Socialist Worker

South Africa’s World Cup stadium of slums

Twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela, the World Cup is coming to South Africa. Viv Smith looks behind the glamour to see what it means for ordinary people

Issue No. 2188

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, 50,000 people turned out to hear him speak.

“Our march to freedom is irreversible,” he told them. After more than 40 years of apartheid enforcing segregation and denying black South Africans any democratic rights, there was finally hope for the future.

Hilda Ndude was there. “There was incredible optimism,” she says. “We knew a new South Africa had been born.”

But 20 years on, that optimism is dwindling.

The football World Cup is coming to South Africa in June this year. It is set to focus the eyes of the world upon the country once again.

What they will see is the return of a practice closely associated with apartheid South Africa – the forced removal of black people from their homes.

Huge shanty towns are being set up as dumping grounds for the urban poor, forcing them out of the way of the massive stadiums and other construction projects.

Thirty kilometres from Cape Town city centre is a place locals call Blikkiesdorp – the “tin can town”.

Here there are row upon row of three by six metre tin shacks, housing whole families in one room. They’re made out of zinc so thin you can cut through the walls with a pair of scissors.

The shacks stand on a vast dust plain without electricity, lighting or washing facilities. One toilet and cold water tap is shared between at least four families.

It is miles away from any work and there are poor transport links. Many of the occupants have HIV/Aids, but can’t get to a clinic.

The South African press has labelled these areas “concentration camps” because they are fenced in and patrolled by police.

Ziettha Meyer was taken to Blikkiesdorp by a social worker who threatened to have her thrown in jail if she did not go.

“She just came and dropped us here like we were a bunch of chickens,” she says. “We didn’t have a choice.”

Under the new Slum Act, a person can be imprisoned for five years if they fail to move when told to.

To Cape Town council, on the other hand, Blikkiesdorp is “the Symphony Way temporary relocation area”.

It has tried to “relocate” people there from black townships like Joe Slovo, which runs alongside the route from Cape Town International airport into the city centre.

Joe Slovo is a well-established “informal settlement” located in Langa, the oldest black township in the Western Cape. World Cup organisers call it an “eyesore” and want it gone.

But the 20,000 residents who live there have resisted. They have been successfully fighting their removal since the World Cup was announced.

Zodwa Nsibande is the youth league secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement of shack dwellers set up to protect and advocate for people living in shacks.

“People are being forced from their homes and treated like animals,” she told Socialist Worker. “We live under constant threat. People are scared to move because they know they can’t come back – they will have built something on the land.”

The resistance to relocation exists because the millions of people who live in “informal settlements” have done so all of their lives – forming community ties and organisation.

The relocation areas are called “temporary”, but many people have been living there for four or five years without any sign of being re-housed.

This has become a common feature of international mega-events. Over the last 20 years the Olympic Games has displaced an estimated two million people.

In South Africa the police have also been instructed to clear the streets of homeless people for the World Cup.

Isaac Lewis, who is homeless, has been arrested six times in the past month for loitering.

“Police harassment is increasing,” he says. “They want to make a good impression for the foreigners coming. We are like insects to them – like flies.”

Desperate to discourage crime during the World Cup, national police commissioner Bheki Cele has called for officers to have the right to “shoot to kill”.

In Kwazulu Natal (KZN), “Red Ant” units have been set up to destroy shack settlements.

KZN city manager Mike Sutcliffe banned the first shack dwellers march in November 2009. When residents went ahead and protested, police shot them.

All this is to protect the state’s “investment” of billions upon billions to host the event. The new Cape Town stadium is the most expensive building ever to be built in South Africa.

The “giraffe” stadium has attracted most attention. It was built on 118 hectares of ancestral land belonging to the Matsafeni, a Swazi tribal clan.

They were removed from the land by force, with the African National Congress-dominated council offering them compensation of just one rand – eight pence.

The people sued. High court judge Ntendeya Mavundla likened the council to “colonialists who usurped land from naïve Africans in return for shiny buttons and mirrors”.

At the same time the stadium developers evicted a local school and took over their classrooms.

The schoolchildren now have their lessons in shipment containers – two miles away. They are unventilated, hot and humid. Students faint daily.

The people living in the shadow of the stadium, without running water or electricity, are angry at the waste of resources and the treatment they have received.

When Nelson Mandela was released, he made a pledge to the world’s ruling class that the ANC would get rid of apartheid – but would not move to socialism.

The ending of apartheid after one of the most heroic struggles of the 20th century was a phenomenal achievement.

A ruthless racist system was beaten by the mobilisation of black workers and community revolt. But the failure to attack and overcome capitalism means that inequality remains.

The arrival of the World Cup on South Africa’s shores has served to remind people of what happens when neoliberalsim rules.

When the cheers die down and the visitors leave, what will remain is the intense and growing divide between rich and poor.

The reality is that, after 46 years of apartheid and 15 years of free-market capitalism, South Africans are still waiting for freedom.

A country of stark contrasts

South Africa has a population of 50 million people – and the world’s biggest divide between the rich and the poor.

Destitution, hunger and overcrowding exist side-by-side with affluence.

One in four are unemployed, and 18 million live on less than $2 a day.

Since the end of apartheid there has been some growth of a black middle class. But because of the way apartheid impoverished people on the basis of race, black people make up the vast bulk of the poor – 95 percent.

In 2007 then-president Thabo Mbeki, described getting the World Cup as “a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict”.

But for South Africans the enormous stadiums symbolise the squandering of much-needed millions.

The overrun on stadium building costs has seen Johannesburg council slash its budget by more than £80 million, meaning harsh spending cuts.

Meanwhile the workers who have built the stadiums will be unable to afford tickets to go inside them.

The matches will cost up to £550 a time, compared to an average weekly wage of £51 for construction workers.

“It’s a manifestation of the sharpening class realities in our country,” says Castro Ngobese of metal workers’ union Numsa.

“People can’t even afford basic necessities such as bread, milk and a decent meal.”

Strikers win goal of better pay

More than 70,000 of the workers employed on World Cup projects have taken strike action for better wages and conditions.

“We are not fighting for bread – we are fighting for crumbs,” says Lesiba Seshoka, a National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson.

People have been promised 500,000 jobs – but so far only 22,000 jobs have been created on stadium construction.

Statistics South Africa reports a fall in construction employment of 22,000 jobs from 2007 to 2008. So the gain is zero.

The most highly paid jobs are going to white workers.

Yet sub-contractors and labour brokers, in exchange for “creating jobs”, have been allowed to employ workers on three-month contracts.

This has left workers with few rights, making it easier to sack them.

And the work is dangerous – occupational health and safety inspectors failed 52 percent of World Cup construction sites.

Yet workers have still fought back.

They have struck 26 times since 2007, winning serious gains – such as free transport to and from work and a 12 percent wage increase and bonuses.

Workers in the hotel industry have also held a number of strikes and demonstrations.

They are threatening to strike during the World Cup if their demands for a wage increase are not met.

The ruthless profits of sport

World Cup organiser Fifa makes 94 percent of its income from sponsorship deals – and enforces its “rights” ruthlessly.

In South Africa Fifa is talking about clamping down on “event pirates” who, they argue, “seek to profit from an event to which they have contributed nothing”.

Tell that to the people who have been driven out of their homes.

There are half a million street traders in South Africa.

Their work is a vital means of survival for millions of people and their families.

In Kwazulu Natal, 28,000 tonnes of cooked mielies – corn on the cob – is sold on the street every day.

Street sellers making cheap food for construction workers on stadium sites have been driven out, as companies bring in expensive private catering firms.

Fifa will be insisting that any “unofficial” street vendors be excluded from the stadium zones.

It wants poor South Africans to be well out of the way of the thousands of people who will fly in to watch the matches.

All those flights will also mean that the 2010 World Cup will have one of the biggest environmental impacts in sporting history.

Stadiums are hundreds of miles apart, meaning the visiting sports fans will generally travel by air. This extra travel will emit an estimated 2.8 million tonnes of carbon.

What’s the government’s answer to this?

The Department of Education has formed a “partnership” with Coca Cola to teach students to recycle – in return for free World Cup tickets.

This will do little more than give Coca Cola plentiful advertising within the South African education system.

It will do nothing to solve the environmental impact or growing poverty caused by the curse of the World Cup coming to South Africa.

The only winners will be the rich who make billions in profits.

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Article information

Tue 9 Feb 2010, 18:13 GMT
Issue No. 2188
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