Elders say World Cup can inspire Africa

By Lyse Doucet
BBC News, Johannesburg


What are an archbishop in purple trainers, a lady in smart heels, and two distinguished African statesmen in loafers doing kicking a football in Johannesburg?

They are more used to kicking around ideas to change the world, including their own continent.

But there is no denying the magic of football - and World Cup fever is infectious.

"Even if people say maybe you could have used this money for building houses, human beings do not live on bread alone," insists Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

With his trademark ebullience, he declares: "You need things that inspire you, that say: 'You can do it.'"

Archbishop Tutu, international campaigner Graca Machel, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and former UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi all belong to Nelson Mandela's group The Elders.

'One wonderful day'

It is a group of wise men and women, 10 world leaders, no longer in power, who still use their influence on the world stage.

On a trip to South Africa, the African elders sat down to talk with us, in their first interview as a group, at this moment when the eyes of the world are on Africa.

"This World Cup will strengthen our one-ness, our self-esteem," enthuses Graca Machel, who is married to Mr Mandela.

"We need this kind of thing which tells us how good we are, and how good we can be."

Even Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian more accustomed to trying to change the world through aid and diplomacy, spoke of how "one wonderful day in our lives is much better than years of misery. "

He explained its power: "It gives us hope that it is possible to live that kind of experience - it is possible to build on it."

Generational change

And it is not just South Africa.

"I come from the uppermost north of the continent," says Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi.

"I can assure you that people there feel extremely strongly about these games and think these are their games."

Image caption, The World Cup fever is infectious - and it is not just South Africa feeling it

It is not just this first World Cup on the African continent that gives this year an aura of history. This year, 17 African nations mark 50 years since independence. It has been a mixed performance.

"When I see our collective performance I am very, very critical - self-critical," reflects Mr Brahimi who was part of the violent struggle that won Algeria its independence from France in 1962.

Looking at his three fellow Africans, he says: " You and I who were around in those dark days can say: 'It is not too bad, we have made some progress,' but the young man born 20 years ago does not know about that... and says my life is no bloody good."

Mr Annan adds a more hopeful note: "If you look around the continent and see the generational change taking place, you are going to see fewer and fewer presidents who are going to stay around for 30 to 40 years. They are not kings."

History lesson

But these African Elders express frustration, if not flashes of anger, when they talk about what they see as a double standard when it comes to their continent.

Graca Machel wags an accusing finger: "The problems with the eyes of the rest of the world is successful stories do not count as progress. Two or three wrong stories define 53 countries."

It provokes a history lesson from Archbishop Tutu.

Pointing to low points across centuries of Western history, including the Holocaust and slavery, the Arch, as he is widely known, says: "The history of the West actually gives you hope - if you came out of the mess that you made of things and become as you have become."

He insists on the need for "people to evolve."

But like all these Elders, he also points out: "We are some of the sharpest critics of our own people, we tell them: 'Look here, if you are a leader you must be accountable to the people.'"

The Elders' work has taken them to a number of African countries, including Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Silky skills

True Africans they may be, but this is competitive sport.

"Come on Graca," urges the archbishop as he strikes the ball with his bright purple boots and sends her running in her elegant attire across a makeshift football pitch.

There is a roar of laughter as Kofi Annan deftly kicks the ball back.

Archbishop Tutu broke into a spirited cheer for "Bafana Bafana!" - South Africa's national team.

"We may surprise ourselves."

That evoked a sympathetic reply from Ghanaian Mr Annan: "It is good to dream…"

You can watch Game Plan for Africa on BBC World News on Saturday 12 June at 0930 GMT and 2130 GMT, and on Sunday 13 June at 0230 GMT and 1530 GMT. Or you can listen to it on Newshour on Saturday 12 June at 1230 GMT and 2030 GMT.

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