Monday, April 26, 2010

This cup is empty

Sad to say, but former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan serves up nothing but platitudes in his recent Guardian column on the importance of the World Cup for Africa.

"The World Cup has the real potential to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes," Annan writes. "I sincerely hope that all of us will carry the spirit of the World Cup, that being part of a family of nations and peoples celebrating a common humanity, into our daily lives and works."

But nowhere does he mention the evictions and rip-offs that make a mockery of what he has written.

In three paragraphs, John Pilger catalogs some of the sordid details:
A new stadium near Nelspruit will host four World Cup matches over 10 days. Jimmy Mohlala, speaker of the local municipality, was gunned down in his home in January last year after whistle-blowing “irregularities” in the tenders. An entire school, which was in the way, has been removed into prefabricated, sweltering steel boxes on a desolate site with a road running through it. "When the World Cup is over," said the writer Ashwin Desai, "it will become obvious that these stadiums are going to be empty shells, that our money has been used for what is really a pyramid scheme."

A community of 20,000 people, the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement, is threatened with eviction from where they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport. They are deemed an “eyesore”. Street vendors will be arrested if they fail to comply with FIFA rules about trade and advertising and mention the words "World Cup", even "2010". FIFA will earn about two and quarter billion pounds from the TV rights, exceeding its income from the last two World Cups combined.

Incredibly, South Africa will get none of this. And this is country with up to 40 per cent unemployment, a male life expectancy of 49 and thousands of malnourished children. This truth about the "rainbow nation" is not what fans all over the world will see on their TV screens, although they may glimpse an unreported feature of modern South Africa, which is a vibrant, rolling resistance that has linked the World Cup to an economic apartheid that remains as divisive as ever. Indeed, another kind of World Cup for effective popular protest has long been won in the streets of South Africa’s townships.

Africans can be rightly excited about the Cup without a whitewash about the costs. I fear for the favelas of Brazil, which is set to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

UPDATE a few hours later:
Just came across this: the 27th of April is Freedom Day in South Africa. As in other years, the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo will instead be celebrating 'Unfreedom Day.' As part of their declaration, they write:
Is this a free country when grassroots organizations that have done everything that is required in terms of the Gatherings Act to organise a march find that their march is banned by Mike Sutcliffe just because he has power to do what ever he wants? Is this a free country when the police service who are suppose to protect us shoot to us? Is this a free country when the ANC can just decide to 'disband' our movement? Is this a free country when women are not safe on the streets after dark? Is this a free country when our children are chased from the schools because we don't have money? Is this a free country the people that live in the informal settlements are being dumped in the ’Transit Areas‘ which are situated 37 KM away from the City? Is this a free country when street traders are driven from the cities? Is this a free country when the taxis that are majority owned by black people will not be allowed to operate in the city center and only government buses will be allowed to transport commuters in the city? For example in the City of Durban the Public Taxis will end at Warwick.

In forty five days the world will be enjoying the so called,”African World Cup”. The question is will the poor enjoy or benefit? The answer is No. Who will benefit? The same people who will be celebrating the freedom day on the 27 April. The poor are being denied the right to sell near the stadiums and forced to sell their things far, far away from the stadiums. The taxis operators are also in trouble. Who will buy there? How will poor people be transported? Has the BRT replaced the black led transport industry? Can we really say that anyone in Blikkiesdorp is free?

2nd update:
"Street traders at the Grand Parade in Cape Town have been told to leave the area from May 1 until the end of the Soccer World Cup because of Fifa by-laws that relate to host cities." That's 300 traders being evicted from the best location at the center of town. The Mail & Guardian has the depressing details.

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