It is not too late for South Africa to take back some of its sovereignty
Patrick Bond, Eye on Civil Society column (The Mercury) 8 June 2010
Could a last-minute U-turn reverse egregious mistakes that our national and municipal governments are making, apparently under the thumb of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) ?
The barrage of flag-waving, vuvuzela-blowing hypernationalist publicity
cannot drown out at least six game-changing critiques of the World Cup :
1) dubious priorities and overspending ;
2) Fifa super-profits and political corruption ;
3) heightened foreign debt and imports amidst generalized economic
4) breaking of numerous trickle-down promises ;
5) suspension of democratic freedoms ; and
6) repression of rising protest.
Consider each of the six in turn. First, overspending has been most
obvious in our white elephant stadiums.
Which events can fill the stands after the last soccer match in July ?
How many officials had Durban-type delusions - i.e., that we will
successfully bid for a future Olympic Games ? These white elephants cost the state R24 billion in subsidies.
The most expensive (R4.5 bn), at Cape Town’s Green Point, was foolish, for the existing soccer stadium in Athlone could have hosted the semifinals with an additional layer of seats. But no, according to Fifa documentation, “A billion television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty on this scale.”
Durban’s 70 000-seater Moses Mabhida, that R3.1 bn ‘Alien’s Handbag’
(according to Pieter Dirk-Uys) is delightful to view, so long as we keep
out of sight and mind the vast backlogs of housing, water/sanitation,
electricity, clinics, schools and roads, and the absurd cost escalation
(from R1.8 bn).
Harder to keep from view is next-door neighbour Absa Stadium, home of Sharks rugby, which seats 52 000 and which easily could be extended (considering that Durban municipality will knock out 15 000 seats from Mabhida after July anyhow).
Amnesty for this red card would be imposition of a windfall profits tax
on the companies that built the white elephants, directing revenues
straight to neglected township facilities, including dusty, rocky soccer
The second red card is Fifa’s culture of corruption and excess luxury in
South Africa, the world’s most unequal major country. Reports of bribes for players, referees and officials are emerging.
Lord Triesman, who chaired England’s Football Association and headed its 2018 World Cup proposal, last month claimed in a taped phone
conversation that Spain and Russia are intent on paying referees to fix
There are yet deeper corruption problems, such as the death penalty
imposed on corruption whistle-blowing in Mpumalanga : at least eight
suspicious kills and a hit list indicating profound splits in the ruling
But the biggest corruption problem, as Foul ! author Andrew Jennings puts it, is that “The unaccountable structure they’ve installed is honed to deliver the game to the needs of global capitalism - with no checks or restraints. Just cheques.”
Those outflows are reason enough for a third red card : the huge import bill and rise in foreign debt we are suffering, much as did
Olympics-opiated Greece before its fall. According to the Mail&Guardian, not only will it Fifa not be subject to taxes, the Zurich soccer gnomes can ignore SA exchange control regulations.
Since the Fifa profit estimate is R24 billion (after all they sold TV
rights alone for $2.8 bn), the export of funds will hit our current
account balance extremely hard. Already we are at the very bottom of the emerging markets rankings, making likely a rand crash sooner than later.
Worse, the construction bubble has been driving our economy, just as
happened in the US prior to its crash. New luxury transport
infrastructure, for example, is a gamble on rich people’s behaviour, as
the R25 billion Gautrain costs riders eight times more than previously
advertised and probably won’t dislodge Joburg-Pretoria commuters to the new stations given traffic jams and parking shortages.
As labour leader Zwelinzima Vavi, put it, Gautrain “does nothing for
those who reallysuffer from transport problems – above all, commuters from places like Soweto and Diepsloot. Instead, it takes away resources that could improve the lives of millions of commuters.”
And was a new R8 billion King Shaka International Airport wise for
Durban, given that the old one had excess capacity until 2017, and given the doubling of distance and taxi fares from central Durban ?
Mitigating these red cards requires a full rethink of government’s
relaxation of exchange controls and its high-end infrastructure spending.
A fourth red card is the lack of trickle-down to the masses, witnessed
in wasted opportunities – the trashy Zakumi doll mascot made in China, not here – and the brute displacement tactics of municipalities.
Informal street traders are furious at being displaced and barred from
selling in the major cities, as are Durban fisherfolk evicted from the
Crafts, tourism and township soccer facilities were all meant to be
boosted. But as SA Football Association Western Cape provincial
president, Norman Arendse, remarked, Fifa’s ‘fatal’ top-down approach
left grassroots soccer with merely ‘crumbs.’
Again, this red card need not be slapped on municipalities, if they
urgently inform Fifa that the local business Exclusion Zone is now
inside not outside the stadiums, so that local informal traders and
fisherfolk can get on with their lives.
The fifth red card is for Fifa’s takeover of SA’s sovereignty. Civil
society groups trying to arrange a pro-education march to Union
Buildings learned last week learned that “all marches and gatherings,
including ours, have been banned in South Africa for the whole of June
until 15th July.”
The reason is that, according to a Fifa-RSA contract, “Police officers
and other peace officials will be provided to enforce the protection of
the marketing rights, broadcast rights, marks and other intellectual
property rights of Fifa an its commercial partners.”
The sixth red card goes to the SA police for their repression warm-up,
starting with ‘general’ Bheki Cele’s 2008 ‘shoot to kill’ order as
security minister in KwaZulu-Natal, quickened with clampdowns on
striking workers and then last week’s murder of service delivery
protesters in Etwatwa (East Rand) and Protea South (Soweto) and of two young men in Phoenix, Durban which catalysed a demonstration against police brutality.
The necessary U-turn would include a cease-fire by a police force which
is now aiming guns at the people, their backs to Fifa. A genuine
‘turn-around’ strategy would point fingers and detective investigations
at the real tsotsis, those from Zurich.