Saturday, June 12, 2010

A different game

A black South African and an Afrikaner, both around 40 years of age, began talking at a bar prior to boarding a flight to Johannesburg. It was thanks to the Afrikaners, the people of chiefly Dutch extraction who ran the apartheid state, that black men like this one had no right even to a vote until 1994. But the two men chatted about the World Cup, business and politics with amiable ease, revealing not a hint of historical resentment or racial stress. The thought struck that the black South African would have been unable to connect as easily with a Nigerian, a Rwandan or a Mozambican; the Afrikaner would not have found as much in common with a Dutchman, an Englishman or an American.

That could change, though, as Mr. Pienaar conceded when he said that South African politics found itself at a "crossroads"; that after the World Cup fun was over a battle would resume within the ANC between the Malema camp, whose mix of half-baked Marxist rhetoric and race-tinged populism appeals to disaffected youth (60% of under-35s in South Africa are unemployed); and those "real leaders," as Mr. Pienaar calls them, who carry the Mandela flag of principled "nonracialism."

Contrary to much received opinion, it's more of a challenge to divide the races in South Africa than it is to unite them. Anyone who doubts it should ask the black player on the 1995 rugby team, Chester Williams, and the white player on the 2010 soccer team, Matthew Booth. Mr. Williams is married to a white woman; Mr. Booth, to a black one. Each couple has two small children.

—John Carlin is the author of "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation," the book that served as the basis for the film "Invictus."

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