South Africa wins the World Cup … of inequality

Let them eat cake – the ugly backdrop to the beautiful game

Nothing symbolises more graphically the ugliness that forms the backdrop to the beautiful game than all the scandals, corruption and greed surrounding the mega event on which the entire world’s media is focused – the 2010 World Cup. The first to be held on the African continent, it is being presented as an opportunity to contribute to the development of sport and the economy. Through amongst others, “football Fridays” (when the national anthem should be sung by all and the national football jersey worn), and the special “diski” World Cup dance, it will brighten up the fading colours of the “Rainbow Nation”, boost “nation building”, provide redress for historical injustices, create jobs and help SA escape the effects of the global recession and kickstart economic recovery – a panacea for all social and economic ills.

However, even before a ball is kicked, SA has already beaten Brazil, winning the World Cup of inequality – the only cup it will win. The World Cup has sharpened the already acute contradictions produced by the increasingly desperate efforts of the political elite around the ANC leadership to rapidly become a rich black capitalist class and to impress Western and white capital which still overwhelmingly dominate the economy. Investment in vanity projects like the World Cup during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s depression adds insult to the injuries the working class is suffering. In fact, the expenditure will worsen prospects of economic recovery because of increased state debt and the displacement of expenditure on more socially and economically useful projects.

Even the promises made during the bid for the World Cup to use a sport historically supported by the black working class to leave a development legacy, lie as empty as the stadiums will be once the event is over. Only a handful of clubs, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic attract decent crowds. As with every other of the government’s alleged economic and social development programmes, the main motivation for the 2010 World Cup is to provide the elite opportunities for self-enrichment. Everything to do with soccer has attached to it a ‘for sale’ sign.

The Mbombela stadium in Mpumalanga, widely seen as the most corrupt province in the country, was built on land acquired by a BEE consortium from a community for a couple of rands and unfulfilled promises of investment. Consumed by the insatiable ambitions of “tenderpreneurs”, conflicts over tenders have brought ANC factions into bloody conflict with each other. Several leading politicians named on hit lists have been assassinated. The Mpumalanga ANC is split; the premier a target for removal but supported by powerful allies including the presidents of the ANC and ANC Youth League, Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, respectively.


The almost R800 billion set aside for infrastructure development in roads, airports, highways and stadiums, is many times the amount spent on the World Cups by Korea and Japan (2002) or Germany (2006). Despite the then economic boom, return on investment for those countries has been, at best, negligible. The climate is much less favourable for SA currently. The total cost of SA’s hosting the World Cup is unclear. Present estimates are 757% above the original guesstimates! Apart from the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems being introduced, World Cup expenditure displaces investment in projects with more meaningful and long-term benefits such as health and education. For example, World Cup-related infrastructure expenditure equals ten years of housing investment. Only 7% of SA’s schools have functioning libraries. Yet for every seven seats in the new stadia a fully equipped school library could have been built. Much revenue generated in South Africa is siphoned off in returns on investment by FIFA and other overseas investors.

The main beneficiaries of local investment in infrastructure and stadiums have been the construction industry bosses. Between 2005 and 2006 their pre-tax profits sky-rocketed 56%. Company executive pay rose on average by 39%, the highest in all economic sectors. Profits of a top earner such as Group 5 rose by 73% and those of their Black Economic Empowerment partners by 21.6%. Murray and Roberts’ CEO’s remuneration rose 40% to R7.4 million/year.

Construction workers, on the other hand, officially earn between R1 144 and R4 576 per month. In reality many workers are paid far less – down to R5,50 per hour (half the minimum rate) (SA Labour Bulletin, Vol. 32, nr. 1). The majority of workers in the industry are not unionised and are employed on so-called limited duration contracts (LDCs). There have been 26 strikes on World Cup sites of which 20 were wild cat strikes. The strikes were complicated by the fact that the companies involved have BEE partners with prominent political profiles. These individuals could use their influence with union bosses to settle disputes without undue pressure on their lucrative profit margins. The short term nature of the jobs has done little for the training and skills development promised. At most 50 000 temporary jobs are likely to have been created once the World Cup; government had claimed it would bring 415 000.

FIFA will be laughing

FIFA will be laughing all the way to the bank with an expected €1.2 billion in media rights alone. Earnings for 2010 have already exceeded €1billion – a first despite growing concerns that ticket sales will fall well below target. Having been stubbornly indifferent to pleas to open ticket centres for over-the-counter sales, to make them accessible to the majority of SA supporters, FIFA and SAFA have been forced do so from April 15.

The irony is not lost on those protesting on the streets and the more than 2.8 million youth aged between 18 and 24 years who are neither working nor in any kind of education and training. Working class people are asking why the government has succeeded in completing the building of brand new stadiums in record time when they still don’t have decent houses; why they have embarked on a massive highway improvement scheme when there is such rampant poverty. 900 000 in 2009 alone lost their jobs as a result of the recession taking the total to between 6 and 8 million jobless (35%). The government pleads financial constraints when it comes to delivery of basic services, houses, access to health and education. Yet it has found R30 billion to build stadiums and a further R757 billion for infrastructure development. Failing to address the crisis of homelessness, local government has instead embarked on quick “fixes” to hide street kids and other unwanted people (see accompanying articles).

The country is being drowned in a deluge of patriotism to numb working peoples’ sensibilities towards the harsh class realities at work in the most popular working class sport in the world. Whilst the tiny elite of BEE tycoons and white capital make fabulous profits from World Cup contracts, the working class is being asked to accept their lot – poor wages, mass unemployment, poor service delivery and deepening poverty – for the good of the country as patriotic South Africans. Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson said, is the last refuge of scoundrels.

That president Zuma has fathered a child with the daughter of soccer boss Irvin Khoza not only shines a light on Zuma’s moral and cultural hypocrisy, but for what it reveals of the intercourse between the ANC political elite and the soccer mafia to promote their mutual interests. The greed, corruption and naked self interest that lie at the root of the divisions threatening to tear the ANC apart are mirrored in the SA Football Association (SAFA) without the fig leaf of political pretensions.

Rivalry between the warring factions – led respectively by the Local Organising Committee’s Danny Jordaan and the Professional Soccer League’s Irvin Khoza – deteriorated to such an extent that it threatened preparation for the World Cup itself as both parties insisted on holding elections to the SAFA presidency before the event. The truce negotiated by Sepp Blatter and Zuma will hold until after the World Cup, when the all-out war for the presidency of SAFA and the billions that will fill the pockets of the winner will resume. So consumed by the opportunities for self-enrichment, is the SAFA bureaucracy – widely regarded as incompetent and corrupt – that they disregarded all advice to pour the billions that make SA football the richest on the African continent, into development. What could have been an opportunity to develop young soccer talent and more generally to let the World Cup leave a legacy of health, fitness and a sporting culture, has been subordinated to greed, the pursuit of power and prestige.

Bafana Bafana

The national team, Bafana Bafana, is now ranked in the lowly 80s having dropped like a stone from the heady days of the 1996 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) victory. The indignity of Bafana Bafana failing to qualify for the January 2010 African Cup of Nations in neighbouring Angola, meant the national team was deprived of playing against the type of tough opposition they can expect in the World Cup. Bafana are not expected to progress beyond the preliminary rounds. The team’s preparations have been an absolute shambles. Emergency training camps in Brazil and Germany saw them playing against lower league and reserve teams. China cancelled the friendly match in Germany citing travel difficulties because of volcanic ash. In the end SA had to settle for matches against North Korea and Jamaica. After all these failed efforts to give Bafana Bafana at least the semblance of a football team worthy of the name, the team is left to rely on home support for inspiration to progress.


Marx said famously that religion is the opium of the masses. The same can be said of sport today. But as with all drugs, the effects of opium wear off. The ruling elite are using the World Cup like the emperors of the Roman empire, who tried to distract the attention of the masses from their miserable lives with “bread and circuses”. But there could be protests during the event by township residents demanding basic services and taxi associations whose livelihoods are threatened by the new bus transport system in the major cities and by other workers as the World Cup coincides with the annual wage negotiations season. Whatever the outlook of union leaders, workers will not be blackmailed by accusations that they are unpatriotic for demanding decent increases. Street traders have already organised several protests against their forced removal from stadium precincts and even roads leading to them for the duration of the games. Even the Congress of SA Trade Unions, hitherto loyal choristers in the desperate attempt to whip up a phony SA patriotism, going so far as to call upon workers to fill the stadiums during the Federations Cup “dress rehearsal” to “avoid embarrassing the country”, have had to protest against the draconian actions of local government against small traders. Cosatu was also forced to protest against the production of the World Cup mascot in Chinese sweatshops and the virtual colonisation of the country during the World Cup by Sepp Blatter and FIFA, whose salary is protected from scrutiny by Swiss banking secrecy laws. After the distraction of the World Cup, the intensity of the class struggle will kick up a gear.

Service delivery protests reached the highest level since 1994 in the first three months of this year and have spread to almost every part of the country, most intensely across Gauteng and Mpumalanga townships. Youth are leading residents in burning tyres, blockading roads and destroying government facilities in scenes reminiscent of the anti-apartheid struggle; expressing the massive frustration and resentment over the continued lack of services.

The ANC government is aping the insolence and contempt for the masses displayed by French queen Marie Antoinette whose infamous response to their demands for bread was to say ‘Let them eat cake!’ In response to the demand for houses and basic services, the government appears to be saying ‘let them have stadiums!’ It is time for a real alternative that will prioritise the interests of workers and youth and not those of the bosses.

“No marches in 2010”

Unofficial directives from government departments and the Metro Police not to allow any street protests in the run-up to the World Cup have become obvious to social movement activists.

  • As the Motsoaledi Concerned Residents we tried to get a permit to march in January, but the municipality kept telling us that because of “2010” and the fixing of the roads for the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), we cannot march, says Lucky Ngobeni from the MCR.
  • It was the same for the Orlando youth group I’m involved with. Then when we had no choice but to embark on a protest without a permit, the police shot us with rubber bullets without any provocation from the community.

The Metal and Electrical Workers’ Union (MEWUSA) had been trying to organise a march of Rustenburg mineworkers since November, 2009. The Rustenburg Metro Police kept on coming with excuses, until the workers and their community finally went ahead with a march anyway in early February, which however had to be terminated prematurely, as heavily armed police ordered the workers to disperse. When the workers attempted to move forward with a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, getting a permit was a nightmare:

  • No one ever picks up the phone when we call the Metro Police, said a frustrated administrator. They have even removed the contact details for applications from their website.

It was only after the NGO Equal Education took the government to court for its ban on marches at the Union Buildings, that the Rustenburg miners could go ahead with the march (see article on page 5). Equal Education exposed in court that the Presidency’s Director General Vusi Mavimbela had in November 2009 issued a directive that “all marches to the Union Buildings and the Presidency [will] be suspended until further notice” (Mail and Guardian, 10/03/17). Such a ban is illegal, but clearly just the tip of an iceberg as other departments or the police themselves have not yet been exposed for doing the same. In other words, in a time when police are ordered to “shoot to kill”, public protests are criminalised. Anticipating the World Cup, the police has spent R665 million on 10 water cannons, 100 BMWs and 40 helicopters, in addition to millions on +/-50 000 extra police officers.

Out of reach

The recent PR-afterthought to hand out free tickets to all workers involved in the stadia construction does not take away the reality that taking part in this event is just a pipe dream to most South Africans. The majority of the workers who built the billion-rand new stadia would have to save several days of earnings just to be able to buy the cheapest possible ticket to a group stage game (R140). For the finals, a place on one of the best of the seats they built would cost the lowest-paid workers up to 7 months saved-up pay (a team-specific-ticket for the final costs R19 096). Millions of South Africans do not even have electricity to be able to watch games on TV.

Cleaning away street kids and homeless

Across South Africa, city authorities are busy with various so called “clean-up” efforts ahead of the Soccer World Cup. In the City of Johannesburg this entails removing 15 000 homeless people from the streets into temporary shelters out of town so that “we can be up there with the rest of the world” (City spokesperson Virgil James, Saturday Star 10/02/06). In Durban, street children are rounded up by Metro Police on a daily basis and dropped far outside the city; sometimes at “safe houses” or with relatives, sometimes just on the roadside. At the safe houses and shelters the children are kept with homeless adults, and very vulnerable to abuse according to NGOs involved. Most immediately find their way back to town. The trauma of the often brutal, repeated arrests leaves the kids increasingly vulnerable to coping mechanisms involving drugs etc, and disrupts rehabilitation programmes run by NGOs, such as uMthombo which is teaching Durban street kids to surf. (Mail and Guardian, 10/01/22)

Concentration camps for the poor

The City of Cape Town is evicting poor people around the city from their homes, rounding people up in Blikkiesdorp; what the City calls a “Temporary Relocation Area” made up of 1 300 3x6m tin shacks in the sand. People staying in informal settlements, hostels, squatting in abandoned buildings, and in the latest development, refugees of the 2008 xenophobic pogroms, are being dumped here. Many were forced to Blikkiesdorp as a direct result of staying too close to World Cup sites, such as the Athlone stadium which will be used as a training ground. The City’s claims that the forced removals to Blikkiesdorp has nothing to do with the World Cup ring hollow as many others waiting for houses have been sidelined, brewing conflict. Blikkiesdorp is but one of countless examples of forced removals of shack dwellers across the country as it is airbrushed to according to FIFA’s detailed instructions.

World class victimisation

Street traders have been targeted not only at, around and along the routes to soccer stadiums, but the FIFA-imposed by-laws also outlaw what they label “ambush marketing” – any vending other than by FIFA’s corporate sponsors (e.g. McDonald’s, Coke, Budweiser) along most busy major roads, and virtually all public spaces where tourists can be expected. FIFA has their own para-police force to enforce these rules. Street traders have always been harassed through brutal evictions and confiscation of goods, but across the host cities, the authorities have stepped up the attacks markedly in the past year and months. Vendors at Johannesburg’s Park Station were brutally evicted on Human Rights Day. Vending at Cape Town’s Grand Parade has been prohibited already from May 1. Street traders are overwhelmingly black African women who support many dependants with their earnings.

Women for Sale

The World Cup “clean-ups” have also meant more police harassment of sex workers. In times of recession, many had hoped for boosted incomes during the World Cup. Instead, more policing of the streets means more bribes to police officers, more arrests and more abuse and rape in the police cells. Hopes had been raised partially by the possible decriminalisation of prostitution following a review by the South African Law Reform Commission which was released last year, suggesting that prostitution may be partially or totally legalised, and regulated. If the government goes ahead with such changes, it will not be before 2011, however. While sex workers naturally hope that decriminalisation and regulation by the government rather than organised crime will relieve them of constant police harassment and stigma, and any such relief must be supported, the implications of such law changes for women’s status and gender and class relations in general must be carefully examined also by socialists, trade unions and social movements broadly. There is a risk that government regulation, which was introduced in Germany ahead of its 2006 Soccer World Cup, legitimises the attachment of “for sale”-tags to women’s bodies in general, while decriminalisation does not automatically remove social stigma and lower levels of police harassment still leaves other problems, such as drug dependency and gender based violence, unresolved.

Human trafficking, present-day slave trade, is an integral part of the prostitution industry. Women and children from rural areas in SA, other Southern African countries and Asia are recruited, often on false pretenses, or abducted and forced to work, most commonly selling sex. In response to the possibility of increased trafficking activity linked to World Cup-tourism, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe now claims that the law criminalising human trafficking, the drafting of which has been dragging since 2003, is to be “fast-tracked” ahead of the June kick-off.

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May 2010