Editorial

Beyond the glitz and glamour of the game 

A world event took place next door in South Africa over one month ending July 11th. It was the FIFA football world cup. We cannot afford to remain silent on the great achievement that South Africa staged with excellence and clockwork precision for the whole duration of the Games. The pageantry and the panache were breathtaking. The incessant human sculpture in motion on the well kempt greens of South Africa amounted to nothing less than an enduring display of excellence at the global level. Players from Australia, Latin and North Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa roused some of the highest sentiments human beings are capable of at the vast display of talents on those football fields. There was an explosion of diverse feelings — patriotism, smiles, tears, deception and even ecstasy at some of the marvellous feats elicited by the artistry displayed by the players who spoke a single language – that of pure football. Ahoy, South Africa!

In 1994, South Africa won world applause for the end of the obnoxious regime of apartheid. The transition from that detestable phase of South African history was even more remarkable insofar as it was handled with the grace than only a Nelson Mandela could be capable of. He emerged as part of select world class leaders of which there are only a few around the entire globe. He proved that he was made of this exceptional mettle even afterwards when he decided to step down once his first term of office was over. He never belonged to the class of self-perpetuating politicians and he proved it in fact and in deed. On July 11th 2010, when the FIFA world cup came to its finale in Soccer City, it was the same Nelson Mandela (he was the one to invite the games to South Africa a decade earlier) who was greeted with cheers befitting a hero as he toured round the stadium after Spain snatched its first world cup title at the hands of The Netherlands. He proved once again that he was capable of abstracting from himself by participating in the event despite the fact that he was plunged in grief at the unexpected demise of his grand-daughter who died in an accident coming back from rehearsals for the opening ceremony of the selfsame games barely a month ago.

It all amounted to a crowning of the flawless organisation of the games the like of which only great nations can produce. Yet South Africa was the first African nation to take on the challenge to invite such a momentous event requiring huge organisational and coordination capabilities. There was rampant pessimism about the hosting of the games in South Africa before, especially among those who characteristically consider developing countries as being incompetent to deliver in those grand moments when the whole of the world is invited around your fireplace. The sterling performance of the South African organisers of the games belied the doomsayers of Afro-pessimism in the western media predicating “on the mass murder of football fans, along with widespread organisational chaos and incompetence”. Nothing of the sort took place, of course.

If nations such as ours do not allow themselves to be suppressed by their own lookdowns upon themselves, we can surely rise to any great occasion as South Africa has demonstrated with panache, much to the discomfiture of those who keep inferiorising the lesser nations. Beyond the glitz and glamour of the games, Africa and countries like us have a lesson to learn from this great event: let us not allow ourselves to be suppressed by ourselves. We are capable of reaching out for the skies if only we stopped nitpicking against our own potential. This potential is simply asking to be let free from incompetence which, on its own merits, is incapable of going past its own limited horizon. We can excel just as well, if not better, in diverse other fields such as the economy, the society and the ability to interact more smartly with the global world than it has been the case so far. We must vanquish our inferiority complexes and be led more ambitiously than by the model which condemns us to look backward rather than forward. When will South Africa or another great nation of our region give a follow-up demonstration of the enormous success one fellow regional member has shown just now? This great achievement should not be allowed to pass off for the single swallow… 

If we needed one more demonstration 

Countries like China set their sights into the distance when they are minded to achieve deep-seated national goals. In 2002, a state-sponsored program was started to generalise and support the widespread use of English in China. The Chinese Olympics of 2008 were in sight and it would have been unbecoming for citizens of the world to rally in Beijing or Shanghai and the local population not be in a position to answer to their elementary demands because of the language barrier. The Chinese were realistic enough to understand that English is the most internationally spoken language in the world. It was therefore opportune for them to incite and incentivise their citizens to improve their familiarity with the language and to encourage them to employ this skill to welcome the whole world at their doorsteps. China’s global embrace is becoming more evident. After the 2008 Olympics, it is staging the Shanghai World Expo from May to October this year. The effort being made by China to intensify the use of English in China is commensurate with its rising international prestige and we will come back shortly to the deeper reasons behind it.

Just a short digression to state that China is not the only fast advancing country in this part of the world to promote the wider use of the English language among its citizens. Malaysia has been trying its best to remove some mix-up of the local lingo from the English already being spoken over there since long; even an advanced place like Singapore, as far as the use of English is concerned, is making serious efforts to do away with certain local peculiar twists that speakers of English in that place have introduced in their spoken English. The real aim is not to permit certain local linguistic distortions to project a warped-up parochial image of a nation that prides itself with being a global player on the edge of science and research. The leaders in those places do not need to be convinced that there can be no substitute for the widely internationally spoken English language. They know for ages that this language will serve as a tool to master all that it requires to play up to the world. They also know that not adopting it means accommodating themselves to their own shrinking linguistic backyard, which is exactly what greater complacency with the local lingo will result in to the detriment of the effective global positioning of their countries.

Coming back to China, we see the emphasis on wider use of the English language being currently renewed once again. The authorities want English courses to be started in all kindergartens within the next five years. They are targeting a certain percentage of officials, shop assistants, receptionists, hairdressers, etc., that is, all those likely to be in contact with international travellers/ businessmen to China to be familiarised with the English language before long. As well as we know, the Chinese rarely undertake such vast scale changes without good reason. They are claiming that the more widespread use of English will match the fact that mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai are fast becoming “world cities” and English will be the tool to move them more effectively to that status.

If it is observed that this move to intensify the use of English in China began many years ago, it should be clear that there is a grand purpose and strategy behind it. For, there are rarely half-measures with China. It calculates its moves well in time like a seasoned chess player. The Chinese must have foreseen that when the thrust of economic activity will move from the West to the East, cities like Beijing and Shanghai will become buzzing megalopolises, the likes of New York and London. Nothing like the widespread use of the English language to move the poles of economic activity more effectively to what they hope will become the new centre of cosmopolitanism in the world.

Rather than bringing the whole world to learn the Chinese language to support the shift of economic and political power to the East, they prefer to use a tool which is already available – the English language. Is there a better way for China to get itself adopted by the whole world with open arms as a global power to reckon with, by projecting a softer image of itself to the world through the adoption of English instead of remaining closeted behind a more or less suspicious and impenetrable wall of the Chinese language (which is second only in terms of numbers of any spoken language after English)?

This kind of pragmatism should send home a strong message to some of our local advocates asking to intensify the extensive use of the Creole language in our schools, textbooks, etc. As the recent case of South Africa has pointed out eminently, it is when extraordinary efforts are made and opportunities given to those who are given up as a lost cause to prove themselves beyond what is ordinarily supposed to be their “natural handicaps” that they really can rise to the occasion and join the ranks of the high and mighty of this world. This is not a long story to convince our decision makers that they risk straying away on the wrong path only to discover much later that it will be too much of an effort to set the clock back to the right fundamentals when it is already too late. It is a short story rather about how the world we live in is about pragmatism. Great nations and achievers, with a track record to show, make no mistakes when encouraging national choices. In any event, they will not encourage mediocrity to be nurtured across the board by pulling down everybody towards the more facile choices of language. They will go rather for the harder choices with calculated constructive broader outcomes that give them a boost instead of ending up undermining the entire learning process permanently the other way around. It is better to make realistic choices instead of playing up to the gallery or flatter the fads of a few individuals. Someone should come up with a program on how to transcend a facile linguistic approach being proposed so as to assemble those in whose name the advocacy of the Creole language is being made and transform those, our most precious resources, into a status they will be globally proud to carry along with them. Light up in them the hope that they, too, can become players in an international setting which is otherwise unforgiving. Do not throw away what we have secured so far with the help of the English language because the damage done will be worse in that case. 

M.K.

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