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2010, four years and counting
John Etkind
Published: 05-JUN-06

For grateful populations, events like the Olympics and world cups mean more than a gathering of sportsmen and the entertainment that provides. Such occasions get politicians moving. They compel governments to do things they wouldn’t normally get around to – like fixing roads, upgrading such essential social services as transport, housing and airports and, of course, building bigger and better sports facilities.

Sceptical South Africans are asking if Johannesburg and Pretoria would have had a brand new, multibillion-rand express train had it not been for the opportunity of showing it off to the hordes of football fans here for the 2010 soccer World Cup? Would the province of KwaZulu-Natal have had its R2bn (about $303mn) King Shaka airport north of Durban if the Cup planners hadn’t suddenly woken up to the fact that Johannesburg and Cape Town International airports will not cope with the massive influx of fanatics from around the globe, in South Africa for a couple of weeks of football frenzy? King Shaka International has been an on-again, off-again proposition since the late 1960s and has been a political football since then, with successive governments fearing the new facility would attract air traffic away from Johannesburg, although it made good sense to do so.

So it’s taking a string of football matches to get these major projects rolling and many more besides. President Mbeki said it all at the groundbreaking ceremony marking the start to the construction of Safa House, the new home of the South African Football Association. “It’s about time we had a soccer complex,” he said. “In fact, I’m amazed we took so long to have such a house.”

Would South Africa have had one, if it weren’t for the World Cup?” Probably not, because Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) is picking up the tab for the R65mn (about $10mn) complex being built next to the FNB stadium in Soweto. The building will consist of some 100 Fifa offices to accommodate consultants and operatives for the 2010 spectacle and be home to the country’s Premier Soccer League. “Nothing helps unite a country like soccer does,” noted Fifa president Seth Blatter at the ceremony. “A building like this will help bring all officials and soccer lovers together.”

What happens to the money? The fact that the cup is happening on African soil was cause for great euphoria when it was announced, but not everyone is confident that the billions of rands the organisers say South Africa will rake in will impact on their lives to any great extent.

Gladys Dube, a housemaid who lives in Alexandria, a sprawling township that is home to thousands of soccer fans, has heard it all before and is now a confirmed cynic that such extravaganzas benefit anyone other than the organisers, political hangers-on and the chosen football few.

“We had the Earth Summit that made millions for South Africa,” she recalls. “We had the Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup that someone said each earned billions for South Africa. Where did that money go?” she asks, looking at the township’s potholed roads, rickety infrastructure and shanty houses. “None of it came to Alex.”

The world cup was awarded to South Africa at a time when the official organisation of the game is in a shambles, when the performance of the national side is at an all-time low (it failed to score a single goal at the African Cup of nations this year and was bundled out early in the 2006 soccer World Cup qualifiers and won’t be represented in Germany) and when labour unions are at their most vociferous and most active in disrupting everything from transport, security, mining and manufacturing. It is now picking a bone with the local world cup organising committee because, it claims, workers’ representatives are not being included in the cup’s preparation process.

Zwelinzama Vavi, general secretary of the South African labour giant Cosatu, says the run up to the cup is a massive job-generating opportunity and “nobody can afford to ignore our two million workers”. He warns that Cosatu will make life very difficult for Safa. “It is outrageous that the trade unions have not been involved at the highest level.” Failure to do so, threatened Vavi, “will result in an unprecedented confrontation between Safa and Cosatu”. The labour movement says it insists on being included in the process because:

  • In the rugby and cricket world cups, sports equipment and souvenirs and mementos were imported to the detriment of local manufacture
  • Administrators are dithering over the start of stadium construction and upgrading. Left to late such activity will end up being technology-driven to the detriment of local labour
  • The price of tickets is up in the air: will working class Cosatu members be able to afford them?
  • Small scale vendors and hawkers could be sidelined with all catering going to big international companies, and
  • Cosatu wants to be involved in the transparency process because, it says, rumours abound that tenders and procurements will be going to organisers’ family and friends. Cosatu has also demanded that Safa publish a development plan that confronts the “appalling state of South African soccer”. South Africa has just four years and a bit to be ready for “the biggest sporting event on earth”. Already, it’s all but conceded that the Gautrain Express won’t be ready in time and that the transport of fans from venue to venue will be at the mercy of South Africa’s notoriously shambolic public transport system, and whatever efforts can be made to upgrade it in more conventional ways. Whatever happens, however, the world cup will have significant infrastructure spin-offs and social benefits for the country because the government will be forced to attend, especially, to its decaying roads network, transport systems and electricity supply and distribution.

    So, let the Games begin!

    This article was first published in Business in Africa Magazine, May 2006. To subscribe click here



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