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.

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