Football spectacular that will bring little to celebrate to its people

by Jul 9, 2010All Articles

By Oliver Meth and Daniel Moshenberg

Ever since South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the government has been feeding us promises and creating expectations about how good this is for the country, for the economy and for the workers and poor. We were told that it would create jobs, that the tourism it attracts would generate large amounts of money that could be invested in service delivery and development.

Former president Thabo Mbeki predicted the 2010 World Cup would be the moment when the African continent “turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict”. It was a grand claim from a man of poetry as well as politics. It is obvious that such ambitions were never likely to be fulfilled by a sports event, no matter how big and how lucrative.

This World Cup will make more money than any in the history of the event. A total of $3.3bn has been raised by Fifa from television and sponsors, dwarfing the amount made in Germany.

It has also been one of the most expensive World Cups to put on. Fifa has spent $1.1bn, while South Africa has paid out $5bn getting the Rainbow Nation ready for its biggest moment since the 1995 Rugby World Cup, building stadiums, roads and public transport links.

Doubts and fears persist over crime and security. About 10% of tickets remain unsold despite the over-the-counter sales of the last few weeks, while resentment persists over Fifa’s heavy-handed marketing police and the bodged handling of hotels and hospitality packages that were priced too high by Fifa partners Match.

The Cape Town seaside stadium, which has 37,000sq m of glass roofing to protect spectators from the elements, is the most expensive building. Its completion was amid mounting claims that South Africa – where half the population still survives on an average of £130 a month – has mortgaged itself to host a football spectacular that will bring little benefit to its people.

In September, the Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, said the Government faced a 2.3 billion rand shortfall for the new venues. Corruption allegations and tender irregularities in connection with World Cup projects have prompted an investigation into the country’s building trade.

Columnist Andile Mngxitama said: “The Government has enslaved itself to an event that will turn South Africa into a playground for European tourists. When the event is over, we will still be poor.”

A documentary, Fahrenheit 2010, which focuses on excesses at the £68 million Mbombela Stadium, which has been built on the site of a school serving a poor community in Nelspruit, near the Kruger Park, seats 46,000 and used for four matches, while local residents live in dwellings without water or electricity.

In January, a local politician, Jimmy Mohlala, was murdered after attempting to blow the whistle on tender irregularities linked to the stadium.

This World Cup will offer the highest prize money ever, as a result of television and sponsorship rights for more than £2 billion. South Africa had hoped more than 450,000 foreign tourists would visit during the month-long tournament.

However, international ticket sales are slow with fewer than 100,000 applications from non-South Africans. In total 3.8 million tickets are for sale.

The police force may well be inclined to commit its limited resources to actual criminal activities instead of protecting the regularly abused rights of sex workers and controlling human trafficking preditors. Focused police presence may, however, not be the curb it is hoped it will be. The police force’s involvement in the sex work industry is questionable and sex work contributes significantly to the complicated character of human trafficking.

The stadiums are magnificent, the atmosphere and anticipation is heard through the sounds of the vuvuzella. But Dennis Brutus, late sports-justice activist, who died last December, predicted that the World Cup will result in a shocking waste of resources. He said, “When you build enormous stadia, you are shifting those resources from building schools and hospitals and then you have these huge structures standing empty. They become white elephants.”

CEO of the 2010 Local Organising Committee, Danny Jordaan, who has been the driving force behind bringing the World Cup to South Africa, passionately defends the positive impact of the event. He insists the World Cup will leave South Africa with more than a few new stadiums and happy memories, citing the new roads, rail and bus networks that have been built, as well as the airport terminals and hotels. Then there is the innovation and development of the nation’s broadcasting and technology infrastructure. Jordaan says history will come to view the World Cup in the same context as Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island and the 1994 democratic elections.

Perhaps he will be right.

The danger, however, is that South Africa will have spent billions of dollars on a 30-day advert for the country that quickly fades as the sporting world moves on. South Africa will have missed a great opportunity, a defining opportunity, to think through and act on celebration.

Thabo Mbeki’s words could have provided that opportunity to think about celebration, conflict, poverty. What are the conflicts that mark South Africa today? Poverty, xenophobia, racism, sexism, environmental degradation, violence, health and well being. These are not exclusively South African conflicts nor are they African conflicts. The United States and its European counterparts apply structural adjustment programs to its own low and no income populations, claiming economic necessity. The US – Mexico border is the single most militarized border in the world. Communities of African and Asian descent, and First Nation people, are the primary targets of systems of incarceration in the US, Canada, the UK. And when it comes to economic despoliation, consider the goings on right now in the Gulf Coast. No, neither Africa generally nor South Africa in particular has anything to prove to anyone. While the world media and much of the South African media has suddenly discovered the poors of South Africa, from Blikkiesdorp to Khayelitsha to Barracks and Wentworth in south Durban and beyond, who has written of celebration, South African celebration, in any meaningful way?

What then is there to celebrate? What has South Africa celebrated and been celebrated for, since the transition from the apartheid regime? Democracy. Freedom. Rule of law. These are fragile structures and important ones. And these are precisely what have been avoided in government discussions and even more in those of FIFA.

Where was the consultation? When the RDP was developed, there were RDP councils across the great land, and they included everyone. While the RDP itself has had mixed results, especially for low and no income women, the process was important. It was a national conversation, a national adult education programme, a national convergence. It included domestic workers, who have never had a say in anything organized by FIFA, and their bosses. Other than a very few very transitory jobs, what has the World Cup done for domestic workers in South Africa? Has it promoted their rights? Has it engaged them in a further, deeper inquiry into democracy? Has it told them that, irrespective of their legal status, they are full and free citizens who are covered and cherished by the Law? No. None of the above. There has been some discussion concerning sex workers, largely led by the good people at Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), and some discussion of security workers at stadia, largely thanks to strikes, and
some discussion of employment numbers, as the construction projects end and the largely male workforce return to their communities. These are important discussions. But the private lives, the domestic space in which real democracy begins has gone untouched. And so the relationship of the World Cup to domestic labor, to household based violence and, even more, to household based peace, justice, equality, democracy has been sacrificed.

There has been no engagement in any kind of even symbolic consultative democratic and democratizing process. And that is why, as in Canada’s recent Olympic adventure and as will be with India’s forthcoming Commonwealth Games experience, the poors, the disenfranchised will simmer both with resentment and with real desire for democracy which begins and ends with respect for every person’s and community’s being, rights, dignity, and dreams. What is there to celebrate? The games have been exciting, there have been many surprises, and will continue to be more. But games are always exciting. What could South Africa have offered that few others can? A space to discuss and see transformation in process. South Africa has given transformation a new meaning, a new importance. It is a gift the Rainbow Nation has given to the world. This was an opportunity to live it at home. An opportunity missed.

Oliver Meth is a social advocacy journalist. Daniel Moshenberg is co-editor of Searching for South Africa, forthcoming from UNISA Press.

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