Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

South Africa’s own goal

As football fans worldwide turn their attention towards South Africa, Ashwin Desai and Patrick Bond look at what impact hosting the World Cup is having on the world's most unequal large country

June 16, 2010
7 min read

Visitors to the World Cup in South Africa this June will have to try hard not to see some shocking contrasts in wealth and poverty. On the one hand, the vast informal settlements in the Cape Flats and Soweto, where hundreds of thousands of poor black South Africans live in shacks without basic services. On the other, the new £380-million Green Point stadium in Cape Town and £300-million refurbished Soccer City in Johannesburg, which have received huge subsidies thanks to rulers from both the white liberal-dominated Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress.

Cape Town’s contrast is especially galling given that an upgrade of the Newlands cricket field (in a white suburb) or of Athlone’s stadium (in a black neighbourhood) would have been far cheaper. The latter was rejected, according to a representative of the international football federation Fifa, because ‘a billion television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty on this scale.’

South Africa’s second-largest city, Durban, boasts the most memorable new sports facility (£275 million worth, overrun from an original £160 million budget), as well as the country’s highest-profile municipal sleaze and chutzpah. This exudes from a city manager, Mike Sutcliffe, who tried – but failed – to gentrify a century-old Indian/African market for Fifa’s sake, and who regularly bans nonviolent demonstrations.

Executives of Zurich-based Fifa, especially Fifa president Sepp Blatter, blithely ignore the havoc this extravaganza is creating. To illustrate, expensive imported German marquee tents apparently require erection by a German construction company. And Fifa gets sole occupation of Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium – including retail space and a controversial, oft-broken Sky Car up the iconic 108 meter high arch – for nearly a month, even on the 75 per cent of days soccer won’t be played, keeping the facility off-limits to visitors.

Recent national laws provide Blatter guarantees in terms of ‘ambush marketing’, logistical support, access control and protection for Fifa’s corporate partners (Adidas, Sony, Visa, Emirates, Coca Cola, Hyundai-Kia, McDonalds, local phone giants Telkom and MTN, First National Bank, Continental Tyres, Castrol, McDonalds, and Indian IT company Satyam). Only Fifa-endorsed items can be advertised within a one-kilometre radius of the stadium and along major roads. All profits go to Fifa, whose 2010 take is estimated at £2.2 billion.

Shunted off

Little will trickle down. Aside from ear-splitting vuvuzela plastic trumpets, the much-vaunted ‘African’ feel to the World Cup will be muted. Even the women who typically sell pap (corn meal) and vleis (inexpensive meat) just outside soccer stadiums will be shunted off at least a kilometre away. According to leading researcher Udesh Pillay of the South African Human Sciences Research Council, in 2005 one in three South Africans hoped to personally benefit from the World Cup, but this fell to one in five in 2009, and one in 100 today.

Danny Jordaan, CEO of the World Cup Local Organising Committee, predicted in 2005 that the games would be worth as much as £3.9 billion profit to South Africa, even after 2010-related infrastructure expenses. An estimated 400,000 people would visit the country and 160,000 jobs would be created. But current estimates have more than halved those figures. The hospitality industry is shattered after a third of rooms initially booked by Fifa’s Match agency were recently cancelled.

Benefits have shrunk but costs have soared. South Africa’s 2003 Bid Book estimate of between £100 million and £750 million rose in October 2006 to a final projected £900 million. Since then, escalations have been prolific, and now £3.6 billion is typically cited as the 2010 cost (above and beyond standard infrastructure maintenance and upgrading) – as against £1.2 billion in tourist income (an overestimate since many non-soccer tourists are staying away due to fears of overcrowding).

Some expenses, such as a new fast train from Johannesburg’s refurbished airport to the Sandton financial district, will receive partial payback from future customers, but many such projects were break-even at best without the momentary 2010 inflow. The Congress of South African Trade Unions argued in early 2009 that ‘the billions being spent on this prestige project for a rich minority of commuters should rather be spent on upgrading the existing public transport system, which is used by the poor majority.’

Mood of protest

The mood of poor and working people remains feisty, with several dozen protests each day according to police statistics, most over ‘service delivery’ shortcomings. A University of Cape Town research team reported in early 2010 that the underlying causes of discontent will continue long after the final goal. Principal among these are worsening urban poverty and rising income differentials (along both class and race lines) in what is already the most unequal major society in the world.

At least two political assassinations allegedly associated with 2010 profiteering have occurred in Mpumalanga Province’s host city, Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). More than a thousand pupils demonstrated against Mbombela stadium when schools displaced in the construction process were not rebuilt. Mpumalanga also witnessed a recent return of apparent xenophobia, which after the World Cup may well worsen, with desperately poor South Africans turning from attacks against municipal facilities to loot retail traders from Pakistan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Other World Cup-related protests have been held by informal traders in Durban and Cape Town; against Johannesburg officials by Soccer City neighbours in impoverished Riverlea township; against construction companies by workers; and against national officials by four towns’ activists attempting to relocate the provincial borders to shift their municipalities to a wealthier province. Just a month before the first ball was to be kicked in the tournament, strikes were threatened, raging or had just been settled over national electricity price increases, transport sector wages and municipal worker grievances.

Nor will the masses have much to cheer on the field, as the national soccer team, appropriately named Bafana Bafana (‘boys, boys’), has fallen in the global rankings from 81st to 90th this year. Global soccer apartheid means that the best African players are sucked up into European clubs with little opportunity to prepare for such events.

Trevor Phillips, former director of the South African Premier Soccer League, asks: ‘What the hell are we going to do with a 70,000-seater football stadium in Durban once the World Cup is over? Durban has two football teams, which attract crowds of only a few thousand. It would have been more sensible to have built smaller stadiums nearer the football-loving heartlands and used the surplus funds to have constructed training facilities in the townships.’

The local winners in the process are not footballers or even rugby teams that municipal officials fruitlessly hope will one day fill the white-elephant stadia. They are the large corporations and politically-connected black ‘tenderpreneurs’ (who win state tenders thanks to affirmative action, if linked to established white firms), especially in the construction sector.

This process reflects post-apartheid accumulation, according to Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former president Thabo: ‘Black economic empowerment was created by the ultra-wealthy white business community in this country, who were involved in mining and financing and other big business, as a method of countering a programme of nationalisation. It was a matter of co-option, to co-opt the African nationalist leaders by enriching them privately.’

But with all the problems thus created, co-option is not on the cards this year. As the hype fades and protests become more insistent, the local elites’ mistake in hosting these games will be glaring. Global business and the genuine joy associated with the world’s most loved sport are mutually incompatible.

Ashwin Desai recently edited The Race to Transform: sport in post-apartheid South Africa. Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself


1