South Africa is eagerly preparing to host the World Cup in June 2010, but the government's preparatory development projects are negatively impacting the country's poorest citizens.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe presented a keynote address on 1 March to mark 100 days to the start of the World Cup. He expressed the optimism and pride South Africa feels to be the first African host of the tournament. "It is time for South Africans to be proud of what they have achieved. It is time for South Africans to get ready to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Yet amid last minute projects to ensure that the stadiums are ready to host the international teams, fine tuning of the host cities' infrastructure and overall excitement, eviction campaigns against people living in low income housing and informal traders threaten to isolate the economic gains of the tournament to the upper crust of society.
A bylaw passed by the city of Cape Town restricts informal traders or street vendors from working in the city center. A communiqué from Cape Town's mayor, Dan Plato, on 17 February described his view of the effect of a large population of informal traders: "The current trading area has ballooned out of control, congesting and obstructing walkways and lanes." So the Municipal Council has restricted trading in the city center as part of other infrastructure developments in preparation for the world cup. "The creation of public market squares, along with the upgrade and renovation of walkways will transform the Town Centre into a world-class facility. This will ensure that Mitchells Plain is regarded as a bustling economic centre that is safe, secure and financially viable," Plato's communiqué added, but without presenting alternative economic activities for informal traders.
Anti-eviction activists described to MediaGlobal the reality of the implementation of these policies. Martin Legassick, a retired professor from University of the Western Cape and an activist for the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, said: "The Municipal Councils are removing street traders and pushing them aside, trying to clear the streets of them. ...They say that they are not allowed to trade in the streets and the police come and smash up their stores." Mncedise Twala, another member of the Anti-Eviction Campaign elucidated further, "The city of Cape Town is now using police without having any notice to people who are victims of eviction."
While South Africa appreciates the international attention and economic investment that accompany the hosting of an international sporting event like the World Cup, the economic gains of the country will likely be isolated to the economically powerful. Legassick explained, "The thing is the profits will go to big businesses and to FIFA [Féderation International de Football Association]. And to be really frank, the traders are not being allowed to trade near the stadiums, and so small traders are being deprived of business. So it's not going to trickle down to the majority of people, the benefits of the World Cup"
Twala expressed that he hoped the government would focus on the broad ranging needs of the poor. Instead of pushing the poor out of sight while the world's attention turns to South Africa, Twala said the government should focus on addressing the long term needs of the economically disadvantaged to create a way out of poverty. He told MediaGlobal: "All that we want from the government is to engage with the community, to listen to what the community has to say to the government. ...We are talking about, for instance, the housing, about people that are supposed to get jobs. The government is not giving enough schools."
Twala recognized South Africa's passion for hosting the tournament, but he bemoaned the economic inequality endemic in the preparations. "The World Cup, obviously everybody is excited about it, but the poor are not going to benefit anything out of it."