Viewpoint: All eyes on Africa

South African kids playing football as the sun sets in Soweto, South Africa The continent is basking in the warm glow of the beautiful game

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In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo contemplates how the beautiful game is transcending Africa's Bible-bashing morality.

After months of counting down we are less than a week away from Africa's World Cup.

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Since this World Cup is in South Africa, the constitution there has no problems with gays getting engaged or even watching the odd game of football”

End Quote Farai Sevenzo

Those who could afford the outrageous airfares are already there, with many more expected to land in South Africa as the world's most revered football festival kicks off.

By now you will have read many words about the land of Shaka Zulu, Mandela and Zuma - of its hospitality, the vibrancy of the fans and those ridiculously tuneless vuvuzelas.

Religion was the opium of the masses during more holy centuries, but in the 21st Century it is most definitely football that has taken over that mantle.

South African policemen stand underneath a goal as they watch people stand in line to view a replica of the World Cup trophy at a community center in Soweto, Johannesburg Even football's finest superstars will not be able to stop bad news

A spotlight of burning intensity will be turned on our continent, and we will hopefully make the headlines for all the right reasons and say a collective prayer that some madman somewhere will not derail this World Cup with some deviant act.

Of course an event such as South Africa 2010 does not mean our world will be on pause, that bad news and pressing issues will be forgotten in favour of watching the world's finest football stars strut their stuff in the finest stadiums yet built for the beautiful game in Africa.

Same hymn sheet

If anything those issues keep making themselves known because the world is watching.

Children play football in a street of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, decorated with colours of the Brazilian football team and themes from Africa, ahead of the Fifa 2010 World Cup in South Africa Brazil's footballers inspire children all over our globe to kick a ball and dream

Take the killing of the Congolese human rights activist Floribert Chebeya - summoned to the police chief's office one day, found dead the next.

The head of Voice of the Voiceless had his own voice silenced in suspicious circumstances over in Kinshasa, even as the country prepares for her 50th independence celebrations from the colonial clutches of Belgium and its largely cruel grip since 1885.

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Why should our meagre resources be wasted in the prosecution of two men who have abandoned the many joys of women to frolic with each other?”

End Quote Farai Sevenzo

Subsequent wars have proved even more cruel, with the United Nations maintaining a 20,500-strong presence in the country, and still such a presence seems powerless to curb the excesses of President Joseph Kabila's citizens and could do nothing about the human rights activist's demise.

Human rights as bandied about by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch seem to get up the noses of Africa's powerful.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi complained the other day that it was up to Ethiopians to decide who should rule them in recent elections, not Human Rights Watch.

Brazil's football team striker Robinho plays with the ball during a training session in Johannesburg ahead of the Fifa 2010 World Cup Did football play a part in Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika's decision?

And only last weekend the sad tale of two Malawian men jailed for throwing an engagement party in celebration of their forbidden love had everybody in such a twist that tiny Malawi wondered what Gay God they had offended to engineer such strength of feeling from the White House to Whitehall, from pop stars to anonymous Twitterers all singing from the same human rights hymn sheet.

Why should we care?

We are, as a continent, at some massive crossroads when we must decide whether the priority is development or the fluctuating trends of morality.

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If we are desperate for a mob-rousing moral issue, there are plenty to choose from”

End Quote Farai Sevenzo

Why should our meagre resources be wasted in the prosecution of two men who have abandoned the many joys of women to frolic with each other?

Or, for that matter, those women who find they can do without men.

Why should we care what they do with their bodies and in the privacy of their own bedroom?

In Malawi, in Uganda, in Zimbabwe, in the Anglican Church, it seems that we care very much indeed.

Scary sentence

In Malawi, Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa decided to give "a scary sentence" to Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, for "gross indecency and unnatural acts".

Fourteen years is a fairly scary length of time for the perceived crime of getting engaged to another man.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon then visited beautiful little Malawi, the country that likes to call itself "the warm heart of Africa", and within 48 hours of this scary sentence, the gay couple had been pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika, who acknowledged he had bowed to international pressure and was freeing the men, even though he agreed with the court's decision to jail them.

So what was this pressure?

Millions spent

The spectre of a World Cup only two hours flight from Blantyre?

Football fans cheer from the grand stand prior to the friendly match between Brazil and Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe's Warrior fans celebrated despite their defeat by Brazil's finest

Millions of dollars in aid from the West?

Human Rights Watch?

Sir Elton John and his fragrant presence on the global cultural stage?

The diva Madonna and the millions she has spent on six Malawian orphanages and the setting up of an Academy for Girls?

Or could it be possible that the next child she adopts will be a gay Malawian baby?

Glorious memories

The intensity of the spotlight on the gay issue will be with us for some time to come, but as we wring our hands over men who won't have women, we should also wring our hands over the many ministers who sleep around, and have satellite families dotted across our cities, and those idiots who rape children and those who think it is un-African to use condoms - if we are desperate for a mob-rousing moral issue, there are plenty to choose from.

A Sowetan plays the vuvuzela at the Dobsonville Stadium The land of Shaka Zulu, Mandela and vuvuzelas is ready to welcome the world

In the meantime, all the presidents will don their most sportsman-like suits at the opening of South Africa's football fiesta, and they will raise their glasses in the winter sun in celebration of the finest footballers in the world, and bask in the warm glow of a sport that transcends our Bible-bashing morality.

The presence of Kaka and the Brazil squad in Harare and Soweto has already forged glorious memories for millions, brought laughter to despair and inspired the kids to raise the dust on our streets with a football.

And since this World Cup is in South Africa, the local constitution has no problems with gays getting engaged or even watching the odd game of football.

It is going to be worth it to get there - as one South African child told the local TV station: "I'm so happy the World Cup is finally here. I want to enjoy it. Who knows when 2010 will come around again?"

Indeed. Who knows?

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

ThankYou for this very interesting article which puts things in perspective ....Perspective is an issue which is overlooked too many times ! Heads Up !!

Helena Brandstedt, Mariestad, Sweden

Farai congratulations!!!!!!! You have really packaged your product (talent, ideas, beliefs, etc) adequately and generously; it is now selling to millions in the market of our minds and hearts...

Victor Chambers, Freetown

As a South African, I am tired of the constant flow of negativity and doubt initially around my countries ability to host the world cup and now around the relevance of the world cup in Africa. African countries are no more corrupt or challenged by the complexities of life than the rest of the world but where we do differ is in how little we have in comparison to the rest of the world. Give us a chance to shine, to feel pride and to prove the racist bigots of the world wrong!

Brian Paddock, Johannesburg

I am tired to read these kind of articles from BBC that treats Africa as a country. Africa is a continent with coutries which have complete different polical and religious believes. Their contitutions also differ in many aspects. So what is the goal of this article to mix our long awaited amazing tornament with these bad news from other African countries? South Africa is not resposible for their bad behaviour. Also South Africa is not a watch dog of the whole continent. So please start treating us as a country and not taint our good country using bad things happening in other African countries.

Sehajwe, Johannesburg

Farai is right, football is the new religion - and it probably won't cause as much harm as the old ones did in Africa, where the indigenous people got the Bible, and the colonialists got the land.

Jimmy Musto, Andover, UK

I notice that Farai likes to call Malawi "small" or "tiny". In terms of area, Malawi is the same size as England. Malawi's population at 13 million is slightly larger than Zimbabwe's. So, Malawi is not so small or tiny.

Mbugwile Nkolokosa, Manchester, UK

Thank you Farai for article which touch on various subjects and issues in our mother land. On the killing of the Human right activist in Congo, this is a big blow to the voiceless. The government should do whatever it takes to bring the killers to justice. The death of Chebeya raises some serious questions about human right in Congo. The rebels are still busy raping women despite the presence of United Nations forces. The sentencing of the gay couple in Malawi was harsh even though I don't support homosexuals. Homosexuality is un-African and should be discouraged. With the prevalence of STDs, I strongly recommend using condoms. It is the world we are today and we should not be ignorant of the threat to our health and existence. Instead of lengthy jail time, they should be rehabilitated instead. Those who molest little children should be given such lengthy sentence instead. There is nothing that raises my blood pressure as to see an adult molesting a child. Children are innocent and should not be taken advantage off. I am glad that South Africa is hosting the World cup for the first time in our continent. Although I am not going due to my tight schedule but I will support my team which ever way I can. I wish my African teams all the best in this World Cup.

Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

The football World Cup will be a welcome distraction for many from their daily burdens not least for Africa. Enjoy the month-long festival but also remember those who even today place themselves in danger for expressing their views so that many can have a better life for longer than a month.

Andrew, Milton Keynes, England

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