FIFA and the maids


The 2010 FIFA World Cup is drawing to an end. On the pitch, it has been filled with thrilling moments and surprising turns. Off the pitch … not so much.

Ever since South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the government has been feeding promises and creating expectations about how good this is for the country, for the economy and for the workers and the poor.

This World Cup will make more money than any in the history of the event. A total of $3.3bn has been raised by FIFA from television and sponsors, dwarfing the amount made in Germany.

It has also been one of the most expensive World Cups ever. FIFA has spent $1.1bn.  South Africa has paid out $5bn getting the Rainbow Nation ready for its biggest moment since the 1995 Rugby World Cup, building stadiums, roads and public transport links.

The Cape Town seaside stadium, with 37,000sq m of glass roofing to protect spectators from the elements, is the most expensive building. It rises amid mounting claims that South Africa – where half the population still survives on an average of £130 a month – has mortgaged itself to host a football spectacular that will bring little benefit to its people.

As reported in the documentary, Fahrenheit 2010, the £68 million Mbombela Stadium has been built on the site of a school serving a poor community in Nelspruit, near the Kruger Park. It seats 46,000 and will be used for four matches, while local residents live in dwellings without water or electricity.

The stadiums are magnificent, the atmosphere and anticipation is heard through the sounds of the vuvuzela. But Dennis Brutus, late sports-justice activist, predicted that the World Cup would result in a shocking waste of resources. He said, “When you build enormous stadia, you are shifting those resources from building schools and hospitals and then you have these huge structures standing empty. They become white elephants.”

Former president Thabo Mbeki also predicted. He claimed the 2010 World Cup would be the moment when the African continent “turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict“. Such ambitions were never likely to be fulfilled by a sports event, no matter how big and how lucrative. But the claim was grand, almost as grand as the bill paid for the event.

In the end, will South Africa have spent billions of dollars on a 30-day advert that quickly fades as the sporting world moves on? If so, South Africa will have missed a great opportunity, a defining opportunity, to think through and act on celebration.

Thabo Mbeki’s words could have provided that opportunity. The conflicts that mark South Africa today — include poverty, xenophobia, racism, sexism, environmental degradation, violence, health and well being — are not exclusively South African or African conflicts. While the world press and much of the South African press has suddenly discovered the poors of South Africa, from Blikkiesdorp to Khayelitsha to Barracks and beyond, who has discovered the particularly South African celebration?

What is there to celebrate? Since the transition from the apartheid regime, South Africa has celebrated and been celebrated for democracy, freedom, rule of law. These are fragile and important structures, which have been avoided in the current State discussion and even more in those of FIFA.

In 1994, for example, South Africans celebrated democracy, meeting by meeting, engagement by engagement.

When the Reconstruction and Development Programme was presented, in 1994, it emerged from RDP councils that had tried to include everyone. While the RDP itself has had mixed results, the process of a national critical conversation was important. It involved domestic workers and their bosses as equal participants, if not always partners.

The 1994 Women’s Charter for Effective Equality, organized by the Women’s National Coalition, emerged from a creative research and inquiry campaign that, from 1992 to 1994, attempted to include all women, where they were, not where they were meant or imagined to be. It too involved domestic workers and their bosses, and their inputs were of equal and interrelated value and weight.

And today? Other than a few very transitory jobs, what has the World Cup done for domestic workers in South Africa? Has it promoted their rights? Has it engaged or consulted them? Has it told them that, irrespective of legal status, they are full and free citizens who are covered and cherished by the Law? No.

If anything, the private lives and domestic spaces in which real democracy either begins or founders, have gone untouched and uncelebrated. Not only by FIFA but also by the media and by advocates for social justice.

There has been no engagement in any kind of consultative democratic and democratizing process. And so the poor and disenfranchised simmer with resentment and a yearning for democracy.

What is there to celebrate? The games have been exciting, but games are always exciting. South Africa could have offered a precious space to witness transformation in process. South Africa once gave transformation a new importance. It was a gift the Rainbow Nation offered the world. This World Cup was an opportunity to live it at home. An opportunity squandered.


(Photo Credit: Reuters / Paul Hanna / Daily Maverick)

Protection: when the powerful offer protection, women know

The day after Obama won the Presidential election, The New York Times wrote that Obama won a decisive victory because “he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens”. At the time, I wrote that protection was the wrong goal, that from India to Haiti to Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Ciudad Juárez, and the Mexico-US borderlands more generally, the powerful offer protection to those they call citizens, and ignore women’s demands for democratic, full and mutual engagement, for the right and capacity to dream and love in public as well as in private. The powerful offer protection as a means to ignore women.

That was November 2009. It’s January 2010, time to consider, again, protection. Not the protection that follows mass devastation, such as in Haiti. Nor the protection that follows extreme violence, as with the massacre near Jos, Nigeria. Nor the protection of legislative and other forms of hate campaigns, as in the current anti-gay Bill in Uganda, where we are all being protected from the threat and scourge of same-sex love and sexuality.

Instead, consider two linked national – global moments in which the powerful few claim to offer the gift of protection to the citizens of the nation.

The World Cup is coming to South Africa. Across the country, “the question of how to deal with sex workers grows louder”. What exactly is the problem, the to-deal-with, with sex workers? Because sex work is illegal, the issues of health and safety for both clientele and workers remain insoluble, and the rights and well being of the sex workers remain distant: “Sex work is illegal in South Africa. Cape Town-based Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), has been campaigning to decriminalize sex work for the past 12 years, said spokeswoman Vivienne Lalu. 

Rights activists say legalizing sex work would protect the workers and their clients from HIV and abuse; there are moves afoot to review the Sexual Offences Act. But, Lalu says, `We are still some years away.’”

Legalizing sex work would protect the workers, not because the law, given by the powerful, would afford protection, but because the entire issue would move from the realm of sexuality to that of workers. Once sex work in South Africa, as anywhere, is legalized, sex workers can unionize, can create their own formal, autonomous, sanctioned spaces, alliances, affiliations. Workers, and especially women workers, don’t seek protection. They demand the right to association. They demand respect for the dignity of their individual and collective labor. That is the reason that the lead up to the World Cup in South Africa has been marked by so many protests. Across South Africa, the poors, largely women, have rejected the promise and offer of protection, in the form of forced removals for their own good, and instead have called for housing, public services, education, and health care.

The Olympics are coming to Canada, and so Canada, British Columbia in particular,  anticipates an increase in sexual assaults during the 2010 Olympics, and, of course, all the money has been spent on `security’. The buildings and international `visitors’ must be protected.

But British Columbia had enough money recently to outsource welfare-to-work to a company called WCG International HR Solution. WCG is a subsidiary of Providence Service Corporation, based in Tucson, Arizona. WCG billed the government for `no-shows’. This is business as usual. When you outsource `helping’, women and children are the first casualties. This is not new information. It’s been available to British Columbians since at least 2005, when Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health appeared, sharing stories of 21 women who did not seek protection but rather struggled and organized for change. Instead of change, they got the Olympics and the gift of protection: evictions, clinic closures, increased police presence.

When the promise of protection comes from the powerful, it is always fatal, first to women and children, then to everyone and every thing else. Women know the pitfalls of powerful protection. Women know, in their bodies, the economies of extraction, theft, exploitation and abuse. Change from below seeks material equality, space, time, and it begins and ends with women. Protection from the powerful is what it always has been, an insurance policy forced upon people by extortionists.


(Image Credit:

Scatterlings: “Shoot to kill”

At this time four years ago, New Orleans residents of color were being hunted like animals by white citizens and National Guardsmen alike as the waters of Katrina receded…

…and now ZA has its own “shoot to kill” policy. On the anniversary of 9/11, it really makes me wonder about how “we” define terrorism. Brutality by the state = law and order, mean to protect “football fans [that] could become easy targets during next year’s World Cup“. The low income (or no income) citizens of South Africa, of course, are always easy targets in the state’s shooting range. Oh wait, did I say citizens? Turns out “those who use illegal weapons would lose their normal rights as citizens“. Is this not terrorism?

It certainly is terrifying, and there are so many more layers yet: the resources being allotted to “security” and construction for this event instead of towards economic justice, the high rates of crime seen as unacceptable for Western tourists but the price of admission for South Africans…and where is the speech at an ANC dinner, the huge push of resources, regarding violence against women and rape?

(Photo Credit: The Telegraph / AFP)