The World Cup - A Post Mortem

posted 15 Jul 2010, 02:05 by Admin uk   [ updated 18 Feb 2011, 12:33 ]

David van Wyk

Yes indeed it was great being with the crowds, blowing vuvuzelas, waving flags and watching every match on TV, at the stadiums or in bohemian restaurants. I also allowed myself to be swept along the torrent of jubilation and festivities. Yes it was great that South Africa could pull it off without incident. We said so after the Rugby World Cup (1995), after the World Conference on Racism in Durban (2001), after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Sandton (2002), not to talk of all the global cricket events. There was never any doubt that South Africa could pull this off, and earn browny points from the global neo-liberal ruling class. FIFA is after all a global transnational corporation which has commodified football and sells the privilege of hosting the event to the highest most malleable bidder. 

However, my cynicism remains about the comprador ruling class in South Africa, and about the event itself - we cannot run this country as an events and tourism, carnival destination. While sport and culture is no doubt important key questions that confront our society have to do with poverty, unemployment, housing, health, education, water, electricity, etc. rather than building sport and conference infrastructure.

As an internationalist and a communist I am also critical of nationalism and of nation building. I left this country in 1983 because I could not support the exclusive nationalism propagated by the white population. I am also not comfortable with the current nationalism parading as democracy. I remind myself of the German petite bourgeoisie who with the audacity of Hitler managed to grab power and set about settling historic scores with the working class and its organizations, the German Communist Party, the German Social Democratic Party, the Unions and their newspapers - this settling of scores had the full support of global capital at the time - and Hitler was praised for creating jobs, for restoring German pride, for rebuilding the German nation. His reward was of course the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Hitler rallied the nation with much flag waving, marches and political theatre on a grand scale, but it was all a bankrupt façade. When he ran out of ideas he found a scapegoat for his own shortcomings - the Jewish population of Germany. 

With that awful era in human history in mind, I am not surprised that the poor in South Africa are resorting to xenophobia. They are told that they are part of the "Nation" that they must bury their class awareness, and assume a national consciousness instead, there are no exploiters or exploited now we are all part of the rainbow nation. So if a worker's poverty, miserable living and working conditions are not the result of exploitation, then what is the cause of his or her condition? If the unemployed squatter camp dweller is not the victim of an economic structure that immiserates him and assigns him to the lumpen proletariat, the reserve army of labour, then what is the cause of his or her condition? If it is not the uneven distribution of wealth and resources, if it is not that the priorities of the ruling class is with carnivalesque events rather than the revolutionary transformation of the economic base of the country, then what is the cause? Well the worker, the unemployed and the poor come to a simple conclusion - it is the presence of other workers, poor and unemployed who are not part of the nation - "they, the makwerekwere (foreigners), are stealing our jobs, our housing, our women, our opportunities." The class struggle is neatly averted and the poor are set in violent confrontation with other poor.

This is not really xenophobia in the true sense of the word, it is really a limited form of “Afrophobia”, because those targeted are Africans from other African countries, but not all Africans, only those who are poor, Somalis, Zimbabweans and Mozambicans who share the squatter camps. Then our Minister of Police and our President have the nerve to say that it is the rumours of xenophobia that is causing xenophobia. I have heard that one before - the minister of police in 1976 saying that the kids in Soweto are generally peaceful but they are acting up for the media - so let’s ban the media from Soweto. 

I visited Freedom Park squatter camp in Phokeng, in the shadow of some of the richest platinum mines in the world the day the World Cup started and noticeable was the absence of World Cup accessories such as flags, T-shirts and vuvuzelas. I interviewed members of the community, who do not have access to electricity, water or proper housing about their view of the World Cup. There was no FIFA fan park in Freedom Park. They felt extremely alienated/excluded from the event. I watched the Bafana/France match in a restaurant in Yeoville, a trendy middleclass suburb in the city centre. At half time everyone stormed out of the restaurant to go and blow their vuvuzelas in the Street. It was early evening. The street was packed with revelers of all races and creeds - and through this carnival of energy and colour walked three elderly domestic workers, humbly looking down, not wearing any cup paraphernalia, after a long day in the homes of their middle class madams, on their way to flag a taxi, probably back to Diepsloot or some other urban slum. The contrast stuck in my mind, I wish I had a camera with me.

Throughout the World Cup electricity supply commission (ESKOM) workers, and civil service workers threatened to strike for better wages. The bourgeois media accused the unions of being unpatriotic, business and political leaders begged the unions to be responsible and not te embarrass the “nation.” 

Two days after the event the poor resumed their struggle. 12 schools in the North West Province closed over delivery protests, poor people taking to the streets of their villages and townships knowing that the only way to get the attention of the government they elected was to become violent. Solly Petwe, Provincial Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions) COSATU publicly announced concerns about World Cup tender irregularities in the North West Province. We still await the outcome of investigations into tender assassinations in Mpumalanga. Delivery protests also resumed in Mpumalanga. Immediately after the event Somalis and Zimbaweans started fleeing poor communities in the Western Cape, and Paul Verryn was threatened in the streets of Johannesburg, and Mozambican mine workers in Rhamaphosa squatter camp were threatened by locals.  

Xenophobia is the product of national consciousness, which in itself is a false consciousness designed to weaken workers and poor communities in their struggle with capital. 

In making these remarks I will be accused of being racist, because the capitalist ruling class has now created some space for a small number of black South Africans to join the ranks of capital. However, the vast majority of black South African class still make out the working class, the poor and down trodden, and the fact that our country has the dubious distinction of having the greatest gap between rich and poor in the world cannot and will not escape them forever. And when the poor rise up, how will our nationalist leaders deal with it? Will they follow the example of the prime nationalist figure in history, Hitler? Will there be a historic crushing of the working class and its organizations and leaders? The recent spat between Vavi, the General Secretary of COSATU and senior leaders of the (African National Congress) ANC, whom he is accusing of corruption, would suggest to me that there are those in the leadership of the ANC who would find such an historic reckoning to their liking.