2010: Football and Flamethrowers

26 05 2009

By David Mainiero
May 17, 2009 04:40 PM
Source: The Dartmouth Independent

Ask most South African expatriates why they left and you’ll likely hear some unbelievable stories. Two of my South African friends recounted memories that dealt with anti-carjacking equipment, which ranged from automatic weapons in glove compartments to flame-throwing devices attached to undercarriages.
Amidst abounding prognostications that chaos in South Africa is jeopardizing its ability to successfully host the 2010 World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has insistently avowed, “Plan A, Plan B, [and] Plan C is that the 2010 World Cup will be in South Africa.” But it’s hard not to wonder whether the racially beleaguered country has the ability to handle the arrival of millions of rowdy fans from diverse backgrounds.

As of April 27, 2009, otherwise known as Freedom Day, South Africa has experienced 15 years of non-racial elections and has ostensibly freed itself from the shackles of apartheid. But the rapidly accruing victories of the African National Congress (the governing party) have been spoiled by persistent policy failure and, more importantly, by the legacy of racially imbued capitalist exploitation fashioned over a century ago. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s talk of a “Rainbow Nation” is simply a farce that shrouds the realities of a system still strictly divided between black and white. Even the ruling elite within the ANC acknowledge the existence of an economic divide along racial lines, with former president Thabo Mbeki diagnosing rampant income inequality as a symptom of the country’s “dual economy” in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Although South Africa’s economy accounts for 45 percent of aggregate sub-Saharan GDP and ranks 25th in terms of world GDP (PPP), 61 percent of the population, mostly blacks, lives on less than two dollars per day. The steroid injection (an estimated R21.3 billion) that the World Cup represents to the South African economy, if disseminated as all international investments have been under ANC direction, might pad the country’s GDP, but at the expense of the poor majority.

Wealth is “trickling up” rather than “trickling down” in South Africa, much to the dismay of those who blindly advocate the universal application of Western models of development. The poorest 27 million live either in rural areas or “squatter cities” that are geographically proximate to, yet economically distant from, the country’s major centers of wealth.

Since the ANC gained control of the government, the average South African household has experienced a 19-percent income drop, compared to a 15-percent increase for the average white household. Moreover, the income of the average white household is more than six times that of the average black household, and the operating profits earned by a small minority of white corporate executives far surpass the total sum of wages paid to all blacks. In light of this evidence, which indicates that the developmentally oriented policies of the ANC could be even more debilitating to blacks than was the starkly racist apartheid system, it is ironic that the United Nations considers South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup an exemplary stage to showcase its “Stop Racism” campaign.

For football fans, the more important issue here is that these severe socioeconomic inequalities are fueling the rage at the bottom that serves as the driving force behind the country’s soaring murder rate. This rage has also engendered several riots, such as last year’s escalation of anti-immigrant violence that threatened the tournament. This type of trouble is exemplified by the brewing tension between the Zuma administration and the taxi union over the prospective Bus Rapid Transit system, which could lead to a situation in which it is very difficult or even dangerous to travel in South African cities. Additionally, given that the World Cup will generate an estimated 159,000 new jobs that the South African labor force will not be able to employ, there might be another outbreak of anti-immigrant riots, but this time on a much larger scale. Add to the mix millions of rambunctious football fans, alcohol, sex trafficking, and other crime rings, and, as one South African official said, “It could all collapse around our ears.”

For those football fans debating whether or not to make the trip in 2010, this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa should serve as a trial run. But regardless of the tournament’s success, the optimism about the World Cup as an economic savior for South Africa is misplaced. The Zuma administration needs to scrap major resettlement plans like the N2 Gateway Housing project (which will displace over 20,000 residents from the Joe Slovo informal settlement along the N2 freeway) and focus more on progressive initiatives like the Community Investment Program. It will require a balance between the seemingly contradictory forces of globalization, regionalism, and localization. Only then will apartheid truly be relegated to the dustbin of history.

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