Feel it. It is here… (along with Leonardo Dicaprio, Mick Jagger, Charlize Theron and poor little Paris Hilton)
“Feel it. It is here.” And gosh, have we felt it! This was South Africa’s national broadcaster tag line during the 2010 World Cup, but it could very well become the country’s new tourism slogan. Thousands of soccer fans who recently spent weeks flying and driving across the country, covering hundreds of miles to follow their teams across the various provinces, kept up the same chant. “I’m in love with South Africa”, was a regular pronouncement made by the twitters who so love the sound of themselves (including Paris Hilton, who typically grabbed the news headlines as police marched her off the Port Elizabeth stadium for allegedly trying to smoke marijuana during the Brazil vs Holland game – I mean honestly Paris, we are known to be somewhat lawless, but stupid?).
Aside from the many declarations of love, I keep hearing stories about soccer fans leaving on the verge of tears – not just because the one country that would be taking home the Cup wasn’t theirs but, according to various pundits, sad to leave the warm hospitality of the South Africans who partied up a storm, despite the early retirement of our own team. Not bad for a host country that was maligned with rumours of an impending crime wave, and a lack of infrastructure.
Not only were the fears unfounded but with the huge investment in gleaming new infrastructure (standing at around R35-billion, and including the creation of three world-class international airports), South Africa has never been more ready to welcome visitors to its shores. And what a coastline: stretching more than 1 500 miles, from the icy crayfish-rich waters of the Atlantic in the west, to the warm, sultry Indian ocean that washes its eastern shores, the country has some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on the continent – certainly they are the most accessible, with luxury villas and apartments a few sandy footsteps from lapping sea.
But it was not just the huge landscapes, interesting cities, incredible infrastructure, great accommodation options or well-organised soccer games that surprised the recent World Cup visitors. Apparently what really blew them away was the attitude of South Africans themselves; their inquisitiveness and desire to please.
Many attributed it to the traditional African philosophy of “ubuntu”, that essentially says that no human being can exist in isolation; that one only becomes human through another, through our interconnectedness. Perhaps this is so. As US blogger Tim Thomas posted a few days before leaving South Africa after the World Cup: “If I could say one thing to sum up being here during this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it would be that I’ve learned the value of ubuntu, and that when found and offered in abundance, the world is indeed a better place to live in.”
A bit sentimental, perhaps, but as a proud post-World Cup South African, I can only welcome you to come on down, and “feel it”!