South Africa and the World Cup Frenzy – A Success Story?

No local teams will be participating, but all eyes are already on South Africa in the lead-up to the World Cup next month – and the rest will be glued to the T.V. But amid all the glitz and glamour surrounding the World Cup, very little is being said about South Africa beneath the World Cup gloss.

We presume that such prestigious events as the World Cup can bring countless benefits to struggling societies, particularly those coming out of transition. In Northern Ireland, South Africa is held up as a model for post-conflict transformation and reconciliation, and yet the legacy we are beginning to see is not one of economic success and social integration, but of a widening gap between the rich and the poor and a meteoric rise in violent crime.

Investment, like that which comes with the World Cup, is supposed to be good for transitional societies – in fact just this morning, Declan Kelly, the US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, encouraged businesses “attract foreign direct investment and build on its social, political, and economic renewal.” Does investment bring economic, social and political “renewal”?  If we really are meant to learn from the South African experience, maybe we should take a closer look at what’s really going on.

Economic and social rights became law through the new South African Constitution formed after the conflict– one of the few Constitutions in the world to contain such rights and make them legally enforceable. However, concerns are surfacing as to whether the positive effects of the World Cup – both economic and social – will be felt by the poor of South Africa, as well as the rich, despite the equality enshrined in the Constitution.

An article on the BBC’s webpage details how local vendors are being barred from selling near World Cup stadiums without an ‘event permit.’ FIFA says this is to prevent vendors from profiting from the World Cup without contributing financially – but many vendors say they do not know how to go about getting a permit. So the World Cup continues to bring in billions of dollars, but the local people suffering in poverty see little of it.

One vendor interviewed said that “it is just a reminder that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”

Perhaps even more disturbing are threats of violence being received by foreign nationals. They’ve allegedly been told that they have until 11 July – the end of the World Cup – to leave the country. This was reported in the Guardian:

“They say they will come after the World Cup and they will kill us,” said Ethel Musonza, 32, a mother of four. “These people are serious, they are organised, they know where we live. They say they won’t do anything during the World Cup because of the foreign tourists but afterwards the police will step aside and some of us will get killed.

In an informal settlement in East Rand, groups of men who claimed they took part in the “war” of 2008 have told foreign migrants and refugees to leave the country before 11 July. “We sat down and talked and said let us leave them until the World Cup is coming to our country,” said one, who admitted he broke the law to “protect his country from foreigners” in 2008.

“If we fight now, maybe they will stop 2010 … after that there is no one who can come to us and say don’t fight,” he added.”

Tensions over immigration, particularly refugees from violence in Zimbabwe, have run high since a period of violence in South Africa in May 2008. The government has been urged to deal with xenophobia ahead of next month’s World Cup.

None of this will be on display come June. The South Africa we’re supposed to see has turned a corner, and the World Cup is meant to give hope to ordinary South Africans and bring in money and jobs.

To be fair, some of the money brought in by the World Cup is being funneled into impoverished townships in the form of HIV awareness programs, among other things. Also, South Africa is certainly not the only country in the world dealing with social and economic strife. But it is the only country in the world hosting the World Cup next month, and using this to draw attention away from other things.

Football can offer a welcome distraction from things we’d rather forget, but maybe this should be a chance for the world to sit up and take notice of South Africa in a different way, and see how it can help.

Because how much change can a football tournament – even one as big as the World Cup – bring to a country?

Researcher, youth worker, human rights-er.

  • slug

    Engliand is participating – it’s a local team.

  • Anyone interested in reading a bit more about human rights concerns in South Africa might want to look at Amnesty’s memo from last year to the new South African government: Current human rights concerns and recommendations to the South African government.

    Key issues raised included the rights of women, who disproportionately suffer poverty, HIV infection and violence; the rights of refugees and immigrants who often suffer discrimination and violence (you can take an online action on this issue here); human rights violations carried out in the ‘war against crime’; the fairness of the justice system; as well as the nation’s potential for improving human rights across Africa by using its influence on other nations.

    South Africa has had huge challenges since democracy came in 1994, but too many South Africans are still waiting to enjoy their share of the fruits of that change.

    Underneath the world cup gloss, there’s still a world of problems.

  • Driftwood
  • Bubbler

    That definitely makes a good point – but what I’m really getting at is how this economic investment has become so tied to conflict resolution, when in my opinion, it often just serves to gloss over divisions that still exist in society.

    You could say similar things about NI – there’s all sorts of talk about foreign economic investment, and yet the community relations budget has been cut by 70% – those deep divisions are not being dealt with, but swept under the carpet.

  • joeCanuck

    Yet it can be argued that the unemployed are generally less connected with the organs of the state and more likely to be “subversive”. That’s the followers; the leaders are often well educated.

  • joeCanuck
  • Bubbler

    I’m very wary of the point I think you’re trying to make – simply because someone belongs to the ‘underclass’ makes them subversive? Why? Because they can recognize the symptoms of a regime that, instead of working towards social inclusion, exploits its citizens them for its own economic gain? That they try to point this out to others so that change can be made? That they don’t just go along with someone because it’s the ‘state organs’ that said it?

    I’m sorry, but if that’s subversive, sign me up. This is exactly my point – economic investment is being used to shove aside divisions that still exist, to try and pretend they’re not there and then marginalize the people that point them out and try to change them.

  • Wild Bee

    Have a look on this terrific documentary on the unfinished business of apartheid in SA, really worth watching it:

    The title is When the mountains meets its shadow