When the final whistle has blown

It's hard to believe that something that has kept the entire nation and the world so enthralled for the past six years is over. Two months after the final whistle of the World Cup has blown South Africa and Africa can look back with pride at what has been achieved.
I'm pretty sure that Danny Jordaan is relieved it's over. There is nothing heavier than carrying the hope of a nation on your shoulders day and night. Although on a different scale our team at VWV felt the same - we produced the opening and closing ceremonies of the World Cup.

I can't tell you how much pressure we were under. It was really one of those once-in-a-life-time situations where there could be no mistakes because most people in the country, and the world for that matter, had their gaze firmly fixed on our product. Even more so their hopes and dreams were placed in our abilities. Talk about responsibility to deliver!

The length and breadth of the field

It was a long journey that started in April 2008. VWV was one of over 80 companies that pitched on the project. That list was whittled down over a period of 12 months and we were eventually contracted on the 19th of April, 2009 - an unbelievable two months before the Confederations Cup opening ceremony! The LOC never really had a sense of urgency when it came to contracting us but as you can imagine the expectations and deadlines never moved. To be fair, not all the delays were theirs - we had our own internal issues to manage.

By now you will be familiar with the term consortium, many had to be pulled together to win tenders. Consortiums are popular because they are a special purpose vehicle that brings together different skills into one unit. It's also a way to increase empowerment and skills transfer.

Our consortium was made up of VWV and Till Dawn Entertainment (TDE) the vehicle owned by Lebo M. We also pulled in Jack Morton Worldwide - the largest experiential agency in the world as consulting partners.

I don't need to elaborate on the tensions that plagued our consortium; the media did enough of that. All I will say is that you have to choose your partners carefully, especially when the road you will travel will be long and tough. We didn't do enough of our homework and by the time we realised what we were faced with it was too late. Nonetheless we delivered and that's what matters.

My bird's-eye view

My role was that of stakeholder manager, my responsibility was to manage our client, the LOC and its stakeholders, - the City of Joburg, Department of Arts and Culture and FIFA. What was a complete eye-opener it is seeing how different stakeholders manage such a macro project from the inside: what drives them, how they facilitate and influence, and what happens when they don't get their way!

FIFA is an interim government; their condition of awarding the hosting of the World Cup is based on rewriting laws, guarantees of infrastructural investment and financial viability. And usually the performance of the host nation's national team gets a boost of some sort - or not.

It's not all doom and gloom as some pundits have put it, Sepp Blatter stuck his neck out to get the World Cup hosted on African soil. The benefit of the World Cup in South Africa has been three fold:

1. Billions of Rand was invested in the economy for infrastructure, training, and production, and so on. Add to that a deadline where all this investment needed to be realised. That hardly happens in African countries, money is invested but it hardly reaches its intended purpose. Would the stadiums, Gautrain, airport developments have been completed at such a pace if there was no deadline? I doubt it. It could more likely have been squandered by the swarm of consultants that feed off our inefficiency.

2. Global attention beyond our wildest dreams was achieved, not even the '94 elections generated as much global exposure as this tournament. We had a chance to reaffirm ourselves to the world, to show them that we are indeed a progressive country that can deliver. I remember President Jacob Zuma saying that "we had started on time" at the FIFA draw in Cape Town. Most people outside of Africa may not have clicked that starting on time was a major statement of re-evaluation for the continent.

3. National cohesion cannot be underestimated: white people wearing Bafana shirts!? It's a miracle. The South African flag on cars, buses, homes and offices - incredible! That would not have happened without the World Cup. So for all its faults, we have a lot to thank FIFA for.

DAC input, haphazard

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) was a conundrum for us. Clearly its mandate was to ensure that governments objectives were achieved in our expression of South Africa and Africa to the World but I found their input to be haphazard. There was, as far as we were exposed to, no strategy that could be manifested in the shows we produced. Many decisions seemed subjective. There was a lot of energy invested in internal consortium matters under the auspices of governments empowerment policies and much less on the genesis of the creative concepts and the story we were telling.

Maybe that's a blessing in disguise? I wonder for instance what the interface was like between the Department of Transport and the LOC's Transport arm. Where the DAC added great value was managing the Creative Workers Union (CWU). You will remember that the CWU placed huge pressure on the LOC to increase the number of South African Artists in the FIFA Concert by the time we were placed under the microscope we had covered our bases from a South African and African talent perspective and there was not much contention with the CWU.

The City of Joburg got involved at a strategic level and let us get on with our job. This is most probably because they had a very competent project manager in the form of Sibongile Mazibuko, overseeing the entire Joburg 2010 programme. She provided input where she had to and trusted the LOC, and us to deliver.

LOC implementation

The LOC, for us provides an interesting implementation model for the country. The LOC is a Section 21 Company that administered the World Cup on behalf of SAFA, FIFA and the South African Government. Basically you had a team of experts and professionals mandated to deliver the World Cup with the support of the government and FIFA. It must have been tricky managing the different expectations of the different role players but I think on the whole they did it well. There is really an interesting model to study here. Could we have an LOC for Health or for Education? Is there something we can learn about leveraging the skills of the private sector and the public sector with the intervention of a global best practice player? From our experience - we think so.

In the end, we learnt a lot of lessons about the world, the country and ourselves through this project. And I can finally get my grandmother to understand what our company does.

As an astute journalist from Time magazine wrote in his article titled "Africa's World Cup Bounce" the continent has been given a chance to believe in itself again. And that's priceless, and we certainly believe that.

"Phillip" may be gone, but the spirit has remained.

12 Oct 2010 11:03


About the author

Abey Mokgwatsane is CEO of the VWV Group (www.vwv.com), one of South Africa's leading business-to-business experiential communication specialists. Starting his career as a marketing trainee at VWV, in 2005, Abey and two partners, Jameson Hlongwane and Wanda Shuenyane, acquired a majority stake in the VWV Group. Contact Abey on tel +27 (0)11 799 2600 or email .