THE SOCCER WORLD CUP, CLASS, POWER AND POVERTY IN SOUTH AFRICA

posted 8 Jun 2010, 07:16 by Admin uk   [ updated 18 Feb 2011, 12:34 ]

David van Wyk

The ruling class in underdeveloped countries do not own significant means of production. In South Africa after 16 years of “democratic” transition and a variety of black economic empowerment, affirmative action and affirmative procurement programmes, the major means of production in mining, manufacturing, agriculture, wholesale and retail and finance are still mostly either foreign owned or in white settler hands. Thus more than 70% of land is still white owned, the Department of Mineral Resources which sought to achieve a shift in the ownership of mines through the mechanism of the Mining Charter bewails the fact that it failed dismally to achieve even its limited objectives of transferring ownership in mining into black hands.

This demonstrates the incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to effect meaningful transformation in the context of underdevelopment. The historic compromise reached in 1993 that led to the first democratic elections in 1994 tied the petite bourgeoisie to a parliamentary game based on the Westminster model with a heavy dose of federalism. The “property clause,” binding the leaders of the new governing party to negotiating land redistribution and restitution based on “market-value” effectively rendered the petite bourgeois leaders of the tripartite alliance powerless and the economic base of the country untouched. Powerless economically, the political ruling class lacks any foundation from which to effectively transform the racially poisoned social relations and geographic spatial arrangements of Apartheid. The black and working class are still trapped in urban ghettoes called townships and informal settlements (squatter camps).  The white petite bourgeoisie long fled the inner-cities at a speed which only marginally surpassed that of their black class compatriots for the gated leafy northern suburbs and the heavily walled, electrified and security dominated golf estates in close proximity to sprawling malls. Earlier this year the President gave voice to his development model – a mall for every deeply impoverished rural village, to bring shopping convenience to the poorest of the poor.

The country was divided into nine largely ethnic “provinces” giving room to the aspirations of emergent Tswana petite bourgeois aspirations in the North West Province, Zulu petite bourgeois aspirations in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Sotho petite bourgeois aspirations in the Free State, Xhosa petite bourgeois aspirations in the Eastern Cape, etc. Instead of overthrowing the racial, ethnic and tribal divisions which constituted the social relations that emanated from the Apartheid division and exploitation of the working class, the post 1994 historic compromise simply refined Apartheid capitalism.

Since the national bourgeoisie lacks the economic means to secure its rule and throw a few crumbs to the poorest of the poor, it has instead become preoccupied with self-enrichment – not by expanding the economic base of the country, but through seeking to partner global capital in the exploitation of the resources of the country, through becoming the national facilitators for foreign capital, corrupting the term “nationalism” in the process and raising the phrase “foreign-investment” to the level of incontestable holy scripture. Forced to create “conditions favourable for foreign investment” the national bourgeoisie does not dare to impose taxes, decent and safe working conditions, or demand a meaningful stake of the profits generated by the mineral wealth of the country.

In the process of prostrating the country before global capital, so as to become partners in the plunder and pillage of South Africa and Africa’s national resources the national bourgeoisie through the agency of the state imposed a severe structural adjustment programme in the form of the Growth with Equity and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, privatising hospitals, forcing the poor to pay for education and health allowing electricity, roads, transport (particularly the railways) and communication infrastructure to deteriorate – causing general stagnation, in pursuit of inflation and interest rate targeting.  In its first term of office the African National Congress, this (democratic) dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in an underdeveloped country such as South Africa drew its strength from a charismatic figure – the great leader. In developed capitalist countries the bourgeois dictatorship is founded on the economic power of the ruling class. In South Africa after 1994 the national bourgeoisie basked in the glory of Nelson Mandela. Mandela stood for moral power, and it was in his shadow that the weak South African national bourgeoisie decided to get rich.

The masses of the people of all classes were entranced by aura created around the person of Mandela, he came to be seen as a saviour and they spontaneously put their trust in this patriot. He embodied their aspirations for freedom, equality, justice and national dignity in the struggle against Apartheid. Once in power, Mandela seemed to be the symbolic leader, while Thabo Mbeki appeared to pull the strings – far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people with regard to housing, health, education, employment, land restitution and redistribution, the ANC quickly revealed its true purpose: to be the board of executives of that company of profiteers who were impatient for their rewards for having led the liberation struggle – the national bourgeoisie – and the phrase “I did not struggle to be poor!” has become commonplace as government tenders, mining and prospecting licences harvested from the geological reports of the Department of Minerals were appropriated in a corrupt orgy of feeding out of the state trough.

Thabo Mbeki came to be seen as the fierce defender of the interests of this new class who have hijacked the state for the promotion of self-interest. His contact with the masses became completely unreal, he came to be seen as aloof and arrogant as he resolutely joined the side of the exploiters – out went the left of centre Reconstruction and Development Programme, in came GEAR and a panel of international economic advisors that included the who-is- who of global capitalism. Roads and infrastructure deteriorated, health facilities crumbled, health services collapsed, education went into a crisis, the inner cities where the poor are concentrated crumbled into ruins, squatter camps mushroomed, crime spiralled out of control and the gap between the rich and poor rapidly escalated. Human right and dignity became commodities available only to those who could afford to pay for such luxuries.

Since the national bourgeoisie became preoccupied with filling its pockets as quickly as possible, the country sank into stagnation. In order to hide this regression the national middle class has become obsessed with the carnavalesque, much like Marie Antoinette in France, or the Tsarina before the 1917 revolution in Russia, the South African bourgeoisie can find nothing better to do than to engage in grandiose projects and glittering conferences and events such as the cricket, rugby and soccer world cups, environmental conferences, conferences against racism, conferences about poverty and unemployment, HIV/Aids conferences.... all talk and little substance, plenty of colourful t-shirts, caps, conference bags and sumptuous meals. To host all this requires the erection of grandiose conference centrums, prestigious stadiums, glamorous hotels, expensive railway lines and speedy trains from the airports to such facilities. Massive investments in prestige by a middleclass not founded on any productive economic base – a perpetuity of tenders to the construction and event management companies of families and friends. No new factories, no substantial economic growth, such complex tasks is the preserve of “foreign investors.”

Thabo Mbeki was shown the door by the angry working class members of the ANC at the last ANC conference at Polokwane. To be replaced by another “great leader”, Jacob Zuma who captured the imagination of the masses by his humble working origins, his grassroots charisma and ability to engage with ordinary folks on the ground. Unfortunately Jacob Zuma is a man for all seasons and all classes, and what he promised the workers ranged in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), seems to be very different from the commitments and reassurances he is constantly making to global capital in Washington, London, Paris and Tokyo.

The FIFA world cup should be seen against the background of a meagre impotent national bourgeoisie prostrating itself at the altar of global capital. The national bourgeoisie is boasting of its own organisational capacity in pulling of the first African World Cup, predicating its right to rule on this performance, coaxing the working class and the poor to join the celebrations in expectation of great things to result from it; harshly disciplining the working class for escalating service delivery protests and strikes in the run up to the event. The secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Zwelenzima Vavi has committed the most treacherous of sins by suggesting corruption in high places, for this he has earned himself a threat of disciplinary hearing by the very individuals he is accusing, and a death threat letter.  No doubt the national middle class will expect the hungry, the poor, the exploited and downtrodden to feed of fond memories of the event once it is past. They are hoping that sport will become the opium of the masses. FIFA seems to have extracted a heavy price for this momentary shot in the arm for the national bourgeoisie.

FIFA has already realised R25 billion in marketing and media revenue and has increased its income by 50% since the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It squeezed the following concessions from its national managers – the South African ruling class:

  • FIFA and FIFA designated sites, its subsidiaries and foreign football associations would be exempted from paying income tax, customs duties and value added tax. The country will lose tens of millions of rand in potential revenue.
  • FIFA employees, delegates, their commercial affiliates, licensees, host broadcasters and merchandise partners are exempt from work permit requirements.
  • FIFA commercial affiliates, licensees, host broadcasters, broadcast rights agencies, merchandise partners and service providers will not be taxed on profits made during the World Cup.
  • FIFA commercial affiliates, licensees, host broadcasters, broadcast rights agencies, merchandise partners and service providers will have unconditional visas and relaxed customs and check inn procedures.
  • Hospital beds, intensive care units and ambulances have been reserved for FFA and its foreign visitors, with R 700 million being spent on preparing health and emergency medical services for the event. These facilities are kept under lock and key and will only be activated once the event commences. This in a country where infants die in alarming numbers in poorly equipped and staffed maternity awards, and where HIV/Aids infection is among the highest in the world.
  • The South African Football association has had to provide FIFA with two limousines, 300 cars, numerous busses and two private jets.
  • FIFA will have full intellectual property rights emanating from the World Cup and the South African parliament was forced to pass legislation that would severely restrict local “entrepreneurs” from benefitting from the event at all – and a brand policing unit has been set up to enforce this.
  • All restaurants, bars or entertainment facilities within a 1km radius of any hosting stadium will not be allowed to trade for one hour before any match, during any match, or for an hour after the match has finished. If foreign visitors thought that they were going to enjoy a South African experience in terms of food and drink they are sadly mistaken.

    South Africa has reportedly already spent R63billion on the event, and most commentators agree that the country will benefit very little from it, if at all, save for fond memories which will become the stock for self congratulatory speeches by the leaders of the national bourgeoisie for decades to come. The working class and the poor will wonder how come the once revered leaders of the liberation struggle allowed the country to be screwed over – and when the peer past the fortified gates of the golf estates, patrolled by private security companies whose forces outnumber the South African police by three to one, they might grasp the answer – a bankrupt middleclass unable and unwilling to take the country into a meaningful and revolutionary transformation that will answer all the key questions that confronts this society.

    Sources used:

    Fanon, F. (2001) The Wretched of the Earth, London: Penguin Classics

    Farber, T. (2010) “Hooked on Sport” in Sunday Independent, Johannesburg p. 25

    Rademeyer, J. Prince, C. Lombaard, A.(2010) “Fifa’s great SA rip-off,” and “How SA sold out’”Johannesburg, p.1 and p.2.

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