Voyaging to the World Cup
Green Point stadium, Cape Town
Nelson Mandela Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Striking construction workers, Cape Town
South Africa’s publicity machine for the 2010 Fifa World Cup makes much of the success of the country’s hosting of the Confederations Cup.
Even if you are a Spanish footballer or other variety of European and associate only the blare of the vuvuzela with this year’s event, the Confederations Cup won the stamp of approval of Fifa chief Sepp Blatter. But first, it may not be much solace that Blatter and Fifa also approved of the vuvuzela – yes, the decision is that it will be around next year, although a newfangled "kuduzela" has been launched; and second, and more seriously, the World Cup dwarfs the Confed event.
The scale of everything to do with the World Cup is writ large, especially money matters.
Big money is involved, whether you are making it or spending it – the latter a point that the South African taxpayer is watching with interest.
Fifa has sold global television rights for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for more than $3 billion.
Beer brewer Budweiser, an official sponsor, has secured exclusive rights to sell its product at all stadiums, with all local and foreign rivals barred – although South Africa’s Weekend Post said that local beer and wine makers were "hatching plans" to be able to compete.
Estimates are that foreign visitors will generate about 15 billion rands, the local currency, (1.32 billion euro) in earnings for South Africa.
Then there is the cost to domestic coffers. In 2004, South Africa estimated that hosting the World Cup would mean spending something up to three billion rands; the figure is now seen as coming in as closer to 13 billion rands.
The shopping list, after all, is a long one – not just completion of those stadiums not yet ready, but also transport infrastructure and security, among other items.
One cost went up recently, the result of industrial action by stadium construction workers.
South Africa’s preparations for the World Cup became news worldwide again when construction workers downed tools – and, in South African fashion, danced in protest in the streets of Cape Town to draw attention to their demands.
The National Union of Miners – which, as the strike made obvious, has a remit wider than just those who take the lift down to work every day – brought out 70 000 workers. When it emerged that the workers were getting about 13 rands an hour, there was some sympathy for them.
The strike went on for about a week, being resolved in the end by a 12 per cent pay increase, a guarantee for equivalent wage levels on all civil engineering projects, and the agreement also covers casual workers not affiliated to a union.
With a December 2009 deadline looming for completion of all stadium projects and contractors facing serious penalty clauses if they are not finished on time there is, of course, no concrete guarantee that there will not be further industrial action.
But the South African government has not been short on issuing assurances.
Speaking in parliament in early July, sport and recreation minister Makhenkesi Stofile said that his department would continue to work with other departments to ensure that South Africa met all 17 Fifa requirements.
These guarantees include access to South Africa, a supportive financial environment, intellectual property and marketing rights, safety and security, health care services, transport and telecommunications.
BuaNews quoted Stofile as telling parliament that after 2010, some host cities could use the stadiums to generate income or even bid for future events.
"With the support of National Treasury, we have agreed that municipalities could approach the Development Bank of South Africa for favourable loans.
"Some cities have already taken up this offer. The department will pay the interest on these loans for the first two years as we cannot cater for ever-increasing costs.
"We hope that with falling prices of cement and steel, the host cities will also be able to save some money as a result," Stofile said.
Stadiums and other places
Tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, speaking after the end of the strike, issued an assurance of his own that the stadiums will be ready – and hinted that some misgivings could be rooted in Afro-pessimism, the view that the continent would never be able to quite get it right.
"If this was France, people wouldn’t worry," Van Schalkwyk said. "It should be no different in South Africa."
In its post-mortem on the Confederations Cup, South Africa’s organising committee went through its "to do" list of stadiums that are being built or revamped – Soccer City in the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, Mbombela in the north-eastern provincial city of Nelspruit, King Senzagakhona in the Indian Ocean city of Durban and Green Point in South Africa’s oldest city and parliamentary capital, Cape Town.
Soccer City is 90 per cent ready, and work is expected to finish in October, while the others are at various stages, with confidence remaining that they too will be ready. Accommodation, however, has been a continuing worry, and a matter not entirely in government hands, requiring private sector co-operation.
Blatter is on record as saying that his main concern was the country’s capacity to accommodate the hordes of fans who would be descending on South Africa (just an aside – if you really cannot get into the whole vuvuzela thing, earplugs are cheap and plentifully available, perhaps a legacy of the country’s history of having people with a passion for firearm ownership. Try any pharmacy near your hotel or guest house).
The most recent controversy involving MATCH, the outfit set up by Fifa to come up with 55 000 units of accommodation, was its stance that it would contract only with graded bed-and-breakfasts, guest houses, hotels and timeshare – not with private homeowners.
Jamie Byrom, interviewed by realestateweb.co.za, said that contracting with private homeowners was against the rules set for MATCH, and had not been done by the company in any country where the World Cup is held.
One consolation, though, if you rush you might get accommodation on the Queen Elizabeth 2, the former Cunard luxury liner being brought out of retirement to berth at Cape Town as a floating hotel, a move similar to what has been done with other major events hosted by the country.
A hotel that sails away when you do not want it would be the envy of anyone who does not like the developments along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. But I digress. There is also the question of morality.Moral matters
On the upside, Nobel laureate, anti-apartheid hero and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu sees a potentially morally uplifting moment in the 2010 World Cup.
"This thing is as important as Obama getting into the White House. For people of colour everywhere, it would lift them," said Tutu, portraying the World Cup as a chance for South Africans to take pride in the achievements that the end of apartheid has brought: "That would be the greatest thing – helping our people come together, seeing all of our people with new pride".
On the much less noble side, the forthcoming event has raised the prickly question of whether sex work should be decriminalised, at least for the duration – a question that has been tricky for other countries hosting similar major events, too.
But South Africa, which combines moral objections by religious faith communities to the legalisation of prostitution with a long tradition of a thriving sex industry (the building in Cape Town that houses the cultural history museum served in the past variously as the supreme court and as a brothel, a linkage that has spawned many local jests) currently has no plans to change its laws on sex work.
In a July 19 report, the Weekend Post said that the SA Law Reform Commission had said that any possible legislation legalising sex work would see the light of day no earlier than 2011.Afro-pessimism
As much as statements are made like those by Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke that South Africa’s organising committee was "on track" to deliver a successful World Cup in 2010, doubts inevitably linger about whether an African country can pull it off, especially in European minds, especially after the German triumph in 2006.
Anna Kessel addressed the issue superbly in a sports blog in The Guardian on July 16: "Let’s face it, when we talk about safety we are talking about colour".
"Still, let’s not lose perspective here. South Africa hosts approximately eight million visitors a year; this is a country where tourism is a well-established industry, with tourists swarming to beaches and game reserves, mountain trails and holiday resorts – this is not some random backwater run by despots," she said.
(South African government voices would no doubt add that security was never a serious problem at other international events it has hosted, albeit smaller – the rugby and cricket world cups and most recently, the Confederations Cup.)
Conceding that her real worry was that most of the country will not feel the economic benefit of the event, Kessel said that "South Africa is safe, and it is not safe".
"All you can do is make your own distinction between sensible advice, and paranoia," she said.
To which I would add: Go. Drink a sundowner on Table Mountain for me.* Disclosure: Clive Leviev-Sawyer, the Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Echo, is – yes – a South African, Cape Town-born, and was a journalist in that country for more than 20 years. Unlike most of his compatriots, he does not care a fig about sport, but does like the vuvuzela, and Table Mountain.