10 August 2010

South Africa: 'Now We Demand They Do It For the Poor'

Weak floodlights barely held back gathering darkness as Somalia met Serbia in the finals of the Poor People's World Cup. A small band of supporters were on hand to see an African side lift the cup in Cape Town's Vygieskraal Stadium.

The Poor People's World Cup drew 38 teams, predominantly from poor black and coloured communities far from the city's glittering Green Point Stadium.

Planners initially proposed Athlone, on the Cape Flats, as the site for Cape Town's official World Cup venue, reasoning that the investment in infrastructure could breathe fresh life into this working class neighbourhood. The rows of council housing were too prosaic a backdrop for FIFA's vision, and a picture-perfect location between mountain and sea was chosen instead.

It was left to the Poor People's World Cup to host a tournament there, on the patchy grass of Avondale Athletics' home ground. The teams, each adopting the name of a different country, played for a trophy and 5,000 rand (a bit less than $700) in prize money.

The tournament was originally planned to run concurrently with FIFA's, to highlight the contrast between the daily lives of the majority of South Africans and the opulence of the World Cup proper. It began in June, but, fittingly, a struggle to find sponsors meant the finals were delayed by a full month, to Aug. 9.

The delay does not seem to have killed the excitement for the 16 teams taking part on the final day. Sunshine and rain alternated all day, passing showers and gusts of wind making ball control and fluent passing a challenge.

"We are used to these harsh conditions. We live in poor areas without basic necessities and fight off challenges each day," said Artwell Koerberg, manager of "Switzerland", a select team from Westlake, south of Cape Town. The point of the competition, said Pamela Beukes, was to show how the World Cup was a missed opportunity to promote development to the benefit of South Africa's poor.

"We looked at it from the perspective that the tournament would bring better houses for us," she told IPS. "We thought they would develop our areas to give a good image to foreigners, but we were relocated to tin houses hiding us away from foreigners."

Beukes is chairperson of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, which fights to defend the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Cape Town residents who lack adequate housing.

"See, now they built these white elephants [the stadia]. They should have used the same resources to build houses for the poorest of the poor."

"But there is no use crying over spilt milk," I interjected.

"Then the government must show the same discipline shown during World Cup preparation," responded Beukes. "They have shown that they can achieve anything, we demand they do it now for the poor."

'This time for Africa'

Clinton Peterson hails from Delft, a township some 25 kilometres from Cape Town's city centre, home to one of the largest government housing developments in the country.

"Clintyano", as his team-mates call him, is the most vocal of the "South Korea" squad.

"I stay in Delft. I don't even have a big house. if I turn, my head knocks against the wall, you see, because I don't have a house. I live in a small hokkie."

Hokkie is the Afrikaans term for a shack like the one Peterson shares with three other family members. "It's not nice. Now we come here in Athlone, we see these houses... I feel sad."

Peterson's team-mate, striker Trinian Davids has just come out of rehab for drugs - a widespread problem for youths in his community.

"I'm physically fit now, I no longer take tik [crystal methamphetamine]. This is because of soccer," says Davids, who dreams that football will be an escape route not only from drugs and alcohol but also from poverty.

"Football is my life, if I go [into the professional leagues], my friend, I'll be a great star and I'll give to the people. People don't have money, they don't have houses, and if I have money I'll develop [the area], my friend."

No official recognition

Davids's team-mates call him "Kaka"; he fancied the World Cup as an opportunity to be spotted by football agents who could link him to professional teams. His hopes grew even more when he heard of the Poor People's tournament.

But no high-ranking officials from FIFA or the government deigned to visit the parallel tournament, despite invitations from organisers.

"We invited the mayor, he didn't come," said Beukes. "They are showing disregard for the poor. All that we wanted is for them to come and support it and especially to come and see the talent on the ground."

Twenty-eight year old Bantu Dlincane, is among the handful of supporters encouraging his team to play on.

"What I want is just employment. For now I just think we voted for nothing. Our leaders are not working," he said. Dlincane lives in a squatter camp ironically called Sweet Home Farm.

The self-trained electrician says his life didn't change due to the FIFA World Cup. "I'm still waiting to see if the legacy the government was talking about is going provide me with a job."

The South African government injected over $4 billion dollars to the World Cup preparation. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the investment will see a one percent rise in GDP this year.

For Dlincane, any long term benefits of the infrastructure built for the World Cup means nothing. "I don't have a job, my brother."

In light of the fresh threats and actual violence towards black African migrants immediately following FIFA's World Cup - with Somali shopkeepers in particular targeted - it's a bittersweet irony that when the final whistle blows, the team playing in the colours of Somalia's Ocean Stars celebrates victory.

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