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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 June 2010

Soccer World Cup 2010: South Africa, 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 2010 World Cup.

Sheri and Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement, South Africa

The mega event, on which the entire world's media is focused, is 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 stunts such as '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, a panacea for all social and economic ills, create jobs and help South Africa (SA) escape the effects of the global recession and kick start economic recovery!

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, pro-duced by the increasingly desperate efforts of the political elite around the African National Congress (ANC) leadership to rapidly become a rich black capitalist class and to impress Western and white capital, which still overwhelmingly dominates 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. Back in April, the ruling ANC had to ask the World Bank for a $3.75 billion loan to secure the country's faltering electricity supply.

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.

Serving the elite

Only a handful of clubs, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic attract decent sized crowds. As with every other of the government's allegedly economic and social development programmes, the main motivation for the 2010 World Cup is to provide the elite with 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 (Black Economic Empowerment) 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; its 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.

Massive profits

The almost R800 billion (£710 million) that was 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 of the World Cup revenue generated in South Africa is siphoned off in returns on investment by FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) 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 a 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).

The majority of workers in the industry are not unionised and are employed on so-called limited duration contracts. There have been 26 strikes on World Cup sites of which 20 were 'wildcat' 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. The government had claimed the World Cup would bring 415,000.

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 €1 billion - 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 (South African Football Association) were forced do so from 15 April.

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.

Class divide

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 workers in 2009 alone lost their jobs as a result of the recession taking the total to between six million and eight 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 R787 billion for all 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.

The country is being drowned in a deluge of patriotism in an attempt to numb working people's 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 its 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 it reveals the connection 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 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. Then it's all-out war for the presidency of SAFA and the billions that will fill the pockets of the winner.

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 sport 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.

Protests

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 by taxi associations whose livelihoods are threatened by the new bus transport system in the major cities and by other workers too, 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' by demanding decent wage 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, (Cosatu) 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 FIFA and Sepp Blatter, 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 go into a higher 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 massive frustration and resentment over the continued lack of services.

Ongoing protests include the townships near Balfour in Mpumalanga province where protests first broke out in May last year shortly after Jacob Zuma's presidential inauguration, and which led to the dismissal of the entire local council mayoral team after a visit by Zuma.

When the president returned there two weeks ago he was booed by the crowd who pointed out that nothing had come of his promises to improve 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.


Bafana Bafana - little to inspire

The national team, Bafana Bafana, is now 83 in FIFA's world rankings 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 its friendly match in Germany with Bafana, 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.


Protests and demos ban

In late May, police issued directives to municipalities to ban all protests and demonstrations by trade unions and other campaigns until after the World Cup was over on 15 July 2010. Police minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement to parliament that air sweeps by fighter jets, joint border patrols with neighbouring countries, police escorts for cruise ships and team security guards with 'diplomat' training were aimed at preventing "domestic extremism, strike action and service delivery protests". This ban has been openly defied by workers and working class communities.

The government has now been forced to retreat in the face of threatened legal action over the ban during the World Cup. An Education for All demonstration will continue as will the Anti-Privatisation Forum march on 13 June, preceded by pickets at FIFA and SAFA offices from 7 to 10 June.


Stadiums and toilets

Probably the most grotesque example of the government's attitude to the World Cup is the fact that Cape Town could afford to build the country's most expensive stadium, at a cost of R24.5 billion, (which mayor Helen Zille boasts is 'the most beautiful stadium in the world'), and yet could only afford to build open air toilets for residents of the black township of Gugulethu!

The city council pleaded poverty - saying that providing enclosures would have meant building only one toilet for every five families. But with open air toilets, every family could have one!

Residents have been protesting despite the police minister's extravagant threats. 23 residents were arrested last week and those released have vowed to continue protesting until they are provided with decent toilets.

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