The World Cup has been touted as one of the greatest achievements in South Africa since the end of apartheid. In reality, it has brought into sharp focus glaring divisions.

world cupLet me make it clear that I am not against football or any form of sports. I recognise the contribution of sports to our health and also watching sporting events as a form of recreation from all the stresses of this world. However, I am uncompromisingly for social justice and this is where the problem begins.

One of the hypes of the characteristic features of the World Cup is that it will unite the nation. This is demonstrably false, since large sections of the poor people who should be better off in the post-apartheid period cannot even attend or watch the matches as they cannot pay for the tickets.

Poor people have been evicted from the homes they have lived in for years as these buildings are being taken over by property developers in preparation for the World Cup.

For the enjoyment and entertainment of the rich and the other World Cup tourists, ordinary South Africans have to pay a big price. People have been made homeless in order to make room for Coca Cola and other multinational companies to operate and make their profits. There are countless other examples in the rest of the world where the poor pay for the recklessness and leisure of the rich.

In a recent article by Richard Calland in Contretemps, he points to the anti-transformation conservative wing of the ruling ANC, which is not interested in human dignity, equality and freedom but has “an agenda of greedy personal enrichment, concerned with transferring resources of the state and private sector to a ruthless few” and added that “they are uncaring of the plight of the poor, arrogantly dismissive of inequality and contemptuous of democratic institutions that seek to protect the poor and vulnerable by insisting on accountability of the powerful.”

Scholar and activist Patrick Bond lists the World Cup’s six red cards as follows: “(1) dubious priorities and overspending; (2) FIFA super-profits and political corruption; (3) heightened foreign debt and imports amidst generalized economic hardships; (4) the breaking of numerous trickle down promises; (5) the suspension of democratic freedoms; and (6) repression of rising protest.” The University of Kwazulu Natal Centre for Civil Society is organising a World Cup Watch joining its Social Protest Observatory and it is updated daily on

Patrick Bond doesn’t only criticise but lists necessary actions to remedy these red cards. Among them are the “imposition of a windfall tax on profiteering construction companies, directing revenues straight to neglected township facilities, a full rethink of the government’s relaxation of exchange controls and its high-end infrastructure spending, re-imposition of the capital controls so as to halt capital flight, and new housing/services subsidies for townships and rural areas are both overdue.”

With regard to the repressive measures put in place against protest, he argues that “the necessary U-turn would include a formal ceasefire by a police force now aiming its guns at the people… South Africa’s securocrats should now point fingers and detective investigations at the real criminals, from Zurich, a wicked Mafiosi group whose nickname now is ‘Thiefa’, for obvious reasons.”

Another aspect of the business logic of the games is the way the multinational companies are making profits that will be taken out of South Africa. And ordinary South Africans employed during the period are not being paid properly.

Groups of workers have resorted to street protests and in some cases litigation to win victories for the displaced and homeless. Last Monday there was a series of strikes at almost half of the World Cup stadiums as guards are being paid less than one tenth what they were promised when they were employed. There have been violent scuffles between the police and guards.

Whilst the post-apartheid state organises this World Cup on behalf of the multinationals ordinary South Africans are showing that the anti-apartheid fighting machinery is not dead. Evictions from properties are being fought by social movements like the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, Abahlali base, Mjondolo KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape, with thousands of ordinary people supporting them.

The fightback has not been limited to the internal issues of South Africa but linked to ongoing international solidarity. Last week the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) affiliated unions, namely National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPAWU), International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and International Chemical, Energy and Mining Federation (ICEMF) held a press conference to brief members of the media and general public on the National Day of Action against the fascist Mexican government in the midst of the ongoing World Cup underway in South Africa.

The World Cup is being staged at a time which coincides with the 34th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, when school children marched against the introduction of Afrikaans as a compulsory subject. Alongside this is the fraudulent misuse of the image and names of fighters of the national liberation struggle. The Durban skyline has been changed by a state-of-the-art stadium named after the General Secretary of the South African Communist party, Moses Mabhida. This former communist and guerrilla fighter must be turning in his grave over being associated with this feat in which the poor with whom he fought all his life are oppressed and marginalised.

Patrick Bond writes in The Mercury (Eye of the Civil Society) last month: “At a UKZN [University of Kwazulu Natal] community class on economic justice last Saturday [8 May], a student pointed out that if Greece’s hosting of the 2004 Olympics was partially responsible for the latest episode of world financial crisis and 5 billion Euro bailout, South Africa‚Äîwith our untenable $80bn (R589bn) foreign debt‚Äîmay get the same treatment.”

Commenting on the post-World Cup scenario on 11 July, Richard Challand concludes, “At its best, sport can offer both vivid inspiration and all-consuming escapism. Thus, the World Cup may serve to remind South Africans of how much has been achieved since the days of sporting boycott and the crisis of the 1980s and, in so doing engender a new sense of national purpose and pride. Or it may merely mask the cracks for a short time, obscuring the real fault lines and encouraging those who wish to loot the state to continue to do so, with a dangerous sense of impunity.”

Explo Nani-Kofi

Explo Nani-Kofi is Societal Affairs Analyst and Social Justice Practitioner. He was born in Ghana where he started his activist as a grass root organizer for popular democracy. He coordinated the Campaign Against Proxy War in Africa and the IMF-World Bank Wanted For Fraud Campaign. He is a member of Counterfire and Director of the Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, in Peki, Ghana and London, UK.

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