Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup Competition off-the-pitch

Am writing this post as the plucky Bafana go one up against the pitiful French. After the Henry affair, no prizes for guessing where my sympathies lie. I have been so far mostly watching the world cup on the BBC’s Match of the Day program and have been mightily impressed by thier welcome efforts to raise awareness about issues of poverty, inequality, discrimination and the shameful injustice of apartheid.

Alan Shearer has been dispatched as a no-nonsense interviewer and he has a refreshingly honest, unpretentious, from-the-hip style. Their short reports on the Robbin Island soccer team and the plight of a struggling rap artist from the townships were particularily good. Compare this editorial treatment to the drivel over on ITV where James “God I’m so bloody Hilarious” Cordon brings dumbed down TV to new depths of drivel (Bafana just scored again! Au revoir les Bleus).

Can the ‘real’ economy please stand up

Off the pitch, the FIFA World Cup has seen a tense standoff between South Africa's formal and informal economies as they compete for their share of the spinoffs, but declaring a winner may be hard. FIFA itself has come under serious fire for it’s heavy-handed fiscal demands - aka greed - on the South African nation.

Cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg have struggled to balance the concerns of street traders, whose livelihoods depend on selling sweets, foodstuff and other goods at transportation hubs and intersections, with the demands of hosting the international competition.

As early as 2008, city officials started relocating traders away from traditional vending areas that would be near stadiums and fan parks; the traders mobilised in response, with varying success.

South Africa's official unemployment rate is around 25 percent but independent economists put it as high as high as 40 percent, so the informal sector has been a refuge for those unable to get a steady job. The Human Sciences Research Council has estimated that the informal economy accounts for about 7 percent of gross domestic product.

“Will my children eat soccer balls?”

Renovations to Cape Town's Green Point stadium, just outside the CBD, and to the main transport hubs and the Grand Parade – a plaza opposite City Hall where vendors have done business for decades - meant informal traders were relocated, several times.

The disruptions were bad for business; the new Green Point market is expected to accommodate only about a third of the vendors who previously traded there.

In Soweto, Johannesburg, the Soccer City Traders Association had been supplying food to construction workers at the flagship stadium since work began there. When the association received an eviction notice in February 2010, it banded together with 33 other similar organizations in Gauteng Province and marched on FIFA's Local Organizing Committee (LOC) headquarters.

Carrying banners and placards with slogans like "Will my children eat soccer balls?", traders demanded formal employment opportunities with FIFA affiliates, allocated vending sites at venues, and a stop to relocations. Similar marches took place in Cape Town. 

"You feel like they are taking away your job," said Soccer City Traders Association vice-chair Cecilia Dube, a widowed mother of four who also supports her sister's children and elderly parents. "This is the only way I am getting bread on my table."

This echos a widely held opinion that the informal sector has provided economic opportunities that the formal sector has not, including better wages and independence. According to the International Labour Office, about 70 percent of South Africa's informal traders are women.

Change of fortunes 

Dube said their luck changed just five days before the World Cup started on 11 June, when the City of Johannesburg told selected traders they had been allocated space in the stadium precincts, at FIFA-branded fan fests, and public viewing areas.

"Informal traders have been trained and accredited by the City's Department of Economic Development, and these are the traders who are trading in the designated areas," said Sibongile Mazibuko, head of the City of Johannesburg's 2010 department. She said these traders were largely those who had worked in the vicinity of stadiums during construction or renovation.

FIFA regulations stipulate exclusion zones, which mean traders have to be located further afield from the stadiums and teaming crowds.

I asked a friend just returned today about the benefits of the World Cup and he was quiet clear. “Infrastructure improvements benefit us. They don’t benefit people in the townships. You can now get from the airport to the centre of Joburg by high-speed train in ten minutes or drive on a new motorway to Pretoria in 25mins – that doesn’t mean diddly squat for people living in townships without running water or toilets”.

/PC with additional info from IRIN news.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

AIRSICK: An Industrial Devolution

The issue of climate change will not disappear just because a few skeptics have (misleadingly) dented the numbers. Our addiction to fossil fuels has led us to the brink (just witness the horrific eco-tragedy playing out in the Gulf of Mexico). 

Embedded here is a magnificent multimedia piece produced by Mediastorm and Lucas Oleniuk of the Toronto StarThis is a local story with a global message. Of the 20'000 images used in the production all but two were taken in the Ontario region. "My hope is that one day this film will be seen as the way we used to do things" says Oleniuk. "Don't let climate change fall from the political agenda" says HDEO! 

Airsick: an Industrial Devolution (the message):

We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. 
The heat is on. 
It's the way we live. 
Coal is the single biggest threat to civilization and to all life on our planet. 
But it's not just coal. 
Nearly a quarter of the world's CO2 emissions now come from transportation. 
Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. 
The world's energy demands will rise over 40% by 2030. 
Do nothing? 
The metabolism of our planet is now on a collision course with the metabolism of our planet. 
Time is running out. 
The Time to Act is Now.

or, in Obama's words: "The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe."

Last December, we (the International Red Cross) released a co-production with Mediastorm and the Thomson Reuters Foundation to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters to unleash itself on our planet. The award-winning piece was called "Surviving the Tsunami: Stories of Hope".


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yemen's elusive peace

Recent declarations of peace breaking out in Yemen seem to be a tad premature. A fragile ceasefire between the army and Houthi-led rebels in northern Yemen has been put under renewed strain following the deaths of three government followers in clashes with the rebels that left a dozen others injured, according to local witnesses from the Bani Awair area of Saada Governorate. (Photo: Waiting to go home - IDPs receiving aid in Al Ghubba, Yemen).

The Houthis accuse Bani Awair local authorities of giving fighters cash and weapons to attack their followers. 

“Local tribesmen, receiving support from the government, set up an ambush against many of our men, killing one of them and injuring another two,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdussalam has claimed, adding that the Houthis were determined to uphold the 11 February ceasefire despite provocation.

He accused the government of fomenting tensions just as life was gradually returning to some sort of normality in the war-ravaged north, a charge the government denied and lobbed back at the rebels. 

Abdullah Dhahban, a Saada council member, said the government was determined to restore peace and stability to Saada and blamed Houthis for hindering the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes. “Efforts to promptly return IDPs have stopped as a result of ongoing violations committed by Houthi gunmen,” he said. 

According to aid agencies on the ground, more than 250,000 people have been displaced by the six-year-old conflict and very few have returned due to the volatile situation in Saada. 

According to the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs office (OCHA), progress in implementing the six ceasefire conditions of the “sixth Saada war” since 2004 is very slow and the situation remains fragile. 

“There is some concern that unless the underlying causes of the conflict are addressed with a comprehensive peace agreement, there may be further unrest,” an OCHA spokesperson said. 

Many analysts expect a seventh war to erupt at any time because the real causes of the dispute have not been addressed by the government. 

Check out here a previous HDEO blog post about Yemen's geo-strategic importance