The roadside flag sellers saw it coming first.
When South Africa’s heady swell of World Cup unity and patriotism suddenly ebbed, they sensed it. With the elimination of the national soccer team from the tournament last month, the flags for sale at traffic lights were gone.
For a few glorious months, the flags had sold themselves, a hopeful suggestion that this nation–often divided between rich and poor, black and white–was coming together. It was the moment, as retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town put it at the World Cup kickoff concert, that South Africa had transmuted from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.
It was a moment, say some analysts, that was not likely to last.
Economic statistics, however are not encouraging. Despite the economic boost from the building of infrastructure ahead of the World Cup, 171,000 jobs were lost nationwide in the first quarter of the year.
The World Cup is projected to just break even, according to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, with the benefits to the economy about equal to outlays by the government.
Gumede, the analyst, said President Jacob Zuma’s ruling African National Congress, brawling over the leadership succession, lacks the will to turn an optimistic moment into something more powerful and lasting.
The health and education systems are deeply troubled. Poverty and social inequity remain intractable. The annual strike season, when public and private sector unions negotiate wages with government and business, will resume later this month. Protests over the poor delivery of public services may also grow vehement.
“The legacy of the World Cup will be people demanding and expecting things to happen, because we have spent all this money on all these things for the World Cup,” said Gumede. “Wage demands are going to be a lot more strident. Ordinary communities are going to say if you can build all these stadiums, you cannot say there’s not money to deliver to us. The unemployed are going to say the same thing.”