David Smith Friday 12 June 2009 21.23 BST Source: Guardian
The eyes of nearly a billion TV viewers are fixed on the vast Soccer City stadium. The winning team captain receives the trophy from a frail but radiant Nelson Mandela. The date is 11 July 2010 and, irrespective of what happened on the pitch, the true winners of the World Cup are the hosts.
This is the dream that South Africa hopes to realise a year from now. In staging the World Cup finals it will take on the biggest sporting showpiece on the planet. It has not enjoyed such a moment in the sun since the transition from apartheid to multiracial democracy in 1994.
It will be a defining moment, not just for a country but a continent. Never before have the World Cup or the Olympics come to Africa. The “forgotten continent”, so often seen through the prism of war and famine, will get to show the world a different face.
But the opportunity is fraught with danger. South Africa has never hosted an event on this scale or under such scrutiny. If it backfires, the country’s reputation will be set back years.
“Everyone means well but there seems to be a huge shadow between the promise and the reality,” said Jeremy Gordin, biographer of the president, Jacob Zuma. “Transport has the potential to be a disaster. But we’ve had the potential for other disasters in the country and managed to avoid them.”
A dress rehearsal starts on Sunday, the 16-game Confederations Cup including Brazil, Italy and Spain. In the opening match in Johannesburg the South African national team – nicknamed Bafana Bafana (the boys, the boys) – takes on a country seeking its own renaissance, Iraq.
But while this event risks being devalued by apathy, next year’s challenges will be quite different. In all 450,000 people are expected to descend on South Africa.
Hundreds of millions more will be watching on television, constituting the country’s biggest global audience since the heady day Mandela gained freedom in 1990. South Africa has inevitably slipped down the media agenda in the intervening years, but Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organising committee, hopes that the 2010 World Cup will be the next step in the nation’s journey.
“For too long this country has had just one icon, Nelson Mandela,” he said. “People meet you and you’re from South Africa so they say, ‘Oh, Nelson Mandela.’ But what else will keep this country under discussion, whether people want to invest or trade or tour? What other things do they say about the country? It’s an engagement exercise and we must engage the world.
“Post-independence and post-democracy, most countries quickly fade off the dinner and coffee tables of the world and we don’t talk about them. We want to keep the focus of attention on the country and keep it at the top of the mind of the world: to discuss us, to talk about us, to write about us.”
There are broadly two mindsets about modern South Africa. The first recalls the smooth running of this year’s fourth democratic elections, the existence of a voluble free press and the growth of a black middle-class in just 15 years. The counterview points to a culture of political corruption, continuing racial divisions and startlingly high levels of poverty, HIV and crime.
Jordaan insists the World Cup will be a celebration of the “Rainbow Nation”. He added: “To go back to 1990 when Mandela walked out of prison, two things happened. The majority of South Africans had the feeling of hope that this country will be great, that at least now we have a fair and equal opportunity, looking forward to a better and brighter future.
“But part of society was filled with fear. Many of them feared to such an extent that they actually left the country, and so we had to look then which road do we travel: the one of hope or the one of fear?”
Some first-time visitors may be surprised to find that South Africa is a place of 21st century airports, boutique hotels and American-style shopping malls. Nine of the 10 World Cup stadiums are set to be ready by the end of October, well ahead of schedule.
But the threat of violent crime to travelling fans, including young men likely to drink, is a more daunting challenge. There were officially 36,190 rapes in 2007-08 and 14,201 carjackings, but many crimes go unreported.
About 50 people a day are murdered – slightly more than the rate in America, which has six times South Africa’s 50 million population. The rate in England and Wales last year was 0.38 murders a day. Jordaan is fond of pointing out that his country has staged 146 events – including the more modest cricket and rugby world cups – without major incident.
A 1.3bn rand (£98m) security operation will see hotels, stadiums and transit routes flooded with 41,000 police, with water cannons, helicopters and surveillance cameras including unmanned drones. This week the army has taken to the streets in armoured vehicles to raid some of Johannesburg’s most notorious areas.
Another potential crisis is transport. Public services are minimal; planes are the preferred means of transport, while trains are unreliable and crime-ridden.
Government plans for buses have angered minibus taxi drivers who fear they be will driven out of business. Fifa, football’s world governing body, has made veiled threats to bring in its own buses if the situation is not resolved.
South Africa’s massive spending on infrastructure has been touted as an antidote to its first recession for nearly two decades.
The organising committee insists that ordinary South Africans will see the benefits of 2010. A number of “legacy projects”, such as sports fields in Soweto and other townships, are being implemented.
But the footballing extravaganza is a mystery to the poor. The image of people living without electricity or running water in the shadow of gleaming new stadiums is not something the government is anxious to show the world. It stands accused of evicting thousands of people from their homes to make way for new developments that will benefit only tourists.
S’bu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African shack dwellers’ movement, said: “We are supposed to be happy and excited to be hosting this major event but evictions are already taking place on a large scale. The government is focusing on the international visitors rather than poor communities. The role of the poor is seemingly to work hard in hotels, soccer stadiums and other facilities for the world’s benefit, but then be kicked out of the cities and not share in the profits.”
Last month homeless people threw stones as police fired rubber bullets in Macassar Village in Cape Town. The demolitions are particularly sensitive because of echoes of the relocation policy of the apartheid government.
War on Want, the British-based anti-poverty charity, argues the government will deepen poverty while hiding it from international fans and media.
Wendy Willems, its programmes research officer, said: “The South African government sees slums as an image problem. In reality this is a human problem for the thousands of people who will lose their homes.
“The government must stop these World Cup evictions and instead tackle the problem of insecure housing fairly and improve living conditions for poor South Africans.”
The World Cup has created an estimated 415,000 jobs, including 50,000 in construction, but workers have gone on strike over pay and threaten to do so again.
A recent union survey found that, at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg which will host the opening game and final, a general worker earns a minimum of 14 rand (£1.06) an hour.
There are other shadows looming. An unprecedented boom in sex tourism is widely predicted. The organisation Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa has called for a coordinated child protection strategy to combat a rise in human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.
South Africa is debating whether to decriminalise prostitution.
But South Africa’s heaviest burden may be one of expectation: it is the nation seen by millions of hungry and war weary as the great hope of the continent. The “beloved country” now has the challenge of refashioning the image of not merely itself but the whole of Africa.
John Carlin, author of Playing the Enemy, the story of how Mandela used the 1995 rugby world cup to promote reconciliation, said: “The political significance of the World Cup will be a hell of a lot less than in 1995 when the country was teetering on the brink. South Africa has lost the epic singularity it had, for good or bad, and become an ordinary country.
“The unique significance is that this is Africa’s first World Cup.
“It will be making a statement for the whole continent. Hopefully, it will be a positive one.”