On a calm and cold winter day at his home – just 20km from Soccer City where South Africa made history by being the first African country to host a FIFA World Cup™ exactly 12 months ago – Tokyo Sexwale, the celebrated South African figure who spent years at the now infamous Robben Island before working his way to prominence in both the political and business spheres, reminiscences about that historic day which ushered in a new era.
As he casts his mind back to the Rainbow Nation’s journey that was marked by both pride and tenacity, Sexwale spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the long-term benefits of hosting the event. The FIFA World Cup might have left South African shores, he argues, but its spirit and momentum lives on in the nation's people and Africa as a whole.
FIFA.com: On Saturday, it will be a year since the 2010 FIFA World Cup began. In your opinion how has that event changed the face of South Africa?
Tokyo Sexwale: It was a privilege for an African country, more especially South Africa to host an event of this magnitude. I think it has been said time and again that the 2010 FIFA World Cup was a resounding success – the first World Cup in Mandela’s country – a man who had worked so hard for this country. The World Cup has left a number of fantastic legacies. First you look at the technology, the stadiums that will be a legacy for football, the roads, airports and infrastructure. But more importantly for us, it helped to build the road, Mandela’s road to reconciliation, and to cement the feeling of unity within South Africa. What we wanted was what I call the ‘Barcelona Effect’ – I'm talking about the Olympics that were held in Spain where the legacy of those games was celebrated for a long time. The World Cup gave us a platform to showcase our country.
We often hear people talking about an African Renaissance. Do you think the World Cup played a role in delivering that message to the rest of the world?
There is no doubt about that. Remember that because of discrimination, Africa was regarded as no-hopers in some sectors of the world. Today, Africa is playing a meaningful role in the global economic sphere. Concerning South Africa, I think the country has grown in its influence and stature. A lot of credit must go to FIFA President [Joseph S.] Blatter, who stood against opposition from many corners in the world, and we thank him for believing in the African potential. South Africa’s government invested billions in upgrading infrastructure in the last year or so. I believe that our people will continue to enjoy the fruits of that legacy for a long time.
You are someone who is well acquainted with the business world. How has this event boosted the country's economy, and how do you think South Africa can continue to gain from it in the long-term?
We believe that confidence grew towards South Africa from the global community, and I think this changed the way we will do business. We used football to show that we are organised and that we can be trusted. That is good for business, and that trust will go a long way. We are looking forward to many international investors coming to our country. We have sent a strong message to the rest of the world: invest in Africa. We need to invite a lot of clubs and national teams to play in our country and utilise the infrastructure that we have.
Madiba stood up and said, ‘I want to be part of this celebration’. It was a proud moment for many of us.
What about the standard of football in the country, has that also improved?
Oh yes, that’s for sure. You look at our domestic league this year; we had a very fascinating [South African Premier League] title race. But more importantly, we have seen a steady improvement with our national side. We were ranked in the 90s, and now we are on the right side of 40. We just achieved great results against the record African champions, Egypt [in the AFCON qualifiers]. I think now we have a belief in ourselves and what we can do.
How would you want South Africans to celebrate the fond memories of the World Cup in the future?
Nelson Mandela! It’s the spirit of the man we must celebrate whenever we think of this proud moment for our country.
Your story - that of being jailed in Robben Island for believing in the emancipation of your people and for human rights - is well documented. How do you think the era of hosting the event and beyond has amplified the values you fought for and embodied?
South Africa was kicked out of FIFA in the 1960’s following the shooting of unarmed protesters in Sharpeville. That’s a very poignant part of our history. FIFA made a stand against a system that violated human rights. FIFA took sides with us in our liberation struggle against racial discrimination. For us at Robben Island, we defied every law of the apartheid government, but nobody defied the laws of FIFA. As one of FIFA’s ambassadors against racism, it was a great to see the World Cup in our country – a country with a documented history in the fight against discrimination.
What is your fondest memory of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and why?
Seeing Madiba at the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, that was an epic moment for me. It was one of those moments that will stay in the minds of many forever. There was a debate within the family and foundation before that whether the old man should attend – you know he is ageing and it was very cold. We knew there was no way people who travelled from overseas to watch the World Cup in Madiba’s country could leave without seeing him there – and it was important for him. Madiba stood up and said, ‘I want to be part of this celebration’. It was a proud moment for many of us.