When the vuvuzela fell silent

When the final whistle sounded in Soccer City Stadium and the incessant hum of the vuvuzela fell silent signifying the most lucrative World Cup ever had reached it’s ultimate climax; the flights were booked and the exit strategies implemented leaving behind a nation and a continent which had been suckered in by FIFA’s far-reaching promises of social and economic development. The suggestion of a lasting legacy would be put stringently to the test.

FIFA awarded the world’s ultimate footballing showpiece event to South Africa amid strong claims and impassioned beliefs in the long term gains of such a choice. Sepp Blatter claimed that “All of Africa must get the most out of this decision”. 18 months on this is a matter still up for fierce debate.

One such way in which FIFA planned to leave behind a legacy was by proposing the creation of 20 ‘Football For Hope Centres’ across the continent with the proviso that ‘Each will provide a platform for organisations that use the game to address social issues such as children’s rights and education, health, HIV and AIDS and the environment and will leave a legacy for Africa that will last long after the final whistle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup’. Of these proposed 20 centres, 10 are currently built and operational covering countries such as Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Namibia, Ghana and Lesotho and have been met with solid praise and positive publicity. With future plans for centres in Mozambique, Cameroon, Tanzania, Botswana, Cape Verde and Zimbabwe then it can be seen that FIFA’s intentions are strong when it comes to developing these nations. The centres themselves consist of an all-weather pitch, classrooms for education and medical rooms for health screening and treatment for the mass public. They aim to cater for the rehabilitation of children with disabilities and the social advancement of women in society in addition to grass roots participation in football.  This is a major positive to come from the first ever African World Cup.

The expenditure on such a project has been vast but pales in comparison to the overall turnover attributed to the World Cup.  Through sponsorship, TV money and commercial revenue, FIFA’s projected turnover figure stood at £2.1 billion. The money they have spent stands at £800 million compared to the £3.5 billion outlay suffered by South Africa. The vast majority of this has been on building stadia, developing road, rail and transport links and building new hotels.  But what happens after the tourists?  The magnificent stadia sit empty, a hollow shell of their former glory, a ticking time bomb of maintenance fees – the Soccer City pitch alone is costing 70,000 Rand (approx £5500) a year to keep. The showpiece events of  a U2  and a Coldplay concert and the hosting of Kaiser Chief’s home games surely is not enough to sustain such outlay.

When the World Cup was awarded to South Africa the immediate reaction was one of joy that unemployment rates would greatly decrease with the planned construction work and future opportunities within the country.  This was certainly true for a short time but it appears that this may sadly now be back on the increase.  Unemployment in South Africa currently stands at a year average of 25%, having reached nearly 26% in July – this is the highest it has been since January 2006.  It has been well publicised that job creation and tourism fell well short of projected levels and as such, the nation has suffered.

Another of the major concerns of the general population of South Africa was the decision to increase police power in the lead up to the World Cup.  This was considered a recipe for disaster.  Once a level of power is ingrained, it is near impossible to take that away without suffering major repurcussions.  In fear of this, the power of the police remains and is arguably as brutal as it has ever been post apartheid.  Just 2 months after the World Cup Final, 1.3 million public sector workers went on strike to protest working conditions.  These included teachers, civil servenats and other peaceful pillars of the community.  The police response was to quash the protest by shooting the participants with rubber bullets.  Excessive force reminiscant of much darker days in the history of the Rainbow Nation.

In spite of the aforementioned billions ploughed into the coutry to prepare for the World Cup, 15% of the current population stil live in shacks whereas 48% live on less than 322 ZAR (£25) a month.  It poses the question as to whether this was really £3.5 billion well spent by the government.  Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki claimed that the World Cup would be ‘the moment when the African continent turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict.’  Sadly this appears not to be the case and as Khadija Sharife of the South African Centre for Civil Society alluded, ‘FIFA’s cup erodes rather than aids South Africa’s economy.’  Inflation has steadily risen from 3.5% in 2010 to 4.3% in mid 2011 and is expected to reach 5.3% by the end of the fiscal year.

The promised legacy to develop Africa and boost African society is blotchy in terms of sporadic Football for Hope Centres dotted around the continent.  South Africa itself has been left with the same, all too familiar social and economic strifes along with empty stadia and failing hotels retired into the dust of FIFA’s whirlwind fly-by in addition to fading memories of a time when the vuvuzela sounded loud and proud and the eyes of the world were fixed upon this proud and beautiful nation.

Dave Brown

 

 

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