THE next four years are going to be tough for those who have no affection for football or tolerance for the vuvuzela. With the latest round of the world head-butting, diving, and feigning injury championships having culminated in Berlin a month ago, South Africa is gearing up for World Cup 2010. There is scarcely a government or commercial pronouncement that fails to remind us of this.

What has become very clear is that unreserved commitment to this event is going to be used as a new yardstick for patriotism. A Cape Town resident who set up a Website to demonstrate the murder rate in South Africa as a warning to potential visitors was met by a stream of abuse. Even worse was the call from a Western Cape official to loyal citizens to hack into the site and close it down. This is incitement to commit a crime, but such disgraceful behaviour has gone unpunished and is indicative of the road ahead.

The decision to hold the 2010 finals in Africa was pre-ordained and it is necessary to remember that South Africa took less than 60% of the votes in the final round against Morocco, hardly a massive vote of confidence. Another point worth consideration is that the finals do not belong to South Africa, but to FIFA who are effectively leasing our country as a stage upon which to promote a product. Local entrepreneurs are already worried about paying exorbitant licensing fees to FIFA that will price them out of the market. The main beneficiaries will be FIFA itself (over R15 billion from the recent finals), multi-national corporate sponsors, and over-paid professional players. The extent to which South Africans will benefit remains open to question, although it is palpably obvious that the political and business elite is already getting excited about the international limelight shining in their direction.

It is a serious indicator of the state of mind of the South African nation that virtually every development over the rest of the decade has to be related to and justified by a football tournament. South Africa has major infrastructural deficiencies that threaten economic development. But there is no evidence of a national determination to address this situation on the scale that is being extended to football. Some of the current discussion suggests that World Cup visitors might be cocooned in a crime-free, transport-safe, electricity-surplus space that will ensure that nothing untoward happens to them. Meanwhile citizens will continue to die in road accidents, robberies and hijackings that make South Africa the scene for the equivalent of a major war. The number of South Africans who die violent, unnatural deaths each year are sufficient to fill a small town, but our planning and development priorities centre on a sports tournament. Taxi regulation and recapitalisation, a project vital to national well-being, has been on the books for ten years but has been shown none of the respect and commitment that is granted to football. Such is the contempt in which the citizenry is held by the powerful.

Vague references are made to the economic benefits of the 2010 World Cup, but no solid detail has been provided apart from the fact that South Africa will have ten modern and very expensive sports stadia. Various figures with the enticing word billion attached to them are periodically released to the media, but no-one cares to explain exactly what this will mean for ordinary South Africans. The Gautrain was originally marketed as an asset to the tournament, but it is now clear that it is irrelevant to it and of debatable long-term relevance to the region. Nor is there any explanation how the advantages enjoyed by fleeting visitors are to be preserved and extended to South Africans as a whole in that never-never land of the second decade of the twenty-first century after the big party is over.

A spokesperson for Danny Jordaan of the local organising committee has promised an ‘authentic local experience’. This begs many questions. To what extent will the legitimate informal sector, from which millions of South Africans derive a subsistence living, benefit from the World Cup? Will the local textile industry, which has shed 200 000 jobs over five years, enjoy a revival or will it be another bonanza for the Chinese thanks to globalisation? How permanent will the predicted new 160 000 jobs turn out to be? And if the R20 billion injection to the gross domestic product turns out to be accurate, how will the benefits be spread?

Some of the pronouncements made as the German tournament came to an end make worrying and sometimes risible reading. Asked about ticket prices, President Thabo Mbeki responded by expressing his surprise at the numbers of South Africans in Germany: ‘they will have the money in 2010,’ he said. A spokesperson for SABC Sport made the extraordinarily reckless statement that ‘nothing will go wrong.’ Closer to home, the Durban metro manager promised that ‘world-class organisation’ will be evident. His municipal police cannot, allegedly, even account for the contents of their own armoury.

The most important aspect of the World Cup is that the people of South Africa need to continue to ask awkward questions and demand informative answers, rejecting the easy response that they are indulging in negative news. We have a disturbing tradition of branding those who ask searching questions unpatriotic. The next four years will be a good opportunity for South Africans to exercise their democratic rights free of this creeping form of censorship.

This article was first published in The Witness on 8 August 2006 and entitled ‘Keeping the countdown to 2010 in perspective’.

PEOPLE need circuses as well as bread. One of the biggest, the FIFA World Cup, is coming to South Africa in less than three years’ time as specially-erected clocks at the country’s airports remind us. There will undoubtedly be a massive party on a scale never before experienced in South Africa. But what about the bread?

The problem with international sporting events on this scale (the Olympic Games is the other main example) is that they provide short-term political theatre divorced from everyday experience. They are enjoyable distractions; but do they contribute to national well-being in the long-term way their backers claim? In First World countries this may not be so serious: their taxpayers can afford to pay for the occasional circus. But in places such as South Africa, with levels of poverty and deprivation so severe and service delivery so poor that some communities are in open revolt, it is a question that needs asking.

The saga of the Cape Town stadium already provides a few clues. The original choice was to upgrade Newlands, a perfectly adequate venue with proven all-round capacity. This was rejected by the ANC in favour of Athlone, using the perfectly valid argument that this is where many of the city’s football supporters live and a posh new stadium would be good for a depressed area. Then the well-heeled heavies of FIFA arrived in Cape Town. They were disarmingly honest: there was no way sub-economic Cape Flats housing was going to sully their carefully massaged shots of the World Cup.

They wanted a marketable backdrop for their pictures, something iconically easy for the banal minds of the commentators; Table Mountain, for instance. So that is why a golf course in the already well-developed suburb of Green Point is being dug up to accommodate a football stadium far away from its natural constituency. Most political groups in Cape Town have bowed to the inevitable, and to a plan that involved no meaningful feasibility studies or real consultation. Danny Jordaan’s local organising committee might re-label itself His Master’s Voice were it not for trademark law. This is the way it is going to be, a foretaste of things to come. It will not be a South African event, but a big kowtow to global capital and media. South Africa is the stage and the best most of its inhabitants can hope for is a part-time job shifting the scenery.

Putting aside the morality of a budget of R18 billion for an entertainment event, it is instructive to see who is benefiting so far. The answer is the corporate giants of the construction industry – Murray & Roberts, WBHO and Group Five, for instance – with their smattering of fat cat affirmative action directors and imported consultants. From their point of view and that of their pockets, the more grandiose the plans the better. Whether or not medium, small and micro enterprises will get a slice of the cake as subcontractors remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. The prices of concrete and steel, already in short supply, are driving up construction costs. These are now escalating at 1.4% per month and the price of decent housing, already beyond the means of most ordinary South Africans including the middle class, is going up in tandem.

We are allowing ourselves to become part of a massive marketing exercise on behalf of an unaccountable international body that has the political clout of a major sovereign state. Furthermore, its critics have shown evidence of corruption and authoritarianism in its governance. FIFA is simply one of the entertainment subsidiaries of the economic and cultural globalisation that threatens so much of what we value in terms of individual choice and local autonomy.

So where is the South African Communist Party when rampant capitalism is derisively waving two rude fingers at it in its very own backyard? The answer is that in this case it is terrified of criticising for fear of alienating its football-mad supporters who are no more capable of Marxist analysis than playing Mozart on a vuvuzela. The SACP lacks the guts to state the truth that FIFA makes relatively few people very rich and comfortable at the expense of the working class, while charging the latter exorbitant prices for its major entertainment. To its credit, COSATU has objected to the fact that FIFA is instructing South Africa how to plan and develop.

The truth of the matter is that the 2010 World Cup is riding on the crest of a wave of emotion rather than the hard socio-economic and political analysis that South Africa needs and deserves. It is like so many of the projects that clutter our national life, buoyed by speculation and rhetoric rather than sober investigation. Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, has as usual done his bit, demanding fiscal prudence and pointing out that he has a country, not a carnival, to run. But his insistence simply means that the price will be paid at provincial and municipal levels.

The crucial question is not what happens in 2010, but its legacy ten years later; and whether the real costs, including the sidelining of more urgent projects like land reform and housing, are proportionate to the long-term benefit. It is a question that in some circles is considered unpatriotic. It is almost certain to remain unanswered.

This article was first published in The Witness on 11 September 2007 and entitled ‘Ugly truths of the 2010 World Cup’.

FOOTBALL is often described as the beautiful game. Indeed, it is. As Michael Worsnip pointed out (The Witness, 11 June 2009), football on the local recreation ground reduces the possibility that young people will be tempted into crime. And of course South Africa will host a successful FIFA World Cup in 2010 – if it tries hard enough. All of this is obvious. But what is crucially missing from public debate are a number of awkward political, economic and social questions.

All international sports federations, including the Olympic movement, are now a significant component of globalisation. Run by over-paid bureaucrats accountable to no one, they oversee minor empires – as large as the economies of small countries – that sell sport as a commodity. It is all a far remove from the neighbourhood park. What is needed by this new form of colonialism is an acceptable level of infrastructure and a scenic backdrop, and that’s why South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup. Big businessmen will make a killing, politicians will have a platform on which to promote themselves, and scores of already grotesquely rich footballers will have the opportunity to maximise their income.

South Africa is just a stage for this extravaganza. Its citizens are told that it will create jobs and lay the foundations of a booming tourist industry. Yes, it has helped the construction industry at a difficult time – stadia and hotels have mushroomed. But there is something obscene about Durban’s new stadium. Named after one of the province’s most famous communists, it overlooks some of the world’s fastest growing slums. Why should their residents buy the argument that Moses Mabhida stadium is a better investment than houses, street lights and sanitation? In the rhetoric of the African National Congress this is a developmental state. Why are its resources not more effectively directed at improving the condition of the very poor; rather than offered on bended knee to the czars of international football?

The crucial year is not 2010, about which South Africans have been badgered endlessly; but 2011. After the 2004 Olympics Athens was left with crumbling, redundant facilities. We shall have white elephant football stadia to whose future viability little thought has been given. South Africans are football mad, but they generally avoid club matches in massive numbers. The signs are that rugby will be coerced into using the new stadia against their wishes. The construction of Cape Town’s Green Point stadium was a colossal waste. Newlands could have been renovated, or a modest stadium built for the people of the Cape Flats. But a better view of Table Mountain was required by FIFA. People like Sepp Blatter have set an agenda for South Africa to their own ends; then after 2010 they will move on elsewhere, leaving a raft of unresolved problems.

Is tourism the future for South Africa? Globalisation destroyed the textile and footwear industries that provided lifetimes of work and brought stability to many communities. Now it gives back sightseers and tourism, a notoriously fragile industry. The fans who come to South Africa may well have a safe and secure trip. But this will require a new version of apartheid. South Africa is a place of violent and premature death: murder and road fatalities account for up to 30 000 fatalities, the population of a small town, every year. Visitors will need to stay away, or be protected, from the real South Africa.

Unprecedented resources will be thrown at shielding visitors, in effect altering the social geography of South Africa, and the rest of us will be more vulnerable than ever. Hopefully it will work out successfully. But this will raise a further crucial question: why can we not make a similar go of the Department of Home Affairs, South African Airways, the Land Bank, Eskom and hospitals? Or are they condoned failures, their dysfunctionality part of political infighting and a culture of plunder?

In effect the World Cup marks the nationalisation of football: it is rapidly becoming the sports department of the ANC, an internationally sanctioned method of distracting attention from serious national shortcomings. Once the party is over, rugby will be put in its subordinate place, a not unwarranted fate: such was after all suffered by African football in the apartheid years. In the meantime, any questioning or criticism of the holy event – sport in some form or other has long been South Africa’s real religion – will be labelled unpatriotic.

But this is politics, not sport; and it’s imperative to keep on probing and asking questions. The very worst outcome would be an imposed national consensus that the World Cup is beyond criticism. And that is a very real danger.

This article was first published in The Witness on 30 June 2009 and entitled ‘What will happen after the Soccer World Cup is over?’

JUST a year ago South Africa was at the end of a month of euphoria, otherwise known as the FIFA World Cup. Flags and mirror socks in the national colours were not quite so evident after Bafana Bafana’s unfortunate early exit and the vuvuzelas were a trifle muted, but the national mood was upbeat.

The long lead-up to the World Cup had involved minimal critical comment or serious analysis. Hype trumped reason, and dissent from the prevailing rhetoric and propaganda was deemed highly unpatriotic. As soon as the event was over, media coverage shifted to legacy and justification for the massive resources expended. The extent of these is a matter of opinion, but the total cost to South Africa was probably R100 billion, a third of it spent directly on infrastructure, an expensive stage for FIFA’s entertainment ambitions. It was often touted as a creator of employment, but the net loss for the half year before the World Cup started was a massive 232 000 jobs, albeit at the tail end of global financial collapse. By comparison FIFA coined $4.2 billion in tax-free revenue, 59% up on 2006 and an enormous surplus of $1.28 billion. Yet recently it has been announced that South Africa cannot afford R40 billion to achieve its land reform target, a crucial factor in national socio-economic stability.

A very tangible legacy is an oversupply of football stadia, white elephants built and now maintained with taxpayers’ money. Polokwane Municipality pays R17 million of the R23 million annual upkeep of the Peter Mokaba Stadium. Bizarrely, teams like Kaizer Chiefs charge up to R50 000 plus transport in appearance fees at such stadia. The buying of games has become increasingly competitive and spectator buses are also subsidised.

Among the new stadia only Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) has a permanent tenant. Green Point Stadium (costing R4.4 billion) and Moses Mabhida (R3.4 billion) were vanity projects and neither has a regular occupant. Both are distant from football-supporting communities and have famous nearby rugby venues whose users show no signs of relocating. Green Point costs R46.5 million per annum to maintain. A more modest facility built in Athlone could now be justifying itself. No one seems to have noticed that South African football has been partially nationalised: perhaps someone should call Julius Malema and give him the good news.

As letters to this newspaper have recently suggested, the administration of football at local level has gained little or nothing from the World Cup, especially in the area of inclusivity. Nor is there any evidence that the game is better supported or is contributing to nation building. This no surprise: such development must be rooted in communities and will not emerge out of an imported circus driven by commercial imperatives.

A year on and, unsurprisingly, the World Cup has left a remarkably light footprint. The heavy hand of Sepp Blatter and his officials, which undermined national sovereignty in some areas, was quickly removed and South Africa reverted to normal, its strengths and weaknesses largely unaffected. It was a remarkably expensive party that perhaps went some way to counter Afro-pessimism. But if it did promote rainbow nationalism, Jimmy Manyi and Malema quickly destroyed it with their racially loaded invective. And few lessons about administration and organisational efficiency were learnt given the ongoing shambles in education, health and other key government sectors such as immigration control.

Mega events rarely benefit the host nation in a tangible fashion and generally leave a trail of local debt. Discredited trickle-down theories of economic benefit have proved laughably wayward, although the tourist industry has no doubt gained from international exposure and improved transport facilities, particularly airports. The poor of South Africa can look back and ask what all the fuss was about and why they are still living in shocking conditions with a housing backlog of over two million units. The World Cup was a hangover of Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance thinking, hardly part of Jacob Zuma’s developmental state.

The FIFA family, as Blatter loves to call it, was the big winner. The game of football most certainly was not. The tournament produced little that was memorable and recent revelations about corruption have shown FIFA to be rotten to the core. It sucked South Africa further into the system of globalisation that effectively replicates colonial economic relations and has reduced sport to a commodity marketed by transnational corporations. There is, however, one glimmer of hope from the experience: the government had the sense to veto the expenditure of at least R300 million on a South African bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.

This article was first published in The Witness on 8 July 2011 and entitled ‘A painful hangover.

FURTHER READING: South Africa’s World Cup: A Legacy For Whom? edited by Eddie Cottle (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2011); U. Pillay, Richard Tomlinson and Orli Bass, Development and Dreams: The Urban Legacy of the 2010 Football World Cup (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2009).