Friday, June 11, 2010

Episode 2: Selling South Africa: Poverty, Politics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup [Part Two]

Download: MP3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis [4:01 minutes]

Selling South Africa: Poverty, Politics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup

To create a marketable image of South Africa, the national government and the International Marketing Council of South Africa formed a 2010
National Communication Partnership. The group is working closely with public relations firms across the continent to “change the image of the continent from one which is perceived as poverty stricken and unstable to one that is stable, prosperous and proactive.” The Council’s “Brand South Africa” strategy was most recently featured at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where it pushed “South Africa’s role in influencing the global economic agenda and building the country’s reputation as a trade and investment destination.” The Brand South Africa group is a private-public partnership made up of government and domestic business elites, some of which are official World Cup sponsors.

International concern has largely been for the safety of tourists and players visiting South Africa during the tournament and not for those poor and disenfranchised South Africans who face violent crime while living in dire poverty. Indeed, few commentators have asked what benefit the games will have for those living in townships in sight of the new million dollar stadiums. Daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era – particularly poverty in black communities, lack of economic empowerment among disadvantaged groups, and a shortage of public transportation and housing. More than one-quarter of South Africa's population currently receives social grants, leading some to label it the largest welfare state in the world. South Africa has a 24 per cent unemployment rate with 50 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. At the same time, the richest members of society have increased their annual earnings by as much as 50 percent. According to the Gini Index – a measurement of household income inequalities – South Africa has the second most unequal distribution of income in the world, just behind its neighbor Namibia.

For these reasons ordinary working South Africans may see the billboards and advertising brought by the World Cup, but they are unlikely to see the games themselves. The ticket prices to the big event are likely to deter most of Africa's soccer enthusiasts. With 3 million tickets available, less than 100,000 have been sold in Africa as most Africans are not able to afford the expensive entry fees. Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Danny Jordaan said that it is the first time in World Cup history that the host nation is not topping the ticket sales list. According to FIFA, the cheapest ticket will cost 55 Euros (570 Rand) for tickets that will entail the holder to sit behind goals. The cheapest ticket for the final is going for 275 Euros (2,842 Rand).

At the bottom end of the economic scale, are those who will only be impacted negatively by the World Cup. Like Cape Town’s street sellers, who are reportedly being driven from the city’s streets by police and a private security company. Police also recently relocated 600 people who had been camping alongside an inner city railway line in Cape Town to a transit zone on the outskirts of the city. While Danny Jordaan has promised no evictions, the record is against him thus far. These forced relocations draw on the legacy of apartheid era racial and spatial segregation. In this practice South Africa is not alone. It is estimated that the 1988 Seoul Olympics resulted in the eviction of 700,000 people; and the 2008 Beijing Olympics displaced 1.5 million residents.

A version of this article was written by Chris Webb, a South African journalist, scholar and activist living in Toronto. His writing has appeared in Canadian Dimension, New Internationalist, Canada's History and the Winnipeg Free Press. He is the Publishing Assistant at Canadian Dimension.