POVERTY, POLITICS, AND THE 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP IN SOUTH AFRICA

Protesters in the Ramaphosa squatter settlement, east of Johannesburg.

Why is it that governments can find billions of dollars for global sporting events and little to deal with the grinding poverty that affects impoverished populations? Canada applauded itself for the $135-million in aid and disaster relief it sent to an earthquake ravaged Haiti while spending nearly $6-billion on the two-week long Vancouver Olympics. A similar contradiction is revealing itself in South Africa, where massive amounts of public and private spending on the upcoming 2010 Soccer World Cup are expected to salve a faltering economy and crippling poverty. Most South Africans, however, will see little direct or sustained economic benefit from the games let alone muster the funds to even purchase a ticket.

What is trumpeted as a branding and investment remedy to South Africa’s economic woes may very well become another Greek tragedy – where the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics has contributed to an economic meltdown. These global games offer dual incentives to both local and foreign business elites and little to a frustrated local population. On the one hand, investment, sponsorship and tourism opens new markets to foreign capital while local business elites profit from a heightened global image. At least, this is the story sold by both the state and World Cup planners. Central to this strategy is selling South Africa as a marketable and consumable brand.

The transition from apartheid to democratic rule in South Africa has been well documented. During this period, the pressures of both domestic and foreign capital forced the emergent African National Congress (ANC) government to follow the economic paradigms of the past and encourage foreign investment. The sanctions that once crippled the economy gave way to a period of increasing investment and relatively stable economic growth. Promoting a comfortable and gentrified image of South Africa perfectly serves the ruling African National Congress’s redistribution through growth policy that is intended to drum up foreign investment while selling off government owned assets. The Soccer World Cup effectively opens these economic and political spaces necessary to further neoliberal policies and development.

The recent mobilizations against the 2010 Winter Olympics by members of Vancouver’s poor and indigenous communities indicate the contradictions of increasing corporate welfare amidst economic recession and instability. The effect of the economic recession has taken its toll on Canadians, but its most vicious impact has been reserved for the economies of the developing world. In South Africa, unemployment, inequality and poverty have been greatly exacerbated by the global recession. In late 2008, South Africa ended its decade long economic growth spurt. The economy shrank by 1.8% in the final quarter of 2008 and by 6.4% in the first three months of 2009. A few weeks after replacing ousted Thabo Mbeki as President, Jacob Zuma admitted, “we have entered a recession.”

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