A month-long football extravaganza, which has guzzled almost $6bn from both Fifa and the South African government's coffers, kicks off on 11 June and ends on 11 July. The significance of this soccer-fest cannot be underrated. South Africa is Africa's largest economy, and having taken on one of the most publicised and venerated global events for the first time on African soil, expectations are high about what the World Cup will yield now and later.
Although, so far, the naysayers' gloomy prediction that South Africa would fail to pull this off have come to nothing, scepticism still abounds. But by weathering the storm of the most ravaging world economic crisis since the 1930s, to pour billions of rands into hosting this event, South Africa has clearly proved that it has economic prowess and durability.
However, criticism that this was a misplaced priority in a country where the majority still live in deplorable conditions, cannot be overlooked. For every swanky new stadium built for this event, there is a need for a health centre, a school, medicines, sanitation and better housing. Therefore after all the excitement, glitz, and grandeur are over, the real final score and big victory for most ordinary South Africans will not be the prized golden trophy--that would be a bonus--but the long-lasting legacy the event will leave on their soil and for Africa at large. Will it prove a grandiose but wasteful spectacle or an event that symbolises Africa's often frowned-upon potential? Most of all, will there be an economic boom or a bust? Jane Regina Jere-Malanda reports.
When the maiden World Cup tournament was held in Uruguay in 1930, it was such a novelty that only 13 teams participated, and it took four entrants from Europe--Romania, Belgium, France and Yugoslavia--three weeks to arrive in Uruguay by sea! But the excitement of the event was palpable, boosted further by the host nation winning the trophy, for which each Uruguayan player received a plot of land as a "thank you" from the government.
Fast-forward to 2010, and football fever remains as high as ever, but a lot, yes a lot, has changed over the tournament's 80-year history. The World Cup and hosting it has since taken on massive economic and social aspects. The tournament is today a multi-billion-dollar-spinning event. Some World Cup footballers are mega-rich stars in their own right and would not need the bonus of a plot of land to put on a good show.
A total of $6bn has been invested in hosting this year's tournament, a huge chunk going into the largest infrastructural development in South Africa's short history of independence from apartheid white-minority rule. The results of this investment look extremely impressive--too impressive in fact, for a country, which was only readmitted into Fifa and the global sporting fraternity in 1992! But at what cost? According to South Africa's finance minister, Pravin Gordhan: "We have achieved a remarkable goal in completing the 2010 stadiums in good time. And as we rightly enjoy and take pride in this achievement, we know that we must extend the same extraordinary efforts to addressing our critical social and economic challenges."
Recognising the not-so-positive social realities on the ground amidst the football euphoria, Gordhan adds: "The key dimensions of our transformation challenge are clear and well-known. One in four adults seeking work is unemployed, and almost half our young people have not found work. Income inequality is amongst the highest in the world; and half our population survives on 8% of national income. Closely associated with inequality and economic vulnerability, we confront several social challenges: an HIV and TB pandemic, unacceptably high rates of crime, angry communities and dysfunctional schools."
Danny Jordaan, the CEO of the World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC), does not deny the implications of the World Cup in terms of social challenges and fiscal demands, but insists that the tournament is not...