World Cup Profiteers

On June 11, South Africans start partying like no time since liberation in April 1994, and of course it is a huge honor for our young democracy to host the most important sporting spectacle short of the Olympics.

All the ordinary people who have worked so hard in preparation deserve gratitude and support, especially the construction workers, cleaners, municipal staff, health-care givers and volunteers who will not receive due recognition.

But balancing psychological benefits against vast socio-economic and political costs is vital, for we will hear plenty about the latter from visitors who will see us at our best and worst. One of the world’s greatest sportswriters, Dave Zirin, called Durban’s new Moses Mabhida Stadium the most breathtaking he’d ever seen, but provided us a needed reality check: “This is a country where staggering wealth and poverty already stand side by side. The World Cup, far from helping this situation, is just putting a magnifying glass on every blemish of this post-apartheid nation.”

During June-July, our city’s activists are meant to be shocked and awed by “air sweeps by fighter jets, joint border patrols with neighbouring countries, police escorts for cruise ships and teams of security guards with ‘diplomat’ training”. The aim is to “prevent domestic extremism, strike action and service delivery protests”, the sleepy members of parliament were told.

How ridiculous can the government get? On Monday, trade union allies of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union had perfectly valid reasons to begin the biggest strike in SA history, as they described it, as do regular service-delivery demonstrators who are victimised by corrupt housing contractors or shack fires caused by denial of electricity.

To equate non-violent protest with “extremism” is old apartheid paranoia at its worst. According to South Durban Community Environmental Alliance leader Des D’Sa: “On Youth Day, June 16, Durban citizens will test this with a peaceful march to city hall. Sutcliffe’s order to kick fisher folk off beaches last Thursday, with arrests and police violence, is the last straw.”

Much of the blame for Durban’s commercialised democracy-free World Cup zone goes to the International Federation of Football Associations (Fifa), based in Zurich, especially Fifa president Sepp Blatter. To illustrate the stupidity, just a few dozen meters away from where poor people are now denied their source of fish and income, Fifa’s expensive imported (German) marquee tents apparently require erection by a German construction company. Little will trickle down. Aside from extremely loud plastic trumpets (‘vuvuzelas’), the much-vaunted ‘African’ feel to the World Cup will be muted, as women who typically sell ‘pap’ (cornmeal) and ‘vleis’ (meat) just outside stadiums will be shunted off at least a kilometer away. According to analyst Udesh Pillay of the 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 1 in 100 today and Fifa gets sole occupation of Mabhida Stadium, even on the 75 per cent of days that soccer won’t be played, keeping the facility off-limits to visitors.

Their anticipated profit from these games: more than $3 billion.

Fifa sponsorship is hazardous to this economy, as witnessed by ANC Member of Parliament (and KwaZulu-Natal businessman) Shiaan-Bin Huang’s import wizardry. Teenage workers at Shanghai Fashion Plastic Products and Gifts have been paid just $3 a day to manufacture Zakumi mascot dolls, which could easily have been produced in our region’s idle factories.

The local World Cup organizing chief, Danny Jordaan, predicted in 2005 that 400 000 people would visit. In reality, there will be half as many, and the hospitality industry’s market is glutted after a third of rooms booked by Fifa’s Match agency were cancelled. Benefits are down and costs are soaring. South Africa’s 2003 Bid Book estimate of between $150 million and $1.2 billion expenditure rose in October 2006 to a final projected $1.5 billion and now, with insane escalations, $5 billion.

From economic farce we slide into political tragedy. There have been at least two (and potentially more) assassinations of honest politicians who criticized World Cup contracts in Mpumalanga Province’s host city, Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). More than 1,000 pupils demonstrated against Mbombela Stadium when schools displaced in the construction process were not rebuilt.

We’ve seen other World Cup-related protests against Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town municipal officials by informal traders, against Johannesburg officials by Soccer City stadium neighbours in impoverished Riverlea township, against construction companies by workers, and against national bureaucrats by four towns’ activists, who are attempting to relocate provincial borders to shift their municipalities to a wealthier province.

Durban is a special case because of both the grandiose new stadium ($380 million worth, overrun from an original $220 million budget), and the country’s highest-profile chutzpah exuding from the bureaucracy and building contractors.

Sutcliffe has presided over a string of expensive management disasters: failed bus privatization due to cronyism; denial of Blue Flag status at the city’s otherwise excellent beaches due to high E.coli counts, followed by his angry retreat from the program; his foiled attempt to replace a century-old Indian market (Warwick Junction) with a shopping mall; unending public subsidies for elite-oriented megaprojects; a delusional new Trade Port nowhere near Africa’s largest harbour; disastrous water/sewerage breakdowns; and an economic development strategy reliant upon sports tourism in a coming era constrained by climate change and fast-rising air travel taxes, to mention just a few foibles.

But worst of all, as Zirin put it, “To see a country already dotted with perfectly usable stadiums spend approximately $3 billion on new facilities is to notice a squandering of resources that is unconscionable.”

The contradictions are evident when comparing Mabhida Stadium – built next to a fine rugby fixture which could have been upgraded quickly and cheaply – to the horrendous shacks in which hundreds of thousands reside within more than a hundred informal settlements across Durban. Last month, for example, Cato Crest township residents survived their fourth fire of 2010, with 200 shacks destroyed. Once again, a paraffin stove was to blame, because denial of affordable electricity to poor people is long-standing city policy.

Yet pathologically self-congratulatory officials don’t seem to give a damn.

Unless something is done, the world-scale embarrassments will pile up faster than goals against the local soccer team, Bafana Bafana, which fell in the global rankings from 81st in early 2010 to 90th today (they are in the Cup only because they are the host team). No wonder: global soccer apartheid means that the best African players are sucked up into European clubs with little opportunity to prepare for such events.

Asks Trevor Phillips, former director of the South African Premier Soccer League, “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 this World Cup will not be our soccer players nor even rugby teams, which municipal officials fruitlessly hope will one day fill the white-elephant stadiums, but instead, large corporations and politically connected black “tenderpreneurs”.

The tenderpreneurship strategy is profoundly corrupt, according to Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former president Thabo. “It was a matter of co-option, to co-opt the African nationalist leaders by enriching them privately,” he has said.

But because co-option of the politicized grassroots is not easy, once the soccer hype fades and protests become more insistent, local elites will realise their mistake in hosting these games in such a wasteful, arrogant manner. They will learn what we already know: this scale of profiteering by business and genuine joy associated with the world’s most loved sport are mutually incompatible.



One Response to World Cup Profiteers

  1. Pingback: Brazil Ousted From WC 2010 Cuh Dear! « Bajan Global Report

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