The World Cup’s winners and losers


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat

As the wins and losses pile up for the world’s major soccer teams at this year’s World Cup in South Africa, it is much less clear how to assess the impact of the month-long extravaganza on the country’s urban poor. It appears as though the worst possible fears have not been realized. We have not seen forced evictions on the order of those experienced during previous global sporting events. In the run up to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, some estimate that 15% of the city’s population was displaced.

We can describe the pace of evictions in South Africa as more of a slow, continuous burn than such a massive firecracker. Many slum dwellers in Cape Town and Durban are living out their lives in “temporary” transit camps after they were relocated years ago, promised better housing that has not yet come. Not much evidence has surfaced thus far that the pace of these relocations picked up much more in the months immediately before the World Cup. But they didn’t stop either.

In Johannesburg and the rest of Gauteng province, the story is similar. Max Rambau of the Community Organization Resource Center (CORC), SDI’s local NGO affiliate in South Africa, writes about residents of Kliptown in Johannesburg, a historic area near where South Africa’s Freedom Charter was signed. He has been working with the community there after houses were destroyed by the council of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality on 28 June. In the last two months, similar acts of city government-sponsored destruction and dispossession were visited on the neighboring informal settlement communities of Gabon and Chris Hani near the formal town of Daveyton in the Ekurhuleni municipality.

Informal traders also faced harassment from municipal authorities as the World Cup approached. Those selling food to construction workers at some of the major stadiums were continuously moved and forced into temporary stalls as construction progressed. Many worried that they would not benefit from the World Cup at all when FIFA insisted that all concessions be from FIFA’s official sponsors. While many traders lost their prime trading spots — and anticipated revenue from the soccer bonanza — some in Cape Town and Johannesburg did manage to negotiate significant concessions.

So while there are plenty of both winners and losers on the field during this World Cup tournament, the poor are only ending up on one side of the divide. They have not benefited economically from the World Cup, and few are able to afford to attend the games. Exclusion, illegality, and State-sponsored violence and dispossession, are still the hallmarks of urban poverty in South Africa. Much as they are throughout the growing cities of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The challenge will be what happens after the tournament. Will evictions continue apace as the local and national authorities continue their pursuit of “world-class” cities and “cities without slums”? Will the poor continue to be marginalized through the very development programs intended to benefit them?

And let us not restrict our gaze to the State. We can and should ask tough questions of ourselves as civil society actors. What methods of community organization can empower the poor to engage the state around true bottom-up developmental agendas of and by poor communities? How can government actors be moved away from the programmatic initiatives that have failed in the past? What kinds of agglomerations and networks of community organizations are necessary to this end? How can professionals, academics, and others act to support the organic struggles of the poor in ways that achieve tangible gains on the ground?

The World Cup has many people in South Africa in a state of collective euphoria. But, when all is said and done, the urban poor in this country will still face evictions, landlessness, homelessness, and lack of access to basic services. Just as they did well before the World Cup. In a little over a week, the soccer world champion will be clear. But the answers to such questions of urban development are those that will be central to the future of this country.