South Africa 2010: But what about the poverty?

JOHN CROSS offers an alternative view of South Africa, host nation for football’s 2010 World Cup
This story illustrates the problem of crime in South Africa – and how it is viewed by those who live there.

It is a slightly different tale to the one being peddled by some sports journalists whose sole experience of this country was the World Cup draw in Cape Town last Friday, with a quick visit to a township thrown in for good measure.

I got married to a South African near Stellenbosch in 2005. My best man, another tabloid journalist, came to my now wife’s parents house in Somerset West one evening a few days before the wedding.

He was determined to drive back that night and was therefore not drinking, which rather disappointed my fun-loving father-in-law.

My father-in-law, who already had a house full of relatives staying, said to my friend: “Don’t worry, you can sleep in the camper van outside on the drive.”

My friend didn’t seem too keen on the idea, especially as he had a lovely hotel waiting for him a 45 minute drive back down the N2 back into Cape Town.

My mother-in-law, a lovely Swedish woman, quickly piped up: “Please stay. There are gangs who wait on the bridges on that road, throw rocks on the car, hijack the car, pull the people out, rob them and then kill them.”

My father-in-law quickly butted in: “Oh, don’t be silly, nothing like that has happened for at least two weeks.”

Needless to say, my friend stayed over in the camper van. I have since used this story to take the mickey out of my friend on regular occasions ever since.

But, believe me, everyone who lives in South Africa knows someone who has been seriously affected by crime. Everyone. It’s definitely no laughing matter.

When I last went over, I gave my in-laws my old Apple Mac laptop. It was stolen from inside the house before the end of our holiday. Luckily, my baby daughter and wife were out but my in-laws weren’t. We think that maybe they disturbed the burglars and they ran off before they took anything else.

This time they didn’t have knives. They did the last time. Murder, rape, knife crime, car jackings and robberies are commonplace. Everyone knows someone who has been affected or been a victim of those crimes.

So please forgive me for being dismissive when I read dozens of articles written by colleagues at the weekend around the World Cup draw saying what a wonderful country it is and how safe they felt. Safe? You have got to be joking.

Of course, someone will chip in: “Oh yes, but there’s no-go areas and crime in London.” I live in one of the worst and most notorious postcodes in north London and yet there’s not crime on the scale of South Africa.

Check out the murder rate in South Africa. It’s currently 50 a day, as reported last week. That’s down from 70-a-day and is a five-year low. Incredible.

If journalists think they’ll be safe then good luck to them. But it’ll be a little bit more than just being careful and watching where you go with your laptop bag.

A few months back, my friend, Mike Collett, of Reuters, wrote a piece for the SJA website about a terrifying car journey where the police effectively pulled him over and made him pay a bribe.

There are no taxis like we have here. People regularly drink drive because they think it’s safer. How appalling is that?

The trains are not safe and you can’t rely on them. Most houses are covered by armed security firms. That’s hardly like it is London, now is it?

And part of the reason there are these frightening crime levels is the level of poverty in the country. People have to kill, rob and hijack to survive.

Which brings me to an even bigger moral dilemma: how on earth can anyone justify spending billions of rand on football when you have millions living in poverty.

A chance for £100,000-a-week footballers to earn even more money while people in townships will not get to see a ball kicked. That is sick.

South Africa is a country of great contrast and will undoubtedly host a colourful and exciting World Cup next summer. I’ve had some wonderful times there.

But for those of us who like to think we have a social conscience, it will be hard to see a country besieged by so much poverty mortgaging itself to the hilt to lay on a tournament for such a cash-rich sport.

I know the arguments about promoting tourism, creating jobs and raising awareness. South Africa is hoping the World Cup will ensure the country is never the same again.

Let’s go back to Cape Town in five years and see whether spending all that money on football stadiums has helped build new homes to replace the townships. Yeah, right.

I’ve been to Argentina, the host nation in 1978, and they still have similar shanty towns in Buenos Aires. Mexico is a similar story. Brazil are hoping the same will happen to the flavelas.

I challenge anyone to get off a plane in Cape Town and not be taken aback at the sheer scale of the township opposite the airport. It takes your breath away.

The township opposite the airport is called Nyanga and is so vast that it stretches as far as the eye can see and the shacks continue along the N2 motorway all the way into the centre of Cape Town.

Along that road are adverts for a rehousing programme called “Shackland to Dignity”.

Frankly, I find it hard to accept that the billions of rand – more than 10 billion and rising at the last count – spent on new stadiums for the World Cup would not be better spent on housing for those living in poverty.

It would be easier to accept if the hard-up people in those tin shacks were at least getting to see some of the World Cup games in these wonderful new stadiums.

But rather than build a stadium in the heart of one of the football-mad townships, the local organising committee opted to build at Cape Town’s stadium at Green Point. Green Point is a wealthy white area. In the main, whites still only play rugby and cricket in South Africa. They don’t play football. Ex-pats watch football, but that’s it.

That is the biggest single criticism of everyone you talk to. The stadium should have been built in or next to a township. That would make a real difference. It would certainly be easier to justify.

Instead, everything is geared to the haves rather than the have-nots. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

SOUTH AFRICA has a wonderful reputation for hosting major sporting events. The rugby World Cup was seen as one of the best ever in the history of the sport. There were no big security problems there either.

There are glorious sights to see in Cape Town, like Table Mountain, Robben Island and the wine vineyards of Stellenbosch as well as the Waterfront.

I’m torn between desperately wanting South Africa to host the best World Cup in the history of the tournament. Over the course of about five different visits, I’ve grown to love South Africa.

But the people who survive in poverty deserve a better way of life and they won’t get to go to any games. It is hard to accept such a shocking contrast in this day and age. I hope the tournament promotes the country and gives a lot of people hope. But that still seems like a bit of a shallow argument to me.

Just spend the money on housing rather than football.

John Cross is a senior football reporter with the Daily Mirror

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