SA World Cup: The danger is not the crime rate but neo-liberalism
We have heard horror stories of the high crime rate in South Africa where more than 50 people are murdered on an average everyday that will keep the tourists expected for the World Cup away. The present infrastructure of airports, roads, and public transportation, poor even by developing countries standards needs a daunting overhaul, a feat that might prove to be too difficult according to many skeptics. Even the spectre of AIDS is causing many to consider another host for the World Cup.
To them I say, that these conditions can and will be ameliorated. The SA government has succeeded in bringing down the crime rate marginally and with higher allocations of the World Cup budget should be able to bring it down further. In 60% of the cases the victim and perpetrator are known to each other. Just like in Germany where regular units of the army were given the responsibility in assisting the local police in emergency security measures in case of terrorism and riots, SA can also do the same. The question of poor infrastructure was called into question when Greece was given the Olympics in 2004. Many were considering Los Angeles as an alternative host, in case Greece failed. The SA government has pumped more than 6 billion rand into upgrading public transportation and airport construction. Today Thabo Mbeki's government announced that they had renounced the official policy of AIDS denial with the government announcing increased availability of anti-retroviral drugs and increasing support to civic groups fighting AIDS.
However, the question is not whether South Africa can host the World Cup. They can and will do it well. The caveat is that they cannot do it with the Thabo Mbeki government's current alienation with the labour and trade groups. The deregulation of South Africa's economy has led to enormous growth and this growth was chiefly the catalyst for FIFA awarding the World Cup to South Africa, notwithstanding all the heartwarming talk of the new post- apartheid South Africa. However SA's growth has been uneven and the gap between the rich and the poor has been steadily widening since economic reforms took place. The GINI co-efficient which measures the difference between the have and the have nots stands at .578 (the US has a GINI co-eficient with .408). The Mbeki government has gone out of its way to woo the pro-business lobby that has been pushing for the World Cup to happen. The lobby has treated the largest South African labour union, the Confederation of SA Trade Unions (COSATU, an umbrella organization) and the SACP (South African Communit Party) at arms length. The COSATU and the SACP are partners with the ANC in the tripartite alliance that runs SA presently. The drift of the Mbeki faction towards neo-liberal policies has created an atmosphere of mistrust and tension between the partners. The trade and labour unions have largely been absent from the World Cup dialogue that has left them feeling even more alienated. The question that most trade unions would like to know is how the government is going to handle the vending process by which unemployed people can benefit from the job creation expected, in a fair and transparent manner, rather than glad-handing the rich corporate sponsor friends of the pro-business lobby of the Mbeki government. Overhanging all of this is the power struggle between Mbeki and his populist deputy leader Jacob Zuma who represents the trade and labour unions. Zuma was stripped of his post and first indicted and then exonerated in a rape trial that many have seen as the work of Mbeki to scuttle Zuma's chances of being the the head of the ANC and consequently his successor as South African president in 2007. A prospect that has the pro-business faction shuddering in horror. Today, Zuma finds himself as the target of an investigation into a bribery case. If he is indicted in anything perceived less than a fair trial, then the split between the alliance partners will be permanent and the World Cup will be in jeopardy. The recent annual conference of the COSATU reflected the dissatisfaction with the Mbeki government.
The split between an older ideology, pure and rooted in the context of a country's struggle for independence and rejection of colonialist strictures as in apartheid in South Africa, and the emerging forces of globalization and free trade is being replayed elsewhere in Brazil and in India. But nowhere will it be put to the test so quickly and so intensely as in South Africa. In these four intervening years, SA has to find a solution to the question- will the World Cup benefit everyone concerned? And by that I mean, the ordinary citizen- otherwise the number of protestors descending down to SA might just overwhelm the number of football fans that come to enjoy the World Cup.