October 1, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Last week I attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 39th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. I spotted the “Beyond the World Cup” session, and immediately added it to my schedule, intrigued that the topic was important enough to be addressed by the Caucus.
I got an even better sense of the weight of the session when the Rev. Jesse Jackson entered the room and took a seat in the front row. International dignitaries from South Africa, France and Italy sat alongside him. And finally, when the moderator, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole gave her opening remarks, she informed the audience that this session was being webcast.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Chair of the African Globalism Committee, opened the discussion explaining the committee’s mission – establish structured opportunities for joint business ventures and technological transfers, educational exchange, and cultural awareness between African Americans, Africans, and other Afro-descendant populations.
“Our goal is to make sure that the U.S. knows Africa matters.”
Myra Fitzgerald, a woman I spoke with before the session, was someone who saw first hand the South Africa of 10 years ago. Back then she worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, developing energy and climate change initiatives for the country.
The post-apartheid government of South Africa had the foresight to solicit global partnerships to address some of their biggest issues in energy, housing, education and healthcare.
“They were aggressive and quite honestly brilliant,” recalls Fitzgerald. “They were eager for advice from Europe, from Asia and from the U.S.”
Fast forward to 2009, and in less than 300 days, South Africa is poised to host the largest sporting event in the world. How they did it – by adopting economical models and building infrastructures with an eye on the future – makes it clear why a committee of U.S. congress members would make trade and investment with Africa one of its top priorities.
One of the panelists, Jerry Vilakazi, CEO of Business Unity South Africa, pointed out that investment in South Africa has led to progress in areas of telemedicine, distance education, IP and HDTV, and peer-to-peer networks.
The South Africa of today is one with cleaner air, improved rail systems and roads, high-tech electrical grids, lower unemployment rates and better healthcare and education. Tourism numbers continue to go up. Neighboring countries have contributed indirectly to South Africa’s progress by improving their transportation systems as well. And when I asked Vilakazi if he believed the companies that had invested in the country’s infrastructure would pull up their stakes when the footballers and their millions of fans left, he indicated no.
“That’s not going to happen,” he said. “These are companies that already have a large footprint there. And when they see the potential for more customers, they will spend money further. More than hope, we are confident the World Cup will showcase South Africa as an investment and trade destination, and a country to do business with in the future.”
After the session I chatted with some people in the audience from South Africa and got my first Diski lesson, the dance the country is asking all South Africans to learn and do to help promote the World Cup. (It seems a little like line-dancing to me, with some football kickish moves added, but maybe I need some more practice).
Hopefully the South Africa beyond the World Cup will be a country that has demonstrated viable sustainability models that can be readily copied by others. And we’ll say all the social responsibility initiatives, like those set forth by the Congressional Black Caucus, made a lasting difference.