Put blinders on and enjoy World Cup
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG If you try hard, very hard, you might get out of this World Cup without having someone with a deformity come up to your car window, begging for money.
You may be able to ignore the tin shantytowns that dot every major city.
You just might be able to avoid getting mugged, robbed or have your car stolen or broken into.
You may be able to put the blinders on and ignore that a country that has just spent around five billion euros to host the World Cup has an unemployment rate of 25%.
You could try to ignore it and go about the business of enjoying the World Cup, making the economy and FIFA rich, because by July 12 most visitors will be out of the country, gone home where they don't have to see shantytowns or lock their doors every minute of the day.
From the moment South Africa was awarded the tournament, organizers hoped that somehow the glitz and glamour of the World Cup would blind everyone especially South Africans to this problem.
But if South Africans have to pay for this, they deserve a piece of the pie.
Right now, they aren't getting it. And the issue has exploded, taking some of the shine off the tournament.
Hundreds of World Cup workers, mostly stewards at stadiums, have gone on strike demanding what they say they were promised.
The stewards, hired by a private firm for the World Cup, handle security at the venues. When they began speaking out about their grievances, the protest was broken up with rubber bullets, tear gas and flash grenades.
South African police have taken over security at the stadiums but the protests are getting louder and larger.
It appears the protests will continue at all stadiums. Who knows how heated they may become.
Chants of "Get out FIFA Mafia," have been heard.
According to these workers, they were promised 500 rand ($70) a match when they signed the contract. They say, instead, they are being paid ($30).
"Most of the companies are using these workers only for this tournament, Jackson Simon, South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) told Associated Press. After that they will be unemployed and they are exploiting them because they know they will not be using them after these games."
Most of the companies are using these workers only for this tournament. After that they will be unemployed.
The attraction of major events like the Olympics and World Cup is so enticing for a nation that it does whatever it can to bring in those events, even at the risk of ignoring far greater needs.
The excuse used by the movers and shakers who brought the event to South Africa is that that the benefits will remain long after the tournament is over.
They may benefit from new roads but what long-term jobs were really created? How many people are going to use a soccer stadium that holds 80,000-plus?
Nelspruit is the capital of one of the poorest provinces in South Africa and it has a stadium that cost 137 million euros to build.
The total cost for everything stadiums, infrastructure, the whole lot was supposed to be in the two billion euro range. Now it's closer to five billion.
South Africans weren't about to turn down the opportunity to host the World Cup. They have embraced it and supported it but, 10 years down the road, what long-term effect will it have on the country?
The problems the country wants to hide are the very problems the World Cup emphasizes. There is no more stark contrast than going to Ellis Park, realizing the money that was sunk into it, while the neighborhood around it is a grubby and frightening.
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. There is great poverty here and while apartheid is dead, many of those issues still exist.
Countries like Germany, the United States and Japan can all better afford to stage an event like the World Cup.
But the South Africa government wanted the chance to showcase this country. They wanted to rid themselves of the reputation that Africa is incapable of running such an event.
Will it succeed? Only time will tell.
When this showcase of soccer is over, though, all the existing problems will remain.
Perhaps investing in the people would have made more sense than investing in seats and concrete.