Evening Standard

On 11 July, after the final whistle and as the victors parade the World Cup trophy round the Soccer City stadium, one 58-year-old man, once labelled a terrorist by his government, will sit quietly in the main stand.

He will think not so much of the match he and billions around the world have just seen but how it came to be held in his native land at all.

“I will think of all my dreams. That one day we’d be free, one day Nelson Mandela would walk out of prison, one day we would have democratic elections, one day I would sit in Parliament and one day we would host the World Cup. Those dreams have all come true.”

He pauses and then adds: “I will be thinking how this long, difficult, incredible journey is ending.”

We are sitting in the board room of the South African organising committee. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive, has just finished a hurried lunch and, as he speaks to me, he looks down at the main square in Sandton, once one of the most exclusive of white suburbs, now dominated by a statue of Nelson Mandela.

“Twenty years ago if I had come here I would have been arrested,” he says in a very matter of fact tone.

Growing up classified under apartheid as coloured, because of his mixed Dutch and Khoi origins, Jordaan was always being told he was living in the wrong place, going to the wrong school.

“Under the Group Areas Act certain areas were reserved for certain race groups. Our house was in the wrong place for coloureds, so it was bulldozed. Our school was in the wrong place, so it was bulldozed.”

Active with Steve Biko, like Jordaan from the Eastern Cape, in the student movement that started in 1976 after the Soweto riots, he faced personal danger when the second state of emergency was declared in 1985.

“It was a very difficult time, we were all under threat,” he says. “There was the real possibility of being killed. Even as late as 1990 I had to run away from my home town of Port Elizabeth and stay in Kimberley. The ANC said: They could kill you, just disappear.’ I stayed there for three weeks before it was safe to re-emerge.”

Set against this, organising a World Cup may seem fairly insignificant but for Jordaan it is the culmination of a road that began in awful darkness.

“The rainbow nation is very young, only 16 years old. This is our coming out party, the whole country welcoming the world.”

China did the same with the 2008 Beijing Games but its country is a developing super power with vast resources. Is it not an indulgence for a place like South Africa to spend 2.75billion on such a party?

“The reality is that after 1990 when Mandela walked out of prison we had to shape a new South Africa,” he argues. “In the middle of the Nineties we started seeing this stagnation of infrastructure. Even the economists were saying that, unless the infrastructure challenges were addressed, we were going to have serious problems achieving our economic goals.

“What this World Cup has done is to refocus the country towards infrastructure investment: the airports, the roads, the high speed trains, the technology, the telecommunications.”

And the transport development has meant this World Cup has addressed a dreadful legacy of apartheid. With a people divided by colour there was no public transport from black Soweto to white Sandton.

But how can building stadiums be part of the post-apartheid infrastructure? Is that not just providing a “circus” for the masses?

Jordaan gestures to the streets below him where, as we speak, a huge parade to rally the nation behind the Bafana Bafana team is taking place, an open top parade not to celebrate winning the tournament but simply to mark the World Cup being here.

“Look, there is a happy circus,” he says. “It’s good to have these circuses in your country where there is an event so important that millions of people pour into the street to celebrate.”

However, I suggest to Jordaan, surely this is a circus only for blacks, whose game has traditionally been football?

“No, this is the entire rainbow nation coming together,” he maintains. “A moment of South Africans meeting and discovering other South Africans.

“You have a rugby team called the Blue Bulls. They have a stadium called Loftus in Pretoria. Then you have a soccer stadium in Orlando, Soweto. This World Cup has made the Blue Bulls go and play in a football stadium in Soweto and has taken football to their rugby stadium in Pretoria. The last time many of these white rugby supporters were in the townships was in Caspers [armoured trucks] in the Seventies and Eighties. Now they went in a rugby jersey, only to find that there were black supporters also in the same rugby jerseys and they are supporting the same team. And that means the struggle for a non-racial, democratic, non-sexist South Africa is translated into a reality on a sporting field.”

This is, of course, Jordaan echoing the Mandela theme of using sport to heal the divisions of apartheid as he did so splendidly during the 1995 Rugby World Cup identifying blacks with a white man’s game.

Jordaan, in his quest to win the World Cup, used Mandela, getting the great man to lobby members of the FIFA executive. This involved visiting Trinidad to speak to Jack Warner, a powerful FIFA vice-president, and he even got Mandela to ring the King of Belgium to try to persuade the Belgian member of FIFA to vote for South Africa.

“Mandela made the difference in the end,” Jordaan admits. “But it would have been no use to bring him in if we had not addressed the FIFA requirements in a comprehensive manner and been rated the top candidate for two consecutive bids. We were ranked equal to Germany in the 2006 bid which we lost. Then we were ranked first for the 2010 bid. In the bidding process you have to take all measures necessary to convince members of the FIFA executive.”

Jordaan’s problem is that there are many who remain unconvinced that the World Cup should ever have come to South Africa.

As we speak it is being reported that three journalists have been robbed at gunpoint in their hotel room near Magaliesburg.

Jordaan says: “I will check with the police. But what we have found is journalists jumping on such stories. During the Confederations Cup last year, all of these claims were made and when the police investigated them they found the stories not to be true.”

However, journalists have not invented stories about horrendous delays in getting to the grounds leading to half empty stadiums at the start of matches. Jordaan agrees, saying: “At the beginning of every World Cup there are transport problems and we are dealing with them.

“What is unique to this World Cup is that, as we progressed and delivered infrastructure on a path which was unparalleled for a World Cup, you [the western media] had a running commentary of negative stories.

“First they said the stadiums were not ready, they were wrong. Then they said we’d run out of money, they were wrong. Then they said no one would buy the tickets, they were wrong.

“Ninety-seven per cent of the tickets have been sold, the highest since the USA in 1994. Then they said FIFA would lose billions of dollars, they were wrong. Financially, it is a most successful World Cup. Then they said, the teams are not happy to come here, they are all here, they are happy.

“The English press even said England should not go to Rustenberg because there could be earthquakes. We have never had earthquakes there.”

But how does Jordaan explain the fact that visitors have not flocked to South Africa for the World Cup, put off perhaps by the high prices being charged by hotels and travel groups? He has a ready explanation.

“Tourist numbers are not due to prices. It is the global economic crisis,” he says. “We saw high level of interest in 2007. Then, towards the end of 2008, you could see the impact of the global crisis. Look at the problems in Greece. Is it reasonable to expect thousands of Greek supporters to travel to South Africa? Look at Portugal and Spain, it’s got nothing to do with the World Cup in South Africa. I hope we won’t be blamed for the global economic crisis.”

Jordaan has a great reputation in world sport but, as so often happens to a hero abroad, he has his critics at home. Indeed, one of them is his own chairman Irvin Khoza. The antagonism between the two reached such a level that last September both stood for the chairmanship of the South African Football Association before withdrawing in favour of a compromise candidate.

Aside from their different backgrounds and styles, they also inhabit different political worlds. Jordaan is seen as close to former President Thabo Mbeki while Khoza is close to Jacob Zuma, his daughter having borne the existing President a child.

But for Jordaan these are minor domestic issues. “That is normal in football,” he says. “In a democracy people will contest elections. This World Cup is South Africa greeting and integrating with the world and connecting with the African continent.”

Here Jordaan is touching on a theme that may be the most difficult. At a conference recently in London Paul Boateng, the former British High Commissioner in South Africa, said the country had a problem with other African countries. Many Africans I have spoken to feel South Africans are arrogant.

“No,” says Jordaan,” we are not arrogant. We are Africans and proud to be Africans. You will see at the matches the country supporting Bafana Bafana but when another African team is playing they will support them.”

That was certainly true when on Sunday night Ghana became the first African country to win a match at this World Cup defeating Serbia. Many of the South Africans eagerly acclaimed it as if it was their own triumph. And this African communal sense makes Jordaan confident that the tournament will not be adversely affected by poor performances from South Africa. “I don’t think we will be eliminated but even if we are it will not affect the competition.”

In England a man like this by now would be getting ready for a summons to the Palace to kneel before the Queen. Jordaan will probably be honoured by the South Africa’s highest honour, The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo.

But all that matters little to Jordaan, “Look it’s not what you are given, it’s what you can give.”

And who can doubt, whoever wins the World Cup, that Danny Jordaan has given a lot to his country to make it feel a winner.


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