DURBAN: Feel it. It is here. Ke Nako! This was the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s slogan for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Chanted en masse, it defined the hopes of a nation. As the sun rose over South Africa on Monday July 12, it signified the dawning of a new consciousness in South Africans.
The final whistle has been blown, the vuvuzelas have stopped blaring, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions, Spain, have already left for home. South Africa pulled off, despite the naysayers’ moans, what has been proclaimed to be the best World Cup ever. This nation can be so much more. It is still Africa’s time.
But while most South Africans came together in a show of unity, and World Cup fevered themselves into a frenzy, there were some who just didn’t care. They would have liked to have enjoyed the ayoba (cool) spirit, but had more to worry about.
Precious, a 25-year-old HIV positive female, lives with her 3-year-old daughter, mother and three siblings in a shack in an informal settlement just outside of Johannesburg. Two siblings are in school, while the third is struggling to find a job. Precious was previously employed as a domestic worker, but with no access to anti-retroviral drugs, she fell ill frequently, and was subsequently asked to leave. ”My employer paid me an extra month’s salary,” she says. The family survives on her mother’s monthly pension payout of $141 and three child support grants of $41 per month each.
Precious is oblivious to the excitement felt by South Africans at hosting the prestigious tournament for the first time. ‘’It’s just soccer. Why spend so much money on building stadiums when that money could have been used for poor people like us?’’ she laments.
She’s not alone in that sentiment. “It’s a waste of money. We need proper housing, and can’t continue living like this,” says Siyobanga Gumede, an informal resident in Durban. His friend David, a car guard adds, “The World Cup is only for rich and important people. We can never afford to watch a match at the stadium. The World Cup is not for the poor people.”
Deep in rural Limpopo, one of the poorest areas in South Africa with the lowest per person income capita, Andile doesn’t even know the World Cup is taking place. “I heard something about it, but I don’t have electricity, and only go to Polokwane [the nearest city] once or twice a month.” Polokwane now boasts a brand new stadium built especially for the World Cup.
Mixo lives in a poor township on the way to Bloemfontein. She’s never visited Johannesburg, 400 km away. She plays for a women’s football team, and loves the game. Despite not being able to afford a ticket to watch Bafana Bafana take on France in Bloemfontein, she feels no bitterness. “People are complaining we shouldn’t have hosted the World Cup because the money can be better spent. I agree it can be, but I am happy it is here. I am feeling it! I think the World Cup is good for our country, and I think now our government will improve on providing services.”
On the day of the match, residents lined the roads waving and cheering on visitors. They could not afford to be at the stadium, but were happy for those who could.
The poor are always the most marginalized in any society, and their voices of dissent are unheard amidst the race for wealth and material gain. The Poor People’s World Cup kicked off on June 13 in Cape Town. Organized by the Western Cape Anti Eviction campaign (AEC), the three-week tournament rallied together 36 teams from 40 impoverished communities across the Cape.
Ashraf Cassiem, AEC coordinator explained, “It was an attempt by poor people in Cape Town to bring to attention their plight as a result of the World Cup and the effect it has on communities.”
The tournament was not just for the soccer players who dream of playing in the big leagues, but yet harbor no real hope. It was for the communities, people who struggle daily with water and electricity cut-offs, and eviction notices. Informal traders who could not afford to be granted licenses by FIFA due to exorbitant administration costs, and whose livelihoods were affected, were invited to sell their wares. Although FIFA officials were invited to attend, the gesture was ignored.
A UK based NGO, War on Want, has partnered with AEC in addressing the social inequalities. In a letter sent to the South African High Commissioner in the UK, it wrote, “We are calling for a thorough investigation into the housing evictions in the lead up to the World Cup, compensation for those evicted, and an end to further displacement. Finally, we call for the constitutional right to housing and provision of services be upheld for all South Africans.
Mzansi threw an awesomely ayoba party, and should rightfully celebrate. As the sun rose over Mzansi on July 12, it conceived new dreams and hopes for South Africans. It is the wealthiest country in Africa, and a rising star in the world. It is a beautiful country with first world infrastructure, natural and man-made splendor. But the plush symbols of wealth overshadow the humble housing of forty percent of the population who live in poverty.
It is Africa’s time to have the courage and selflessness to advance countries, and the continent, as a whole.
South Africa’s shantytown residents argue that the money would’ve been better spent on proper housing.