Federico Freschi. African Arts. Volume 44, Issuue 2. Summer 2011.
… [Architecture is not a free art, but rather the art of dancing in chains. The chains may consist of practical constraints concerning functionality, building construction, adjudication, and economics. Add to that the social responsibility towards society. But instead of dancing a sort of solitary dance of duty and taking into account these new possibilities [of modem building technology], we would like to dance a voluntary dance, finding and interpreting respective identities.
—Volkwin Marg, Architect, Gerkan, Marg and Partners (GMP), designers of the Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth 2010 World Cup stadiums (Marg 2010:45)
Monumental stadium architecture—what Robert C. Trumpbour (2007) describes as “the new cathedrals”—represents a compelling intersection of two kinds of symbolic nationalisms: architecture and sport. It is widely acknowledged that architecture has always had, and continues to have, enormous power to give literal shape and substance to abstract notions of national identity and statehood. As Lawrence J. Vale (1999:391) argues, “architecture and urban design have always performed important roles in the clarification of spatial and social order, and these are not functions that will be easily forsaken.” In effect, monumental public buildings, although constructed to meet particular economic or social objectives, have powerful political effects. Not least of these is their extraordinary potential to embed political and cultural values, to imagine in fraught geopolitical “space” the unified “place” of nationhood, as much through their entrenched social, symbolic, and ceremonial values, as by the cultural and social values that informs their appearance (Freschi 2007).
Similarly, there is a large and growing body of scholarship on the role that sport, and the mounting of sporting mega-events, plays in the construction and maintenance of national identities. As Scarlett Cornelissen and Kamilla Swart note, “sport megaevents are complex affairs which originate from specific sets of economic objectives but which have political and social corollaries that usually extend far beyond the event itself” (Cornelissen and Swart 2006:108). These corollaries are often contingent on what John Hoberman (1993) terms “sportive nationalism,” or the sense of nationalist zeal that arises from the “ambition to see a nation’s athletes excel in the international arena [and which] may be felt by many citizens without the promptings of national leaders” (1993:16). In this article I consider the intersection of these two symbolic expressions of nationalism—architecture and sport—and the conflation of sportive nationalism and notions of “Africanness” in the construction of an imaginary of a global South African identity in relation to the five newly built stadiums designed for the 2010 Football World Cup: the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, and the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. I also refer to the Soccer City Stadium outside Soweto, which, although not built de novo, is nonetheless expressive of a number of the ideas that underpin my discussion, not least the conflation of sportive nationalism and notions of “Africanness” in the construction of an imaginary of a global South African identity.
The construction and/or rebuilding of stadiums for the 2010 World Cup have been of great symbolic and cultural significance in South Africa; indeed, when viewed as a concerted national architectural project, they are some of the most significant structures to have been built since 1994. As I have noted elsewhere (Freschi 2006, 2007), the post-apartheid South African government has for the most part not chosen the path—followed to a greater or lesser extent in other newly postcolonial countries—of constructing signature public buildings as a means of extolling the virtues and achievements of the newly constituted nation-state. Instead, it has simply appropriated structures built by British imperial and Afrikaner nationalist regimes, papered over or removed the more odious reminders of the past, and invented hybrid traditions to fit the spaces, themselves newly hybridized by the application of superficial “African” decorative finishes. The few notable exceptions to this—the Mpumalanga and Northern Cape legislatures (completed in 2001 and 2003 respectively) and the new Constitutional Court in fohannesburg (2004)—have nonetheless brought into sharp relief debates that focus on the role of architecture in constructing imaginarles of national identity and belonging. In all three examples, this devolved primarily on the expression of three primary constructs: the memorialization of the heroic struggle for liberation; the need to assert an authentically “African” identity; and the celebration of notions of “unity in diversity.” Also in all three examples, these notions were expressed primarily in the buildings’ decorative programs. This is a clear reminder not only of the persistence of the notion of the public building as public art (what Christopher Wren famously referred to as the role of public buildings as the Ornament of a Country”), but also of the importance of the role of visual culture in constructing imaginarles of nationhood and belonging.
These buildings apart, the construction of landmark architectural projects of national significance has languished somewhat behind other imperatives (not least the urgent and ongoing need to supply mass housing). From the outset of South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 Football World Cup it was clear that this event would, in addition to “enhancing the prestige and credibility of the South African nation-state and its leadership” (Alegi 2008:397), provide the opportunity both to make significant infrastructural changes and to construct landmark stadiums. Indeed, both these things were a necessary condition of the successful bid. As Peter Alegi (ibid., p. 398) notes, FIFA insists on “extraordinarily high technical requirements for stadiums, media facilities accommodation, security, and overall infrastructure” In fact, it is this insistence on extremely sophisticated technical facilities and infrastructure—the considerable costs of which must be borne by the host nation—that has until now largely prevented developing world countries being seen as viable contenders for the hosting of sporting mega-events. As Allison and Monnington (2002:131) put it, “the hosting of such events is becoming increasingly a mere dream of most countries rather than a realizable ambition. The cost is well beyond the means of most national budgets.” Alegi argues further that it is precisely the prohibitive costs associated with mega-events like the World Cup and the Olympics and the fact that relatively few countries have the required resources that points to the “ideological and political significance” of such events. “Hosting the World Cup (like the Olympics),” he continues, “can bestow quasiGreat Power status on middle-power and emerging nation-states … as seen in Mexico in 1986 (and previously in 1970) and South Korea in 2002 before South Africa” (2008:398).
The prestige associated with the hosting of a sporting megaevent on the scale of the Football World Cup is thus a compelling incentive for an emerging nation like South Africa, determined to assert itself on a world stage, to invest in the required technical requirements and infrastructure. As Scarlett Cornelissen and Karen Swart (2006:109) note, a country’s ability to succeed in the arena of hosting mega-events signals international recognition, in terms of economic, social and political capacity.” This, they argue, has largely driven the South African governments insistence on pursuing the hosting of sporting mega-events, even where the economic costs may far outweigh any immediately tangible benefits. The justification for spending vast sums of money (which, detractors argue, might well be better spent on poverty alleviation and a myriad of other, more pressing social issues), both on the bidding process and on the eventual hosting of such events, is made in terms of the potential for the sporting mega-event to “meet specific political or foreign policy goals:
[A]s a way of signalling particular messages to the international community; as a means of engaging in international activities far beyond what objective measures of their international capacity would enable (i.e., “punching above their weight”); and as a mechanism to compensate for the lack of sources of power and influence in the international sphere (Cornelissen and Swart 2006:111).
The significant political capital that accrues from the hosting of a sporting mega-event is of course downplayed by interested parties in favour of arguments for the actual short-term benefits of increased job creation, infrastructural development, and tourism, and the potential longer-term benefits of increased foreign trade and investment. Not least, the extent to which such events can contribute positively to “nation building” has consistently been presented as a potent moral justification for the governments continued interest in pursuing these costly projects, ironically reinforcing their implicit political capital.
The 2010 World Gup was certainly enormously successful in terms of presenting a positive image of South Africa at “its very best: a modern, prosperous nation friendly to commerce, tourists, and democratic ideals” (Bearak 2010). This is the image that was presented not only to hundreds of thousands of visitors5 that might otherwise never have come to the country, but also for the hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide. This massive global authence daily experienced images of clean, calm, and efficiently run world-class stadiums being projected into their homes, a potent and quietly triumphant contradiction of the Afro-pessimism that had underscored much initial popular resistance to the event being hosted Ln South Africa. (That this was at best an extremely narrow, and at worst a highly sanitized and largely artificial representation of a country that is still plagued by gross inequalities in access to social infrastructure and services is beyond the scope of this discussion, but worth noting.)
The South African stadiums may thus be considered to be not only the physical embodiment of the theatrical spectacle of the “beautiful game” itself, but also of certain political aspirations; they have become, in effect, highly visible and permanent reminders of the desire of the nation-state to “punch above its weight.” The grandeur of their scale, coupled with the sculptural monumentality of their sophisticated, highly engineered forms are an optimistic expression of the ostensibly mature, modern, and globalized identity of the post-apartheid, postcolonial state. This even more so in the context of a nation whose national team stood little chance of winning—the elaborate stadiums are clearly not so much about celebrating national sporting prowess per se, but rather leveraging off the significance of football in Africa. Indeed, as Cornelissen and Swart (2006:111) note, the 2010 World Cup was widely touted as the “African” World Cup, with much of the bid campaign and the publicity supporting the actual event engaging a set of emotive arguments based on the idea that it was “Africa’s turn” to take its rightful place in an international community of footballing nations. “Such rhetoric,” they argue, “was geared to maximizing support from both domestic and international constituencies” (ibid.), and was clearly aligned with Thabo Mbeki’s notions of the “African Renaissance.” This was made abundantly clear in Mbeki’s pronouncement, on the eve of the announcement of the winning bid, that the campaign to host the tournament in South Africa represented “an African journey of hope” and that “Nothing could ever serve to energize our people to work for their and Africa’s upliftment more than to integrate among the tasks of our Second Decade of Democracy and the African Renaissance our successful hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup” (quoted in Cornelissen 2004:1303).
Football is certainly the most widely practiced and celebrated sport Ln Africa, both from a spectator and a participant point of view (Allison and Monnington 2002:127). It is thus unsurprising that it has, throughout Africa, come to assume considerable political and cultural significance. In this respect Lincoln Allison and Terrence Monnington (ibid.) note, “moderate African success in [World Cup tournaments] has been an excuse for national celebrations and the appearance of national emerging from the shadows to bask in reflected glory.” In Africa the social and cultural importance of football is complicated by clear racial divisions: football is viewed as a predominantly “black” game, diametrically opposed—in cultural, social, and political terms—to predominantly “white” rugby cricket. As Alan Bairner (2001:16) puts it, in South Africa has long been possible to differentiate between white and black sporting identities, which have fed into rival constructions of what it has meant to be South African.” The 2010 World Cup thus came to represent a complex intersection of cultural and political ideas celebrating (in the eyes of the world) Africa’s emergence from the margins of Third World obscurity, and (in the eyes of South Africans) the emergence of a particular brand of sportive nationalism. In this sense, too, the stadiums may be seen to be an expression of a certain triumph of a “black” urban sporting identity over entrenched white domination of the symbolic spaces of nationhood and modernity.
Sportive nationalism is generally predicated on national sporting accomplishment and the triumphs on the world stage of individual athletes or players. As John Nauright (1997:193) puts it, “in the use of sport to generate national identities, sporting heroes are essential and people must be able to identify with those who are supposedly representing them in the international arena.” Ironically, as G have noted above, the upsurge of sportive nationalism in South Africa occasioned by the 2010 World Cup had little to do with the national team’s chances of progressing much beyond the initial stages of the tournament—in fact, that Bafana Bafana was in the tournament at all was entirely by default as representing the host nation rather than as the result of competitive selection. Rather, it provided a focus both for notions of “unity in diversity” and for South Africa as a regional powerhouse of global significance. It thus served, above all, to revivify the by now somewhat faded ideals of the “rainbow nation.” Indeed, sport’s powerful potential to serve as a unifying force has been amply demonstrated. As Bairner (2001:16) asserts, “except in times of war, seldom is the communion between members of the nation, who might otherwise be classed as total strangers, as strongly felt as during major international events.” The South African experience of the 2010 World Cup provided ample demonstration of this. From widely supported “Football Fridays,” where people were encouraged to wear the national teams jersey as a gesture of solidarity and support, to the feverish display of national flags and bunting in public spaces, on motor cars, and outside private homes, to constant reinforcement in advertising and news media, and accompanied by the relentless drone of a million vuvuzelas, it engendered optimistic waves of nationalist sentiment not felt since 1994.
Regardless of which national teams were playing in them, the primary physical loci for this expression of nationalist sentiment were the stadiums, which, defacto, became Nauright’s “sporting heroes” (1997:193). Although conceived with principles of multiple use in mind, the stadiums will be, for a long time to come, unequivocally associated with the 2010 Football World Cup. While these associations may in time shift, the stadiums thus provided a highly sophisticated backdrop for the theatrical expression of South African sportive nationalism. Monuments to the global aspirations of the nation-state, they in effect became the physical embodiment of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s assertion that “the 2010 World cup is about nation-building, putting us on the global map and making us a nation to be reckoned with” (quoted in Alegi 2008:397).
Globalism and Regionalism as National Expression
In his discussion of the construction of the national stadium of Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, Xuefei Ren concludes that “the dilemma between nationalism and global consumerism has led state politicians and bureaucrats to opt for a global architectural language to narrate national ambitions” and that consequently, in China—particularly as regards the national stadium of Beijing “global architecture has become the national expression” (2008: 186, 188). Much the same might be said of the architectural projects completed in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, from the extensive upgrading or building of international airports, to the stations and street furniture designed for the newly upgraded transport networks, and of course to the stadiums themselves. All of these projects are characterized, as I have noted above, by the extreme sophistication of their state-of-the-art, highly engineered forms. On the one hand this is partly a response to FIFA’s insistence on specific technical requirements, designed to protect the integrity of its brand. In effect it means that all World Cup stadiums, regardless of their geographical location, essentially resemble each other. United in an international confraternity of high-tech steel and glass, these “cathedrals of sport” are as much an expression of the ideology of global consumerism underpinning FIFA’s business model, as of the global aspirations of the proud nations that paid for them. On the other hand, this interest in self-conscious novelty is a manifestation of one of the key ways in which national identity is expressed in architectural terms; what Lawrence Vale (1999:396) describes as “the need to extend international identity through staking some new claim to noteworthy modernity” such that the nation can proudly take its place amongst an international community of nations.
While all ten stadiums constructed or modified for the 2010 World Cup conform, in general appearance and function, to FIFAs draconian insistence on state-of-the-art facilities, they nonetheless also attempt—to a greater or lesser extent—to balance this “noteworthy modernity” with a sense of Africanness. In different ways, the various design teams responsible for the stadiums—particularly the five stadiums constructed de novo—all engaged a sense of place without resorting (with the exception, as I discuss below, of the Mbombela Stadium) to clichéd notions of an “African” aesthetic, predicated on images of wild animals and zig-zag decorative motifs, in Cape Town, for example, the Hamburg-based firm GMP (von Gerkan, Marg, und Partner) sought an authentic response to a sense of place Ln a highly sophisticated and abstract regionalism, taking their cue for the design of the Green Point Stadium from the celebrated natural features of Table Mountain and Signal Hill that dominate the city’s “picture-postcard” profile. As the architect Volkwin Marg puts it,
the imperative was to enrich the topographical genius loci in a respectful manner and not ignorantly thwart it. The horizontal plane of Table Mountain and the peak of Signal Hill are reflected in the gently oscillating curve of the stadium roof and that of the grandstand. A good image of our ensemble would be to see it as adding a restrained third voice to the existing ensemble, forming a triad, as it were (Jaeger 2010:49).
Given the stadiums location on the Green Point Common just outside the city, an attempt was made to temper the building’s vast scale by reducing its apparent height. Mindful of the need to protect views and to enable the structure to withstand the Cape’s powerful winds and stormy weather, the intention was to limit the building’s height as much as possible without compromising its capacity. However, the pitch and lowest tier could not be sunk into the rocky subsoil, and the architects thus provided an elevated plateau “as an artificial landscape feature that mediates between the surroundings and the stadium” (Rüegg and Hormes 2010:81). Also, given that the stadium would be easily visible from above—that is, from the top of Table Mountain and from the elevated suburbs on its flanks—the silver-hued, semitransparent glass fabric skin covering the building has been extended over the roof such that it effectively becomes a “fifth façade.” The gracefulness and ostensible delicacy of this skin belies the building’s massive bulk and was conceived to be in sympathy with Cape Town’s notoriously changeable weather and light conditions in that “it offers frequently changing reflections . . . white and light on bright summer days and shrouded in grey on stormy winter days. At sunset, the stadium is bathed in a reddish glow. At night, it gleams like a Chinese lantern, revealing its interior” (ibid., p. 84).
Apart from the phenomenological appeal to notions of genius loci, and notwithstanding the architects’ claim that Cape Town stadium has “unobtrusively taken its place … in the hearts of South African citizens whatever their ethnic origin” (ibid.), questions of local or national identity have been quietly subsumed into the overall project of creating a sophisticated, landmark building that would not be out of place anywhere Ln the developed world. In the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban the same firm of architects sought a much closer marriage between “noteworthy modernity” for its own sake and symbolic references to the politics of nation-building. This is expressed as much in the fact that the stadium is named after an ANC stalwart of the liberation struggle, as in the symbolic associations informing its dramatic sculptural form. Elevated on a plinth, the stadium is dominated by a 105-meter arch rising above it, equipped both with a funicular that takes tourists on a dramatic ride to the “Skydeck” viewing platform at the apex of the arch and a “skywalk” for more adventurous visitors willing to brave the 550 steps to see the panoramic view. For the architects, this arch is
not merely a structure that carries the membrane roof but simultaneously acts as a symbol of synthesis. Similar to the symbol of a rainbow, it can be seen to be a bridge connecting the multiethnic citizenry of the city … Moreover, the Y-figure of the forked arch seen from above can be interpreted to represent the Y-figure in South Africa’s national flag (Jaeger 2010:49).
The FIFA website overstates the case somewhat by describing the arch as “representing the unity of this sport-loving nation . . . land] symbolizing the new unity of a once-divided country” (FIFA 2010a). As with the Cape Town stadium, an oblique sense of regionalism is engaged, in this case in the color scheme, which draws its inspiration from the blues, greens, and ivory of Durban’s coastal landscape.
As Alegi (2008) shows, the Moses Mabhida Stadium was intended from the outset to be a flagship building, designed as much for the hosting football games as to create a positive image for the city and the strong ANC lobby in its council He quotes the eThekwini Municipality Strategic Projects Unit’s expression of interest document issued in 2006, which called for a stadium that was to be “flexible, cost effective, and ‘ICONIC [original emphasis] such that [it will be] regarded … as having a unique quality and a desirable sense of place’ which will be a hallmark of its reputation in the sports world” (quoted in Alegi 2008:410). Clearly, this iconic quality has as much to do with the dramatic statement that it makes on Durban’s urban landscape as with the implicit politics of nationalism that inform aspects of its design.
Much the same might be said GMP’s third 2010 World Cup commission, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Situated in the vicinity of North End Lake, a previously neglected part of the city with poor infrastructure (Betz and Flassnocker 2010:95), the stadium commands both sea and lake views and is characterized by its extraordinary roof structure. Designed to protect spectators from the sun and Port Elizabeth’s infamous strong winds, the form is a dramatic expression of the underlying structural members, connected by white, sail-like membranes that look like a series of curved concertina folds. Viewed from a distance, this gives the building the appearance of a gigantic seashell or perhaps a waterborne flower on the lake; or, when illuminated at night, “the flaming flower head of a protea, the national flower” (Grill 2010:17). The architects aimed to take speciñc cultural aspects into account by using—or reinterpreting in the color scheme—local building materials (Betz and Flassnocker 2010:107). Like the stadiums Ln Cape Town and Durban, an abstract sense of regionalism is thus quietly incorporated into the overriding narrative of high-tech monumentality. That these things combine in the service of a symbolic expression of national identity is underscored by the inclusion, on the façade, of quotations by Nelson Mandela: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” and “Never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another” (ibid.).
Unlike the examples discussed above, the other two newly built stadiums, the Peter Mokaba’ Stadium in Polokwane and the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, insist on a less equivocal “African” visual identity and engage “African” visual reference points more explicitly. In the case of the Peter Mokaba Stadium (designed by the Manchester, UK-based AFL Architects with the local architecture firm Studio Prism), for example, the dominant visual motif is that of the baobab tree. As David Soko (2010) describes it, “the roof-supporting steel structure of this building has been gathered into each corner—paired with giant service cores, those corners are suggestive of Baobabs’ massive trunks. The tree motif appears elsewhere, such as in the branch-like truss system,”
Even more explicitly, the Mbombela Stadium, designed by the only South African design team commissioned for a new stadium, Cape Town-based R&L Architects Interiors, features eighteen supporting columns poking above the roofline, their bright orange tapered latticework fashioned to suggest giraffes whose “legs” are the massive concrete girders of the stand. As the architects describe it,
… the signature feature of the stadium is the abstract 18 structural giraffes that are the roof supports, making this South Africa’s wildest football and rugby stadium. The roof supports were naturally tall and slender and crying out to be giraffes. It was one of those great synergies between function, form and structural necessity and so the Mbombela Giraffe came to be (Bell 2010).
Inside the stadium, the black and white seats are configured to resemble zebra stripes when viewed across the expanse of the pitch, while “bold Ndebele inspired colors and graphics generally around the stadium round off the African and wildlife theme leaving a lasting visual image in the mind of the visitor” (ibid.). The references to wildlife in effect constitute monumental coding devices, intended to evoke the unique “bush” experience of the region: “It is at the doorstep of the Kruger Park game reserve,” the architects write, “perfectly poised to combine a visit to see Africa’s wildest animals and a game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup” (ibid.). This point was not lost on FIFA, whose website enthusiastically proclaimed that, “visitors to the venue can easily add on a side—trip to the game reserve” (FIFA 2010a). In effect, this stadium’s engagement with notions of “authenticity” is thus clearly informed by the need to satisfy the tourist gaze and its desire to have stereotyped notions of the “African mystique,” its exoticism and wildness, confirmed. It therefore does little more than pay lip service to highly generalized constructions of what constitutes the local, and in fact perpetuates notions of Africa as eternally cast in the realms “nature” rather than “culture.” Furthermore, the reference to a cultural tradition—Ndebele wall painting—as an authentic regional expression is entirely gratuitous, since the “bold colors and graphics” to which the architects refer are confined largely to the Bronkhorstspruit region outside Pretoria, and certainly never penetrated as far east as the Kruger Park.
The effect, ultimately, is both patronizing and banal and, in relation to the monumental sophistication of GMP stadiums, even backward looking; a superficial triumph of style over substance. Nonetheless, it is powerful reminder of another of the significant impulses that underlie the construction of national identity in architectural terms, namely what Lawrence Vale (1999:396) describes as the need of the sponsoring regime to reassert a subnational identity by equating its ethnic heritage with “the national.” The baobabs, the giraffes, the zebras, and the references to indigenous African cultures are at once generic signifiers of Africa, but in this context this “Africanness” is being claimed for a complex, and possibly even contradictory, set of cultural and political motives: the South African nation—state as at once authentically “African,” uniquely “South African,” and yet global.
This is repeated somewhat more elegantly—but just as insistently—in the African pot or “calabash” form of the revamped Soccer City (or FNB Stadium) near Soweto, the largest of the 2010 World Cup stadiums (and, indeed, the largest in Africa, with a capacity of 94,700), which hosted the opening and closing matches of the tournament. The existing stadium was almost entirely demolished as much to increase its capacity as to allow it to be reconceived as a monumental and iconic structure that would symbolically reinforce both the importance of the tournament’s African context, the “first World Cup hosted on African soil,” and its global reach. To this end, the South African architects Boogertman and Partners (in association with the global practice Populous) engaged the image of a calabash as a panAfrican signifier of rural life—what consulting architect Bob van Bebber describes as “the most recognizable object to represent what would automatically be associated with the African continent and not any other” (Davie 2010). This form has the added advantage of evoking “a melting pot of cultures, sharing and passing around the calabash” (ibid.). The stadium is clad with blocks of earthen-colored glass fiber and concrete panels “fitted together in à patchwork, and curving around into the cantilevered roof” (ibid.). The panels are punctuated with strategically placed gaps to allow the circulation of air and light (particularly at night, when illuminated from within), while a ring of lights around the base of the stadium give the appearance, when illuminated, of a “fire” beneath the “pot.”
These elements combine to create a monumentally sculptural form that has a particular African cultural resonance, but without resorting to the cheap, touristy clichés that inform the Mbombela Stadium. Indeed, the notion both of a subtle but assertive cultural relevance and that the stadium should resonate meaningfully with local culture is continually reiterated by van Bebber (Davie 2010; The Times 2010) as a guiding principle in the design. At the same time, the stadiums importance as something of what Lawrence Vale (1999:391) terms a “mediated monument”—that is, a monument “that [is] inseparable from the media campaigns conducted to construct (and constrict) [its] interpretation’—was also taken into account, given the global media attention that was focused not only on the World Cup generally, but on the opening and closing spectacle of the tournament that centred on Soccer City. Soccer City thus brings together the two conceptual strands informing this discussion—the “dancing in chains” act of expression nationalism as a global identity—and is best summed up by observations by two parties with the strongest vested interests: for Sibongüe Mazibuko, the executive director of Joburg’s 2010 unit, it “symbolizes the unity of Africa …. There is something very cultural about it, it touches who we are” (Davie 2010), while for FIFA it is “one of the most artistic and awe-inspiring football venues on the African continent” (FIFA 2010b). Ultimately, however, jury is still out as to whether Soccer City and its newly minted companions discussed above are an authentic response to the need to create a global South African identity, or egregious examples of decadent formalism pandering to global capitalism.
The stadiums discussed above serve as permanent reminders of two things: first of the significance of sport in the construction of the South African imaginary—indeed, as David Black and John Nauright (1998:1) argue, “there are few national societies in which the cultural significance, indeed centrality, of sport has been more readily apparent than in South Africa”—and second, of the enormous shifts that have taken place in the construction of the South African national identity. Assertively and self-consciously modern, they provide spectacular backdrop for the theatrical construction of a new imaginary of the South African nation-state: global, modern, forward-looking, and united in its diversity.
In this way they are a reminder of the considerable power that large-scale architecture wields not only in shaping a national imaginary, but also in packaging this for the outside world. Despite their limited use value, they remain as permanent reminders of a glorious moment when all negative perceptions about Africa and the complexities and contradictions of South African cultural politics were put aside, and all South Africans, regardless of race or culture, could imagine themselves taking their rightful place on a world stage. In the final analysis they are hugely optimistic and aspirational structures. As I note above, they are arguably the most significant South African public buildings since the advent of democracy, and certainly conceived on a scale that outstrips the most granthose architectural gestures of previous regimes, imperial or nationalist. In effect, they are the most successful monuments to date of post-apartheid imagining. Is this sustainable? The question remains as open as the soaring parabolas described by their graceful roofs.