Media- The real winners and losers: of the beautiful game

9 08 2009

Source: Sunday Herald

SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa’s 2010 world cup looms amidst a rising tide of anger and protest among the poor majority of South African citizensFrom Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg

SOUTH AFRICA’S 2010 World Cup looms amidst a rising tide of anger and protest among the poor majority of South African citizens From Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg IN just 306 days the 2010 World Cup will kick off in South Africa at a cost to the host government and FIFA, world football’s governing body, of at least £4 billion. When the month-long football fest is over, South Africans will be left with 10 magnificent state-of-the-art stadiums.

But the expenditure is unlikely to bring much benefit to workers on breadline wages, to some 43% of the population who are unemployed, or to communities which last month turned to violence to demand that their government provide them with proper homes, electricity, toilets, clean water and other basic amenities.

The great fear is that this new wave of worker and township unrest will escalate into unpredictable militancy and violence between now and 11 June 2010, the day of the opening match at Johannesburg’s flagship stadium, the calabash-shaped Soccer City.

Tomorrow the country’s workers in the national electricity monopoly, Eskom, begin the kind of indefinite strike for increased wages that is the stuff of nightmares for the government, FIFA and the South African Local Organising Committee. Even when the workforce of Eskom, plagued by mass emigration of its top engineers and technicians, is on duty, communities are plagued by power cuts that last for many hours in the short but very cold southern African winter. There will be chaos this week in the absence of Eskom staff, but the disaster will be near-total if there is repeat performance next June.

In the small town of Mbombela – near the border with Mozambique and the Kruger National Park, that is nearly one-third the area of Scotland – the initial euphoria of selection as a World Cup venue has evaporated amid stories of corruption, wages below the poverty line, rapacious land-grabs and the murder of an anti-corruption whistle-blower.

The 46,000-seat, billion-rand (£74 million) Mbombela Stadium, bristling with 21st-century technology and supported by 18 giant pylons resembling giraffes, was built on 118 hectares of ancestral land from which the Matsafeni, a Swazi tribal clan, were forcibly removed and offered compensation of just one rand, or 7 pence sterling (raised to 8.7m rand, or £655,000, after a series of prolonged court cases).

Pretoria high court judge Ntendeya Mavundla told Mbombela’s African National Congress-dominated council that its treatment of the Matsafeni was not much different from that of “colonialists who usurped land from naïve Africans in return for shiny buttons and mirrors.”

The forced removal, given less international publicity than similar oppressive government actions when South Africa was a white-dominated apartheid state, was only the beginning of Mbombela’s troubles.

When the ANC speaker of the Mbombela Council, 44-year-old Jimmy Mohlala, blew the whistle on a 40m rand (£3m) scam between his fellow ANC councillors and the stadium’s commercial developers, senior ANC politicians demanded his resignation.

Mohlala refused to step down and was subsequently shot dead by masked gunmen at his home. His assassins have not been caught and police have not investigated the fraud. Former ANC council whip Ngilishi Sambo said Mohlala’s dedication to serving the community had cost him his life.

“I have never seen anyone disobey ANC party orders like that,” he said. “There were campaigns to ruin his reputation and he survived them all. He was an exceptionally dedicated local politician, but was outnumbered on the council which, as a result, effectively has not done any useful work for the community for years.”

While the single rand was still on the table for the Matsafeni land, the stadium developers said they planned to bulldoze two black schools on the site. Once moved from their brick-built schools to prefabricated buildings a few miles away, the Matsafeni schoolchildren burned down their new schools and a library in protest. They said the prefabs were unventilated and extremely hot and humid in the long low-veld summer.

“The politicians and council all promised us a better, bigger brick school, but here we sit in zozo prefab huts,” said 16-year-old Tiger Mavuso. “We were kicked out so that the contractors could use our old schools as offices.

“In these zozos up to six pupils were collapsing each day from the heat, and after the mid-morning break the teachers no longer tried to teach because they knew no-one could concentrate.

“The stadium has brought us only misery. Our education and our health are being sacrificed for the 2010 World Cup. The soccer will only last a short time but our lives might be ruined for ever.”

Stephen Maseko lives in a corrugated iron and mud shack without electricity, running water or a toilet in the shadow of Mbombela Stadium. He knows his home will be demolished before the stadium hosts the first of its four World Cup matches. “I find it difficult to feel proud that we are hosting this World Cup,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I do not have time to think about football. My worries are greater.”

Eyesores’ such as Stephen Maseko’s home are being demolished or hidden across the length and breadth of South Africa before the first of an expected half-a-million football fans begin arriving next year.

Some 70,000 labourers working on the 2010 stadiums, and other World Cup infrastructure such as the new futuristic railway system with British-built engines and carriages, between Johannesburg Airport and the city centre, went on strike last month for better wages. Some labourers on 2010 projects were earning as little as 800 rand (£60) a month. Mildred Mpundu, a single mother of four, was earning 2000 rand (£150) a month with overtime as a labourer at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, where the opening and final World Cup matches will be held. Mildred said she could only give her family meat on Sundays, and she added: “People will come to the stadium and think it is very nice. They won’t even know that the people who built it can’t afford to go inside.”

There were angry clashes with police before union representatives thrashed out a new bonus deal and tried to sort out other grievances. Union official Lesiba Seshoga, who oversaw negotiations at Cape Town’s Green Point, Durban’s Moses Madhiba and Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela stadiums, said: “We welcome the World Cup, but that does not mean workers should be impoverished while millions are being spent on new stadiums. These workers are not going to benefit from the World Cup in that none of them will be able to afford to watch a game.”

But the unrest is much wider and more serious than that relating directly to the World Cup. Most South Africans live in grim shack townships and, with apartheid becoming a distant memory, their anger is turning towards ANC politicians, dubbed “kings of bling,” whose perks include houses and two top-of-the-range Mercedes or BMWs – one for use at home and the other for use in Cape Town, seat of South Africa’s parliament.

Last month there were violent protests in 20 of the poorest townships against local government corruption and the government’s failure to provide jobs, electricity, clean water, cheap housing and other services. Angry crowds burned tyres, hurled stones and rocks at police and chased non-South Africans mainly Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Malawians from the townships. Police intervened with tear-gas and hails of thousands of rubber bullets. Although police spokesmen say no one was killed, Dr Richard Pithouse, a lecturer at Rhodes University, has been collating the damage. He said three protesters were shot dead in a township on the fringes of Piet Retief in KwaZulu-Natal and there were many serious injuries, including those to a small girl, shot in the head in the Port Elizabeth township of KwaZakhele, who is in serious condition.

“There are many countries where a single death at the hands of the police can tear apart the contract by which the people accept the authority of the state,” said Dr Pithouse. “But this is not Greece.

“Here the lives of the black poor count for something between very little and nothing. When the fate of protesters killed or wounded by the police makes it into the elite public sphere, they are generally not even named.”

For the moment, the townships are again quiescent, but people are extremely angry and there is bound to be trouble again sooner or later.

“The government and academics speak about the poor all the time, but so few want to speak to the poor,” said S’bu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the growing and increasingly militant South African shackdwellers’ association. “It becomes clear that our job is just to vote and then watch the rich speak about us as we get poorer.

“Why are our people being killed by the police, by fire fires frequently sweep through shack settlements, particularly in the dry winter season, by councillors? Why does no one high up seem to care? The will of the poor will soon be done because the poor are the majority of the country and the majority is beginning to speak for itself.”

One of the great dangers created by the ANC government of newly elected president Jacob Zuma stems from his whipping up of expectations in the course of a populist election campaign last March. Zuma promised to create half a million new jobs by the end of 2009. Instead, a quarter million jobs have been lost in the first three months of the Zuma presidency and people have become increasingly angry at the lavish lifestyles of top ANC politicians.

In an alarming development, Zuma has reacted to the township violence by appointing as his new police chief a close Zulu friend, Bheki Cele, known for his “gangsta” hats and suits and widely called the “township cowboy.” Cele said on appointment that he will instruct his force to “shoot to kill,” in an echo of what happened in the townships under white rule in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. If Cele is serious, he will set South Africa ablaze again.

Celi Xaba protested when he was aged 12 against the white minority apartheid government over the lack of water in Tokoza, his township on Johannesburg’s northeastern fringe, 20 miles away from Soweto, the Las Vegas of all black townships anywhere in Africa. He is now aged nearly 30 and he is still protesting – and there is still no running water in his section of Tokoza.

Last month he was protesting against the ANC government for freedom from poverty, exploitation and joblessness, joining hundreds of other Tokoza residents blocking roads, looting shops and burning tyres, cars and buildings in protest against the absence of work, decent housing, electricity, water and sanitation. “There’s no services here,” he said. “No water, no electricity, no toilets. And still there’s nothing happening. The people here just feel like animals.”

Andile Mngxitama, a columnist for the mass circulation Sowetan daily newspaper, said he fears the 2010 World Cup will turn South Africa into a big fun park, with foreign visitors enjoying levels of comfort, safety and security that ordinary people can only dream of. “When the tournament is over,” Mngxitama continued, “we will be sitting with major world-class stadiums in a country that can’t feed or educate its people. The truth is we don’t need the World Cup. Politicians and their connections need it.”

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