Location: Diepsloot, South Africa
The FIFA World Cup won’t fix poverty.
How many people were gathered at the Diepsloot Fan Park to watch the 2010 FIFA opener on Friday June 11? Hundreds? Thousands? How many of these people could have bought a ticket to watch the game in Soccer City stadium? Probably very few.
For Diepsloot dwellers who had no tickets, the Fan Park was the closest they could get to a stadium atmosphere. However, there was a lot more at stake for them than a mere victory for South Africa, they were cheering for a better life. So what does the 2010 FIFA World Cup mean to people living in Diepsloot, one of Johannesburg’s deprived townships?
A strong police contingent backed by the Diepsloot Community security Unit keeps a watchful eye on the long row of people as they waited to enter Diepsloot Fan Park. It is a modern park with a big screen on a mowed pitch, surrounded by an iron fence amidst shacks and a dusty ground.
Police men keep a close watch on cars parked in an improvised parking lot next to the Fan Park. At the gate, they conduct a skilled search to ensure that no one enters the park with a dangerous object. In Diepsloot, a disreputable area where people are used to public gatherings and to marches that swiftly turn into violent demonstrations, too much security is never enough.
“We are here to maintain discipline and prevent stampedes,” says Abraham Sebothoma, the Chief Commander of Diepsloot Community security. Police forces in Diepsloot normally work in a hostile field, but here they are conducting a more ‘friendly mission’ than usual. On the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening day, they are face with violent demonstrators whose passion for football has turned them into sympathetic supporters.
Yet, their task is not easy, as Sebothoma explains: “My men are still challenged by excited supporters who want to clamber over the fence. This time we should dissuade them without using tear gas”.
When the game starts the ambiance is a replica of the ambiance in Soccer City, and shows how joyful Diepsloot dwellers are that day. Cheers and singing of the crowd stifle the voice of the commentators that come out of the loud speakers set on either side of the big screen.
Violence and poverty are every day realities for the people here. Locals have been appealing for an improvement in their social conditions and employment opportunities for years, and the hope of an economic impact from the FIFA World Cup is high.
The first half ends in nil-all draw but the excitement of supporters keeps growing.
During half time, when asked what he thinks about the 2010 FIFA World Cup being held in South Africa, Sindi Magona, a Diepsloot resident standing next to the Paramedic ambulance parked in the Fan Park says: “The World Cup has changed the face of South Africa. The need for roads and sports facilities to welcome supporters has created many job opportunities […] my brother has been working on building sites since, and he brings money back home”.
The road works undertaken since the World Cup announcement and the health facility that is currently under construction in Diepsloot certainly brings hope for a brighter future to its impoverished and deprived population.
When in the 55th Minute Siphiwe Tshabalala rockets a left-footer into the right top corner, Diepsloot residents gathered in the Fan Park go crazy in celebration. Unfortunately Rafa Marquez spoils their dream with an equalizer 20 minutes later.
During the very short break preceding a ‘throw in’, Mphala Mosimane, a 43-year-old Diepsloot resident comments on the benefit of the World Cup for Diepsloot community. “Whenever a measles outbreak affects the country, we are heavily hit and with the lack of health services, the disease spreads easily here. Hopefully with access to basic facilities, thanks to works undertaken because of the 2010 World Cup, things will be better now”.
Mosimane’s face shines with hope and her euphoria increases whenever a South African player dribbles or shoots past the Mexican goalkeeper.
What does the World Cup mean to Mokgalaka Bennie? Not much. The billions spent in the construction of stadiums make no sense to him. This Diepsloot resident, less optimistic than Mosimane, comments on the game and its probable impact on the life of people living in Diepsloot. “We just enjoy the good game, but we should rather be realistic; the World Cup won’t bring a lot to Diepsloot,” He says with a calm and composed voice.
Mokgalaka frowns, stops a while and points at a cluster of shacks covered by dust and continues: “See where we live! Politicians don’t mind the life of those who are living here. They want to mask poverty and the ugly face of this township by building these facilities. They’ll stop the works when the World Cup ends”.
Only minutes after the final whistle, half of the lights in the Fan Park are switched off. The crowd moves towards the gate, less enthusiastic than a few hours ago.
Mokgalaka’s anxiety raises an alarming question. If the government had not been given the World Cup hosting rights, would such big money and the resources that have gone into it been spent on the building of facilities in Diepsloot township?
Sindi Magona and Mphala Mosimane, caught up in the World Cup fever, don’t wonder if their relatives will secure their menial jobs once the 2010 FIFA World Cup has gone or if the government is going to defer or stop the works in their area. They are less concerned, it seems, with the legacy this World Cup will leave than Mokgalaka is.
This legacy is not often discussed by the media and the ‘inhumane face’ and ‘not-so positive aspect’ of the ‘beautiful game’ are pushed under the carpet.
Most football fans and tourists, who land in gleaming airports across the country, sleep in five-star hotels and luxury guest houses and do their shopping in modern and shiny malls. It is unlikely that they will see the conditions that many South Africans have to cope with in tin shacks in Diepsloot Township.
When on July 11, the Green point Stadium switches off its light after the last whistle has been blown, it will be interesting to see the effective changes football had brought to inhabitants of Diepsloot and other townships.
The real final score and big victory for most ordinary South Africans will not be to see Bafana Bafana lifting up the most coveted trophy, but it will be the long lasting positive impact the 2010 World Cup will leave on the their life. As for every new stadium built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there is more need for health centres and better housing for township dwellers who can only dream of sleeping in modern red-tile houses.
Poverty is not going to disappear because the 2010 FIFA World Cup is in South Africa. The lives of people living below the poverty line in Diepsloot Township and in other deprived areas won’t change once the World Cup has gone, but at least they should benefit from it.