Collective focus needed for 2010, 2015

Dumisani Magadlela

Given the massive technical skills shortage and the general challenges facing local government, I am tempted to ask why the 2010 Soccer World Cup has been given priority over the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline in 2015.

There are no easy solutions to the challenge of hosting an event as huge as the Soccer World Cup tournament. Neither is it a walk in the park to achieve international development targets.

South Africa has these two targets as crucial dates within five years of each other.

When and why should we pay "how much" attention to which of these two critical dates in our immediate future?

We have held many smooth-running international events with distinction - the 1996 African Cup of Nations, the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the Cricket World Cup in 2003 .

Reports from Germany indicate that the general South African public has no inkling about the size, scope and sheer effort required to run a successful Soccer World Cup tournament.

I think Danny Jordaan would beg to differ.

So what is the big deal regarding the 2010 Soccer World Cup? Can we afford any minor slip-ups? I agree with Jordaan and company, and the Fifa executive team that we are on course to host a great event. The challenge right now is that we are also juggling a lot of other things that demand the nation's attention and resources. We also have not yet garnered enough 2010 nationwide momentum to rally ourselves in unison towards achieving this massive task. We have more pressing challenges such as service delivery and institutional capacity challenges in key areas at municipal level.

But what about the MDGs? Will we deliver on them, five years later? These are ambitious development targets aimed at reducing poverty and improving poor people's lives throughout the world. World leaders agreed on these goals at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

South Africa is regarded as one of the leaders, not only in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and across Africa, but throughout the developing world, to lead the campaign for economic development in the southern hemisphere.

The MDGs' main objectives include fighting poverty, illiteracy, gender discrimination and disease - especially HIV, Aids and malaria, protecting the environment and improving poor people's lives. The MDGs are due to be achieved, met or delivered by 2015, a mere five years after the World Cup. Both 2010 and 2015 are critically important targets for our young democracy. We have some serious capacity challenges at crucial delivery points, especially in local government, where it must all happen.

We have been working very hard on building capacity within local government to deliver basic services, and to overcome the backlog in infrastructure, and there are promising successes. But can we say that we have the foundations to handle the pressure of 2010 and live up to 2015?

The MDGs have moving targets that are not only elusive, but require longer-term planning. They require close follow-ups to track and record progress. Most poor SADC countries don't have the information communication technology and infrastructure to track the MDGs' progress.

South Africa is ahead in telecommunication infrastructure but is still working towards being on a par with, and better than, the best. We still have serious human capacity and technical skills challenges. We are working on them, yes, but far too slowly. All these challenges, while critical for achieving development and service delivery, are vital to hosting a successful World Cup.

They include the so-called soft skills such as our attitudes and mindset: how we perceive each other, how we relate to foreigners, how we manage our stereotypes and prejudices and our service culture. If the same structures and systems, and the same people, are expected to drive the 2010 World Cup and the 2015 MDGs, alongside basic service delivery, then we are not even close to being ready. The good thing is that we have a bit of time and that there is a gathering momentum we can capitalise on.

But we cannot afford to choose between the two targets. They are both equally vital to our development, beyond 2010 and 2015. Compared to our neighbours, we have done significantly well in working towards meeting the MDGs, but the gaps are still massive between the rich and poor. Hence we keep talking about two economies.

Whether we focus on 2010 or 2015 is, for me, a moot point. We must just be focused and decisive on what it is that we attend to right now, and do a thorough job. A collective national winning mindset starts with each one of us realising that we are in this together.

lDumisani Magadlela is a development sociologist and organisational strategist. He works for the Development Bank of Southern Africa, but writes in his personal capacity.