World Cup 2010: Showcase South Africa

— Sam Ross

SEPTEMBER 15, 2007, marked the beginning of a 1,000-day countdown to the 2010 International Federation of Football Associations World Cup hosted by South Africa, the first African nation ever to host the event. President Thabo Mbeki calls the premier soccer tournament “a golden opportunity to showcase Africa to the world” and adds that the South African government is determined to “show that the African renaissance is upon us and Africa’s time has come.”(1) [Football is what almost everyone outside North America calls the game known as “soccer” in the United States and Canada — ed.]

Mbeki counts on the World Cup to boost South Africa’s international reputation by presenting a functioning neoliberal African democracy, and to validate the economic policies of the African National Congress (ANC), the country’s governing political party. FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke believes the game will enable development; he says that the organization is committed to ensuring the event “leaves a lasting legacy of social, environmental, economic and community benefits … for all South Africa and to demonstrate the power of football to change lives.”(2)

South African Communists and trade unionists, however, are more skeptical about football’s capacity to engender social and economic changes.

Shifting Gears

In 1969, the ANC wrote: “[V]ictory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to remain intact is to feed the root of racial superiority and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.”(3)

After returning from exile in 1990, however, the ANC did not have a clearly formulated economic policy. Upon assuming power following the country’s first free multiracial elections in 1994, the ANC enacted its Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). The policy focused on creating a “high-wage, high-productivity”(4) economy while providing bold social and welfare policies, in an effort to reconcile the ANC’s history as an idealistic socialist party with the reality of contemporary South Africa.

In 1996, RDP was sidelined in favor of the more orthodox GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution) strategy. While GEAR still advocated black economic empowerment, it did so through the framework of neoliberalism. The results of the strategy have been mixed. Advocates of GEAR argue that the policy has created a new black middle class, but others note that unemployment in the country has drastically increased (total joblessness is estimated to be near 40%), and the gap between the country’s richest and poorest citizens has actually widened.(5)

The Economic Policy Institute observes that GEAR’s redistribution programs have contributed to economic inequality by focusing on the development of a few black entrepreneurs who “have become millionaires and billionaires overnight.”(6)

Against this backdrop, the ANC has faced increasing opposition from its allies, the South African Communist Party (SACP)(7) and the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Given the ANC’s commitment during its exile to socialism, it’s not surprising that many in the country feel betrayed by the privatization and deregulation of state-owned industries.

While the political elite envisions the World Cup as emblematic of an “African Renaissance,” recent protests suggest that many South Africans don’t feel the same way. In September 2007, construction workers building the new Green Point stadium in Cape Town demanded increased compensation for travel costs to the worksite. After two strikes in a month, 1,000 workers were locked out of the stadium, which will host the World Cup Semi-finals.(8)

In early October 2007, an inspection tour delegation visited four of the nine cities (Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Port Elizabeth) hosting World Cup events. FIFA Organizing Committee’s Chief Competitions Officer Dennis Mumble claimed the committee was “very happy with the progress being made and believe more than ever that we are on track to host an extremely successful 2010 World Cup.” He made no mention of labor disputes or of the fact more than one million South African workers went on strike between June and October.(9)

While FIFA publicly demonstrates confidence in South Africa’s progress, Sepp Blatter, president of the organization, noted in April that contingency plans had been made should the country become unable to host the tournament due to “a natural catastrophe or a change in society — everybody against football.”

(Not) Only a Game

Labor might be unhappy with the ANC, but considering the importance of the sports movement to South African revolutionary history, it is unlikely to turn against football. The international sports movement was an essential component of sanctions levied against apartheid-era South Africa. The vanguard of the movement, the South African Council on Sports (SACOS) and the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC), worked to ensure that South Africa was banned from international sporting federations, and that boycotts and protests were organized against countries hosting South African sports teams.

Their efforts succeeded: South Africa was banned from every Olympics from 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre, until 1992. (The banning of SANROC actually boosted the organization; SANROC reemerged in exile two years later with an increased international profile.)(10)

The movement’s main goal appeared to be the de-racialization of South African sports teams, but its primary actors were adamant that the racial composition of these teams was emblematic of the larger social and political reality of the country.

In other words, racially integrating South African teams was not enough insofar as it was the fundamental structure of apartheid and its effect on the political and human rights of blacks that prevented real equality in sports.(11)

The sports movement represents a curious ideological intersection of nationalism, gender, and state apparatuses. Some scholars believe that international sporting events provide exhibitions of the physical manifestations of competing nation-states. In this view, sports offer militarily weak or marginalized nations psychological redress for their shortcomings through brief periods of sanctioned pseudo-violent contact.

Rob Nixon, for example, argues that the sports movement succeeded in frustrating white South Africans’ nationalist expression by withholding “just such opportunity to compensate for the smallness of their population, their geographical marginality, and their political ostracism.”(12)

Nixon proposes a dichotomy between a white focus on participation in sports in the international arena and a black focus on equality in sports at the grassroots level.

Thus, when the ANC approved the immediate lifting of sports sanctions against South Africa during their negotiations with the de Klerk government in 1991, they simultaneously affirmed the party’s longstanding nonracial ideology and underscored the fact that it would take more than the end of apartheid to achieve equality in South African sports. Such a project could only be realized by addressing the legacies of the system in education, housing, political representation, funding, healthcare, etc.

While Nixon argued in 1992 that the ANC’s policy of sporting unity might serve as a “catalyst and harbinger of change,” 15 years later some effects of apartheid are still being felt. In fact, the effects are even amplified by economic policies that reify the gap between rich and poor. Some South Africans feel that by ending the sports boycott before the legacies of apartheid had been effectively dismantled the ANC lost its primary mechanism of exerting pressure on the system; this loss of leverage may explain the country’s predominantly white sports teams and lack of funding for sports programs in townships.(13)

The ending of the sports boycott symbolizes the political liberation of South Africa as well as the reality that the institution of a democratic government only addresses part of the harm inflicted by the apartheid system. The impending 2010 World Cup revisits the tension between sport as a psychologically burdened expression of nationalism and as an effective tool to address social and economic inequality.

Teamwork or Real Work?

Nowhere is this tension more evident than on the website for South Africa’s International Marketing Council (IMC), an organization created by President Mbeki in 2000 to combat the “enduring negative image of South Africa exacerbated by some of the problems inherited from [apartheid]: crime, unemployment, poverty, and AIDS.”(14)

An article entitled “Branding ‘key for 2010 success’” urges South Africans to unite in order to “be the best World Cup ever.” This task “challenges every single person and organisation in the country to help and become champions. Cities must aspire to the highest standards. There will be two types of customers at the World Cup: visitors and media. The media are key to showing what South Africa is really about to the world.”(15)

Here, then, the government presents the World Cup as an opportunity to turn a sporting event into a representation of the South African nation. The most recent host of the World Cup, Germany, serves as a perfect example of what a shrewd reliance on the corporate practice of “branding” can achieve. In 2004, the website claims, Germany “was suffering from a collective depression, with social divisions, low consumer confidence, and record unemployment.” Sound familiar?

By trusting corporate branding and contemporary marketing strategies, the website boasts, Germany was able to increase its tourism bookings by one third, decrease unemployment by more than 20%, and push investor confidence to an all-time high!(16)

The implication of such marketing is that ignoring the lack of redress for the legacies of apartheid and the effects of neoliberal economic policy in the interests of national unity may allow the 2010 World Cup to serve as a panacea for the country’s problems. Moreover, this unity is couched in terms of capitalistic branding and commodity production. South Africa will indeed benefit economically; the investment and construction precipitated by the event are predicted to boost the country’s real GDP growth to 5.1% in 2008 and 5.4% in 2009.(17)

Civil unrest in the country indicates, however, that these indicators of macro-level economic health may not be enough to convince people that they will share in the wealth created from national economic growth.(18) While Blatter calls the first African World Cup “a moral obligation to African football and to the African people,”(19) it remains to be seen who will benefit most.

Echoing their 1995 victory, the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, triumphed at this year’s rugby World Cup in Paris. In 1995, the victory complemented the spirit of national unity remaining from the country’s relatively peaceful transition to democracy. In 2007, the 15-6 win against England seems like a second honeymoon for a country still struggling to reconcile the legacies of the past and the reality of the present. [Rugby remains a predominantly white sport while football (“soccer”) is the favorite among black South Africans — ed.]

The ANC was quick to note that their shared joy in the Springboks’ success should not be construed as an acceptance that the country has achieved real sports equality.(20) At the risk of mixing sports metaphors, that seems to be par for the course for South Africa. Just when it looks like the game is won, someone in the stands points out that it is only half-time.

Notes

  1. FIFA. “SA 2010: 1000 Days to Go.” Fifa.com. Available from http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/newsid595896.html. Internet; accessed 17 October 2007.
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  2. FIFA. “2010 inspection tour successfully completed.” Fifa.com. Available from http://www.fifa.com/worldcupnews/newsid=613378.html. Internet; accessed 17 October 2007.
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  3. African National Congress. “Strategy and Tactics of the ANC.” Available from http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/stratact.html. Internet; accessed 21 October 2007.
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  4. Seekings, Jeremy, and Nicoli Nattrass. Class, Race, and Inequality in South Africa. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005. 347.
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  5. Johnson, William. “South Africa’s New Revolution.” CBS News. Available from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/05/opinion/main3335317.shtml?source=RSSattr=Opinion_3335317. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007; Freedom House. “Freedom in the World-South Africa.” Freedom House. Available from http://www.freedomhouse.org/inc/content/pubs/fiw/inc_country_detail.cfm?year=2007&country=7274&pf. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007; Economic Policy Institute. “South Africa’s economic gap grows wider while Brazil’s narrows slightly.” Economic Policy Institute. Available from http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_snapshots20060419. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007.
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  6. Economic Policy Institute. “South Africa’s economic gap grows wider while Brazil’s narrows slightly.” Economic Policy Institute. Available from http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_snapshots_20060419. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007.
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  7. The ANC and the SACP share a complicated history. When the parties were banned in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre, the SACP facilitated Soviet funding for the ANC. Members of both parties served in the ANC’s military wing Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). For a detailed history of their relationship see: The ANC in Exile by Stephen Ellis and Tom Lodge’s Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945.
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  8. Johnson, William. “South Africa’s New Revolution.” CBS News. Available from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/05/opinion/main3335317.shtml?source=RSSattr=Opinion_3335317. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007.
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  9. FIFA. “2010 inspection tour successfully completed.” Fifa.com. Available from http://www.fifa.com/worldcup news/newsid=613378.html. Internet; accessed 17 October 2007.
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  10. Nixon, Rob. “Apartheid on the Run: The South African Sports Boycott.” Transition, no. 58 (1992): 68-88.
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  11. Ibid; Booth, Douglas. “Hitting Apartheid for Six? The Politics of the South African Sports Boycott.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 38, no. 3, Sports and Politics. (2003): 477-493.
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  12. Nixon, Rob. “Apartheid on the Run: The South African Sports Boycott.” Transition, no. 58 (1992): 68-88.
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  13. Booth, Douglas. “Hitting Apartheid for Six? The Politics of the South African Sports Boycott.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 38, no. 3, Sports and Politics. (2003): 477-493.
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  14. “What is the IMC?.” SouthAfrica.info. Available from http://www.southafrica.info/ess_info/disclaimer.htm. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007.
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  15. Eberl, Nikolaus. “Branding ‘key for 2010 success’.” SouthAfrica.info. Available from http://www.southafrica.info/2010/brandingsa2010.htm. Internet; accessed 15 October 2007.
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  16. Ibid.
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  17. Economist Intelligence Unit. “South Africa: Forecast.” Economist.com. Available from http://www.economist.com/countries/SouthAfrica/profile.cfm?folder=Profile-Forecast. Internet; accessed 21 October 2007.
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  18. The Economist. “Screaming to be heard: Teachers, nurses and doctors demand a larger share of the country’s prosperity.” Economist.com. Available from http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=9340626. Internet; accessed 24 October 2007.
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  19. FIFA. “FIFA President deems taking FIFA World Cup to Africa to be “moral obligation.” Fifa.com. Available from http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/media/newsid=110655.html. Internet; Accessed 15 October 2007.
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  20. “It is our hope that this victory will further give impetus to the central task of working together as a nation to ensure that all our national teams reflect the diverse backgrounds of our people.” Simao, Paul. “Rugby Win Eclipses SA racial divide, for now.” Mail & Guardian online. Available from http://www.mg.co.za/articledirect.aspx?articleid=322728&area=rugbyworldcup07_news. Internet; accessed 24 October 2007.
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from ATC 132 (January/February 2008)

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