How Will South Africans Benefit From the World Cup?

Source: Pambazuka

The press conference celebrating 100 days before the World Cup kick-off left the big question unanswered, argues Azad Essa: How will South Africans benefit from the World Cup? For Essa ‘only the dim-witted, government or FIFA communication officers walked away feeling that the World Cup was really about anything more than ending Afro-pessimism and stroking a couple of shiny suits.’

I don’t like press conferences.

Organised to propagate nothing more than a particular message, they are spaces where real questions are rarely asked because there is no place for real answers.

Everything is pre-empted, rehearsed and answers are a performed act, designed by media experts, advisers and prom queen mothers. Everyone knows that real answers to probing questions are found in the most unlikely of places: In the bar, on the golf course, in someone else’s bed.

The journalists who are forced to patronise press conferences merely rotate old rhetoric on a new piece of paper before they go outside to whisper sweet vulgarities at each other through grinding, cigarette-tainted teeth. ‘He didn’t answer anyone’s questions properly’; ‘This is such bull****’; or ‘This was pointless – again’ all loop through the vacant corridors like frustrating, broken records.

So any journalist who expected to receive substantial answers on anything other than the hackneyed ‘100 days to the World Cup’ comments from FIFA’s (International Federation of Association Football) big boys or representatives of the South African government at the press conference held at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Tuesday, should have hit the beach instead. I knew I should have: It was a beautiful day to hit the surf.

Sepp Blatter entertained as he showcased some good humour and nicely packaged rhetoric about ‘FIFA giving back to Africa’, whilst deputy president Kgalema Mothlanthe charmed as he smiled, talking about wanting to put on his ‘boots and run on the pitch’.

And fair enough, this was a happy occasion that celebrated the winding route of a journey that started some 2000 days ago when South Africa first won the bid to host the event. The road has been long: Filled with international scepticism, with talk of imminent plan B and C and of long, hard, work in constructing multiple new stadiums, in upgrading roads, transport systems, stadium precincts. And now, just 100 days are left to the greatest show on earth.

But the World Cup was not sold on the back of a logic that simply promised feeling good about our selves. And unfortunately – whilst dignitaries answered eloquently on typically over-asked questions regarding what this World Cup would mean to the people of South Africa and Africa, in terms of nation building, self-esteem and pride – there was little attempt to address the legitimate concerns posed by some journalists interested in more than the glitz and glam.

With 100 days to go, there is a plethora of unanswered questions regarding what this event will actually do for the people of South Africa. A question posed about the thousands of construction workers, who had now lost their jobs following the completion of the stadiums, turned our beaming deputy president into a fumbling comedian, mumbling on about how the construction industry was the only sector that saw growth during the recession.

A question posed about what percentage of revenue made by FIFA would be put back into South African football and the country as a whole, saw a FIFA representative admitting that it was a difficult question, but then u-turning and assuring all that FIFA’s financial statements were completely transparent.

A question about the possible lack of professionalism in African football and the impact that this has on preparations for the World Cup following the recent sacking of the Ivory Coast and Nigerian managers, saw SAFA (South African Football Association) president, Kirsten Nematandani, go on a misdirected rant about how immensely prepared Bafana Bafana will be under Alberto Carlos Pereira.

In all three examples, none of the concerns were even addressed in the slightest. It didn’t help that eThekwini mayor, Obed Mlaba, looked constipated; KZN (KwaZulu Natal) premier, Zweli Mkhize, seemed disinterested and Local Organising Committee chairperson, Irvin Khoza, appeared pensive as they too collectively stuck to singing school hymns about the World Cup taking us closer to Jesus (and economic prosperity), rather than addressing the concerns of the ordinary.

For a country that has been sold the World Cup based on the positive spin-offs that the event will have on the economy and South African society, it was embarrassing to listen to South African leaders mumble awkwardly when it came to just about any question that actually posed the slightest challenge. They even looked, I dare say, incessantly unprepared.

It is unsurprising that at the same time, on the other side of town, the World Class Cities for All campaign (WCCA) were issuing their own press statements, commemorating the 100 days before kick-off with a completely different angle.

There was no talk about a grand wedding ceremony that would consummate the grand love affair between FIFA and South Africa, as described by Blatter. The focus of these statements rested on tangible impact on the urban poor and those whose lives have had to change as a result of the World Cup coming to our shores.

‘With 100 days to go before the games open, official action towards the urban poor fails to meet any standard of fair play,’ said Pat Horn, StreetNet International coordinator, in the statement. ‘We want to see African street culture, music and indigenous food, the ‘shisa nyama’, informal traders, as an integral part of a visitor’s experience of South Africa,’ she continued.

However, the opposite is happening. The host city by-laws ensure there is no trading near the stadium and FIFA copyright and agreements are firmly in the hands of big business. Worse still, in some of the fan parks such as Cape Town, the livelihoods of informal traders are under threat as existing trading sites will be taken over by official FIFA concessions.

The WCCA further allege that in Mbombela, the school that was destroyed to make way for a stadium, was replaced by a temporary structure. The commitment to replace the school has still not yet been met.

Furthermore, the statement says that in Cape Town, the popular Parade and Green Market Square have been declared off limits for informal traders after being declared an official fan-park. With less than a 100 days to go, the Informal Traders Association is still awaiting a reply from the city regarding their objection to the decision.

More than 900,000 jobs were lost in 2009 and with economic recovery yet to initiate a ripple-effect to the lowest strata of job creation, the informal economy is still the respite of most unemployed South Africans seeking work. The WCCA argues that the World Cup does little for this segment of society, except forcibly removes and creates further impediments in earning a living.

The irony of the press conference, held at the Moses Mabhida stadium, was that the harder dignitaries tried to elucidate that ‘time for scepticism had passed’, that ‘this really was Africa’s moment’ or campaigned ‘football for hope, development and good health’, the further they diverted from the real issues.

There are serious doubts that ordinary South Africans will benefit, but no one really wants to talk about that. Instead, FIFA and the South African government continue to brand this event as the ultimate intervention towards ending international pessimism about Africa.

So determined are they that they are willing to strip the rights of ‘poor Black Africans’ in a bid to get the multibillion audience to catch a glimpse of the other Africa: plush stadiums, uShaka, Gateway shopping mall, Soccer City and Kruger National Park. The ugly truth is that our government officials and leaders merely pitched up to this latest press conference to convey the ‘I was there’ chant.

There was a disinterest in dealing with any of the real issues: In fact, there wasn’t even the slightest hint that it would allude to be a people-focused event.

In so doing, only the dim-witted, government or FIFA communication officers walked away feeling that the World Cup was really about anything more than ending Afro-pessimism and stroking a couple of shiny suits.


* This article first appeared in Africa Report and on 4 March 2010.
* Azad Essa is a journalist based in Durban. He writes an award winning blog:
Accidental Academic.
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.