean that a news agenda is

either “positive” or “negative” in terms of representations. The bigger issue, rather, and

especially from the vantage point of this article, is the way the representations constitute a

given value-laden character, and how this plays between the country and the continent.

It can be argued that dominant news value traditions mean that many journalists—

local and domestic—are adherents of the media mind-set where “negative” stories such as

conflict and crime are top candidates for making the news. It is also the case that a number of

visitors observers would also have been interested in inclined towards confirming the story of

South Africa as rainbow revolution that ended up being mired in the dirt—the familiar myth

about youthful hopes being replaced by adult disillusion (see Lule, 2001). The general

negative image of Africa would have also lent itself to expectations of negative news coming

out of South Africa about the hosting.

At the same time, there were certainly forces at work urging journalists to adopt a

“positive” news agenda. These include the activities of public relations agencies seeking to

influence coverage in favor of the event, its organizers, the host country, and the wider

continent.11 For example, the South African government stated: “CNN International which

has been working with South Africa Tourism and the 2010 LOC [Local Organizing

Committee – GB] for over 2 years on the bigger 2010 story, demonstrating clear

commitment to the Games far beyond and long before the phenomenal spectacle of football

matches being played across our nation.”12 The BBC was also reported to have agreed (in

exchange for cut-price rental of Cape Town broadcast premises) to “endeavour to include, if

and when, relevant references to the Western Cape.”13 In short, then, it is unlikely that there

would have been specific tendencies for coverage to align more with “negative” or with

“positive,” but rather to contain a mix of the two.

The same assessment can be made as regards to whether nationality factors would

have influenced the tone of coverage. It has been observed in regard to Finland hosting the

2005 IAAF contest (Nylund, 2009, p. 138) that: “The more the newspapers wrote about the

event, the more speculations there were about future success. Due to its patriotic aspect,

sports news diverges most from the ideals of journalistic neutrality.” However, it is arguable

that most South African journalists would not have easily relinquished their professional

independence to become “patriotic” fans of the Cup. The then editor of City Press

newspaper, Khathu Mamaile, told a discussion group on the topic in 2008 that the media

would not conceal negatives, but would report on them alongside the positives. He indicated

some openness towards a “patriotic” inflection, however, by reportedly asking: “What is it

about us that we want the world to know and how do we become the information leaders

when it comes to telling the world about the process of organising the World Cup?”14 An

impressionistic assessment, however, is that it would be incorrect to suggest that “patriotic”

sentiments colored the coverage in any highly noticeable way (even if there could have been

more investigative journalism into the costs and contracts around the Cup). One exception

was SABC, which had official broadcaster status and was thus implicated as an uncritical

promoter of the event. In general, however, it is safe to say that within the Cup-related

coverage by independent South African journalists, not much actually interrogated the

equation of South Africa with Africa.

Overall, it can be stated that, whether emanating from local or foreign sources, and

whether dealing with “positive” or “negative” news values or mind-sets, or whether domestic

journalists were vulnerable to “patriotic” influences, much reported discourse around the Cup

certainly reflected particular ideological assumptions regarding the identity of the event

against a backdrop of South African–African interplay. In these representations, notions

about the interconnection of country and continent were bound up with assumptions related

to race (conceived as origin in turn signalled by skin color), and a background of a global

history of racism against people signified as black.

<a>Interrogating the Assumptions about Country and Continent

Part of the original “pitch” by South Africa in bidding to host the World Cup was the

argument that this would be the first time the tournament would come to “Africa.” One of the

broader significances of this claim is that the notion that the continent is a place where people

(i.e., male youth) are deemed to be soccer crazy. “Images of African boys, shoeless, chasing

balls on an unkempt surface has for decades been the staple assignment of visiting

photojournalists,” writes Hawkey (2009, p. 57). Also significant, Africa is the source of a

large number of top players (who, however, leave to work abroad) (Hawkey, 2009, p. 10).

Even although South Africa itself has relatively few such success stories, there are arguably

still enough to associate with wider African experiences. For those who follow football

closely, the South African bid can also be seen against the background of a FIFA history that

was not especially friendly to countries on the continent. According to Hawkey (2009, p.

124), “it was slow burner” with FIFA long obstructing African participation in the World

Cup. The organization refused to even grant a single automatic place amongst the 16 finalists

in the 1966 Cup, and it allowed African countries only 2 of 24 places in the tournament by

1982. Earlier, FIFA had not only refused to recognize the team fielded by the Algerian

national liberation movement, but even threatened to expel any member country who played

against those representing the (then) rebel French colony (Hawkey, 2009, p. 119). There is,

in short, a history of “Africa” with regard to FIFA. The South African “pitch” in co-opting

the African thematic to its cause may have resonated with FIFA’s need for redress against

this backdrop. A different perspective, however, and though only occasionally reflected in

the media, is that it suited FIFA to exploit “new turf” for its core business, and a region

comprising developing countries (i.e., Africa) was more susceptible than developed states to

meeting the organization’s huge financial and other demands.

At any rate, the proponents of the Cup took great pains to continuously emphasize

their elision between South Africa and Africa in the perceived historical delay in staging the

tournament (somewhere) in Africa. According to the South African government: “As the host

of the 2010 FIFA World CupTM, South Africa stands not as a country alone—but rather as a

representative of Africa and as part of an African family of nations.” It continued: “From the

beginning of the bid process South Africa committed that the 2010 World Cup would be an

African World Cup. The bid book proclaimed: ‘Africa’s time has come, and South Africa is

ready.’”15 What this means, in the expressed view of the South African government, is that

the event is also different to from other large sporting events in South Africa because “the

legacy benefits are not to be confined to the host country.” Indeed, there have been reports of

a degree of real planning to ensure a spread of benefits to the wider Southern African region

and beyond. Seven A number of areas were designated for collaborative projects—covering

inter alia culture, telecommunications, football support and development, and peace and

nation building. [Please supply the seventh area in the previous sentence.] FIFA itself has

also promoted several projects around the wider continent under the titles “Win in Africa

with Africa” and “Football for Hope Centers.” The extent to which these initiatives actually

materialized is not the issue here (as important as it is), but rather the way that the reported

intention served to substantiate the constructed coincidence of South African and rest-of-

Africa benefit.

The language therefore was that the event was not just a “South African,” but an

“African,” World Cup. In this, it can be noted that—perhaps as a function of the weakness of

the national team (Bafana Bafana)—that the project prior to the tournament was not generally

presented as one of rallying South Africans in a nation-building enterprise. The primary

theme in the build-up period therefore was not to pin a case on unifying South Africans as

fans of a squad that would symbolize the hopes of one particular nation against other nations.

Rather, it was, in effect, an attempted mobilization qua Pan-African identity. It is the case

that some efforts (with some success) did go into the construction of national traditions like

the “Football Friday” (where South Africans were encouraged to wear any—and not

necessarily the national team’s—soccer jersey at the end of each working week), the “diski

dance,” and the use of makarapa hats or vuvuzela trumpets during matches. However, ahead

of the contest actually commencing, much of the discourse was about a wider level of identity

mobilization through the explicit amalgamation of South Africa and Africa.

For South Africa to be presented as a stand-in symbol for the continent more broadly

only “works,” however, inasmuch there is a reductionism where Africa can be treated as a

singular entity— i.e., a semantically meaningful signifier. The question then is what is being

signified. Much has been written about “Africa” as if the term had a clear-cut and coherent

meaning with a referent that is a meaningful entity. However, French (20052004, p. xiii) has

written: “Africa eludes us; it is so clearly outlined on the map, and yet so difficult to

define. . . . The continent is simply too large and too complex to be grasped easily. . . .

Instead, we categorize and oversimplify, willy-nilly; ignoring that for the continent’s

inhabitants the very notion of Africanness is an utterly recent abstraction, born of Western

subjugation, of racism and exploitation.” This remark points to the fact that “Africa” is a

semantic construct with multiple extant meanings.16 One of these is a view that Africa is

about wildlife. Here, it is signalled that this is one of the last places in the world where

humanity’s pre-historical travails are still present in the highly visible and violent form of

predators killing other animals. This phenomenon is clearly something that can pose a threat

to humans in the process—although humans in the form of poachers also sometimes threaten

this natural state.

On its own, this image is often interpreted as generally positive, albeit scary, although

it is also negative as regards the role of African persons, especially those categorized as

“black.” Another, related, sense is of magnificent untamed landscapes (positive), often

considered in isolation of local people. When “Africa” is used to designate primarily people,

it tends to (silently) dissolve the coincidence of the term with a physical landmass, and refers

instead to dark-skinned persons who largely live south of the Sahara. The people categorized

thus are projected as different to humans elsewhere, and, by outsiders, as being exotic Others.

One rendition of this is the notion of a people who are untouched by the West’s culture of

individualistic atomization and materialism, and who instead still retain elements of an

untarnished state-of-nature character. This means a view of Africans as naïve and innocent,

and as bearers of natural capacity for music and dance—or, in the case of football, possessed

of an intrinsic racial affinity for the skills for the game (see McDonald, 2010). This picture,

although insulting and racist, is nevertheless generally painted positively. However, there is

also a negative interpretation whereby black Africans are seen as adherents of primitive

lifestyles and as people susceptible to supernatural beliefs rather than science and rationalism.

There are also, as noted earlier, negative assumptions about blackness also amounting to

rampant sexuality, danger, incompetence, and corruption.

As suggested above, South Africa prior to the Cup was no longer inviolate in terms of

being amalgamated into the negative constructions of (black) “Africa,” which was precisely

not the image of the continent that the Cup’s proponents sought to associate with South

Africa as a host country. The challenge for such proponents was to construct a connection

that would try to replace adverse connotations with different ones. In the words of Phil

Molefe, one of the SABC executives charged with the corporation’s relationship to the Cup,

“South Africa is the stage, but the entire continent is the theater.”17 The point of this metaphor

is to stress a particular interdependence between the two spaces with regard to a spectacle. A

good show, by implication, reflects its glory on the theater, and a good theater does the same

to the stage. However, the same kind of assimilation between part and whole was not

necessarily a feature of all World Cup rhetoric. As South Africa’s Danny Jordaan pointed out

during the attack in Cabinda on the Togolese team during the Africa Cup of Nations:

<ext>to To say what happened in Angola impacts on the World Cup in South Africa

is the same as suggesting that when a bomb goes off in Spain, it threatens London’s

ability to host the next Olympics. It is nonsensical for South Africa to be tainted with

what happens in Angola, which is not even one of our neighbouring countries.18

In another instance, he commented:

<ext>I took three-and-a-half hours to fly from Johannesburg, South Africa, to

Luanda, Angola. Therefore, it seems if you fly from London, three-and-a-half hours

and land in Moscow, Russia, that anything, which happens between London and

Moscow from a security standpoint, should see that the Premier League would not

continue. It does not make any sense at all and I think we must be careful not to use

double standards. If something happens in Germany, we do not say we must cancel

the Premier League.19

The difficulty for Jordaan lies in the rhetorical claim that South Africa is part of Africa, and

yet also then seeking to distance the country from negatives elsewhere on the continent. It is

not a case of South Africa just so happening to share the same land mass as Cabinda, as one

broadcast blogger wrote.20 Irrespective of explicit attempts to construct the stage-theater link,

(and in a “positive” way), it can be argued that there already existed an implicit “negative”

linkage, making de-coupling particularly difficult.

In this light, Jordaan’s arguments had to compete against the way that the continent is

often conceptualized en masse in terms of a monochrome (negative) continental identity.

Such a perspective of a homogenized Africa does not come from nowhere. It is related to a

unique and shared history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, extensive (albeit varied)

colonization and often naked racial domination of people classified as “black.” It also

acknowledges an ongoing common marginalization (from a global point of view) and

widespread underdevelopment present amongst the majority of those it designates. However,

the notion of “African” is not always understood in terms of these material and historical

roots—but rather in terms of a racial register where “blackness” is treated not as a social

construct over a long history (see Van Wyk Smith, 2010), but as an intrinsic cause or at least

a feature assumed to have some explanatory agency. For Afro-pessimists, race is thus

responsible for the failures around Africa. For Afro-resisters, on the contrary, “black is

beautiful.” Clearly, this highly simplistic binary shares a common essentialistic approach to

the matter of skin color. It is in fact a particular rendition of the noble savage stereotype

discussed below.

The “gamble” of South Africa, as the host country for the World Cup playing the “Africa”

ticket, took place against all this background. The character of the part was partly dependent

on the whole in the first instance. However, the proponents of the event hoped to create and

highlight the positive readings of both the part and the whole. They sought to ensure that the

extant negatives of the overall continental branding would not predominate over national

specificity, yet they also hoped that national success could work to improve the image of the

continent as a whole.21 Thus, South Africa’s success in 2010 was often presented as being

central to the image of other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The idea was that “Brand

Africa” stands to benefit from “Brand South Africa,” with some discourse in South Africa

supporting this view by making reference to the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index.22

Similarly, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was reported as saying that the Cup

would have “great power” to present “a different story of the African continent, a story of

peace, democracy and investment.”23 Black Africa as a whole, it was proposed in this kind of

thinking, stood to benefit.

The expressed aspiration of South Africa’s hosting as benefiting “Africa” was also

explicitly and frequently stressed by South Africans—some of whom are mindful of resentful

perceptions amongst many around the continent that the South Africans behave like the

“Yankees” of Africa. Thus, the South African government’s point of view ahead of the

tournament was that hosting the games “will make the nation and continent proud.”24

Addressing the international media in August 2008, the then minister Pahad was reported as

declaring that the Cup would be about

<ext>getting out from underneath the welter of negative press coverage our continent

receives. It is about informing the world that Africa has much to offer, that our people

are ready to receive the world, ready to host those who come to the World Cup and

that when they come they will receive a wonderfully unforgettable African


In this quotequotation, “our people” are not portrayed as South African, but as providing a

generalized “African” experience—with the essentialist message being that there is a single

and positive “African experience” (most probably “black,” and which is directly available

through South Africa).

The predilection of South Africans to speak on behalf of the continent is evident in

many further reported remarks around the event. The Pan-African rationale was espoused by

former President president Thabo Mbeki, who stated: “We want, on behalf of our continent,

to stage an event that will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo—an event that

will create social and economic opportunities throughout Africa. . . . We want to ensure that

one day, historians will reflect upon the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a moment when Africa

stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict. We want to show

that Africa's time has come.”25

This drive to affirm conceptual assimilation of South Africa and Africa, and its

implicit affirmation of blackness, rings somewhat hollow against, amongst other things, the

reality of xenophobic violence that peaked during 2008 and that still persists in parts of South

Africa. The drive also has to contend with, as argued earlier, the default (negative) linkage

between the image of the country and that of the continent. FIFA itself reinforced this with an

official reportedly saying, for example, that there would be no room for “African time” in

organizing the Cup, again an implicit racial reference being levelled in this.26 As

demonstrated by the Cabinda attack case during the 2009 Confederations, attention drawn to

Africa may inevitably be directed to phenomena that generate negative representations—and

which reinforce rather than replace perceptions of the continent and of the racial

characterization of the majority of its inhabitants.

FIFA itself is also a brand that is not wholly positive in terms of representing Africa.

The Gambia is a case in point. There, the tyrannical leader Yahya Jammeh co-opted a FIFA

public relations gimmick in 2009 to legitimize his personal despotism. He used the African

tour of the winners’ trophy for a public stadium spectacle, offending even FIFA by personally

holding the Cup. At least in the eyes of media-freedom advocates, this association discredited

some of the symbolism of the “beautiful game” being held in “Africa.” A regime with

journalists’ blood on its hands arguably transferred the stain to the trophy. Less dramatically,

in Zimbabwe, the contract to sell FIFA hospitality packages was awarded (without a tender)

to tyrant Robert Mugabe’s nephew Philip Chiyangwa, who is also the subject of international

sanctions. These packages are sub-contracted by Match Hospitality, which is a company is

co-owned by Sepp Blatter's nephew Philippe Blatter.27 In South Africa itself, FIFA’s

behavior regards trade, intellectual property, and “ambush-marketing” generated triggered

coverage to the effect that the government had sold the country out to foreign interests—an

image that is far from one of national or continental pride.

The implication of these kinds of associations was that the Cup could potentially work

to confirm wider prejudices that the continent is not a destination to desire. It was initially

presented in some circles as a place to be avoided. One example of this kind of imagery is the

story of a German security expert saying that his country’s team should wear bullet-proof

vests during their visit.28 Likewise, British tabloid The Star wrote that “England fans could

be caught up in a machete race war at the World Cup in South Africa” in the wake of the

murder of Eugene Terreblanche.29 Another UK tabloid, The Sun, warned its readers not to

have casual sex while in South Africa, raising the spectre of HIV infection.30

At the other end of spectrum of imaging Africa, FIFA’s Sepp Blatter has presented a

different construction of the games. He is quoted as saying that Africa as a continent is unlike

“boring, boring, boring” Zurich.31 He continued: “In Africa, you have not only rhythm, but

you also have music, dance and, importantly, the ability to dream.”32 Some Africans

themselves have also espoused this view. For instance, Kenyan public relations expert Peter

Mutie has argued that the World Cup should be used to shape global perceptions of Africa by

highlighting that “Africans” are vibrant, energetic, capable, and warm, with governments

committed to political stability.33 Kgalema Motlanthe, at the time the South African

president, was reported in 2009 to have said that the true legacy of Cup would be showcasing

South African and African hospitality and humanity—to change, once and for all, perceptions

of our country and our continent among the peoples of the world.34

The discourse at work in all this is that of the “Noble noble Savagesavage” as applied

to people seen as “black.” The Blatter, Mutie, and Motlanthe remarks play to the “noble” part

of the couplet—Blatter’s expressing envy for a people presumed to be uninhibited and with

pre-modern, naïve, and childlike qualities. The bullet-proof vest and the AIDS and the sexual

danger stories underscore the “savagery” dimension: the threat of warlike people in a place

that is dark, unpredictable, and dangerous. In a nutshell, the two stereotypes signify “African”

and “blackness” as risky, incompetence, backward, on the one hand, and filled with warmth,

exoticism, ubuntu-ism, and rhythm on the other.

The point then is that prior to its commencement, the World Cup in South Africa was

frequently constructed in and via media as a choice between nobility and savagery

dimensions. However, the two aspects go hand in hand, and their binary character means a

logic in which if one side of the stereotype does not work, then the other kicks in. That

amounts to an echo-chamber in which there is no space to begin to recognize the convoluted

and contradictory realities that belie reduce escape easy or enduring reduction to a single



The challenge for the media during the Cup was whether more complex realities could be

appreciated and reflected in such a way as to disrupt both the negative and the romantic

clichés. In theory, reportage could have shown the huge diversity both within and between

South Africa and Africa. This is not just diversity with “races,” but also between economic

classes and between genders, between urban and rural, between law abiding and criminal, and

so on. A mix of noble and savage imagery does not achieve this: it remains within narrow

ideological parameters. At the same time, the realm of representation is not a self-contained

or fixed phenomenon that is inescapably committed to alternative stereotypes. There is an

external reality that has a way of making itself known and helping to shape and change

understandings. The issue therefore around the World Cup was the extent to which

journalism consciously contrasted (pre)conceptions with actual experience. That in turn

required exceptional reflectiveness on assumptions about the identity and locality of the Cup,

and an open-mindedness to different readings and representations that would go went beyond

the kneejerk ideological ones.

This article has explored some of the image issues reflected in coverage of the 2010

World Cup. As argued earlier, there has been romanticism about South African

exceptionalism and success and as a beacon for the rest of the continent, and a rival “Afro-

pessimism” about both the country and the continent portrayed as a generalizable whole.

These are complex concepts, which both separate and integrate South Africa from other

African countries. The “positive” and the “negative” are also often presented as incompatible,

and as either/or alternatives. Yet, at the same time, it can be seen that they are equally

interdependent components of the “noble savage” stereotype inasmuch as they operate along

a single essentialist spectrum.

This Thus this observation helps to explain why both aspects have continued to be

manifested in media representations generated by the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South

Africa. Between the two seemingly-contradictory messages communicated, it is possible that

remote audiences would have played an active role in leaning towards one reading or the

other, or to combining the two extremes in an equally simplistic manner. The media

challenge, however, has been to give meaning to a reality that indeed can be characterized as

being contradictory, and as far more complicated than a simple “positive” or “negative” or

even a mixture of these two options. The challenge has been for discourse and reportage to

generate representations that show more clearly the range of realities entailed around this

mega event.

In addition to the noble savage stereotypes, a new image arguably entered the

discourse once the Cup commenced: that of world-class stadiums and super-modern visual

effects, luxury hotels, happy tourists, celebrity-worthy restaurants, and urban shopping malls.

Again, this is arguably a highly inadequate stereotype for comprehending South Africa, let

alone the broader continent. The coverage of the Cup is likely to have countered some of the

negative stereotypes of the country, of Africa more broadly, and of “blackness”—

notwithstanding the bomb blast against fans watching the televised closing ceremony in

Uganda. However, whether the negative image has been replaced by other equally simplistic

reductionisms or whether they together all point people towards the reality of enormous

diversity and complexity is a topic that calls out for further research. [What a wonderful

article, Guy; thank you. tm]

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Retrieved September 25, 2010, from

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