South Africa 2010 – Only just soccer?
Next year South Africa is hosting the FIFA world soccer championship 2010. After this event took place in Germany in 2006, this coming year will mark the first time that the world’s soccer community will be hosted on the African continent. As always, there will be a considerable number of European teams whose national leauges recruit many a soccer mercenary from the mother continent.
While South Africa is one of the best fitted countries for this event, questions remain and certain workers’ unions have already threatened that there might be a delay until 2011 if the pay of construction workers doesn’t amount to a certain, acceptable level, which is still just a fraction of what a soccer professionals earns.
In the newspapers one can read about strikes of underpaid contractors at the unfinished world championship venues and in the townships there is resistance as well (Herald Scotland, 08.09.2009, The real winners and losers). So in South Africa, 15 years after the end of the Apartheid regime, the mega-event brings along with it a number of questions: who is on the ball when it comes to the health and wealth of the South African people? Is not South Africa scoring an own-goal by hosting such an expensive mega event? Are there not any better roles than simply being sports spectators?
Talents sitting on the economic bench
15 years ago legalized racial seggregation ended in South Africa, a welcome new departure, which even outsiders could appreciate immediately in the diverse line-up of Bafana Bafana. But the diversity of skin tones in South African soccer only most superficially disguises one of the country’s biggest problems: the poverty of huge parts of the black/African populace. The former anti-apartheid activist, journalist and historian R. W. Johnson states the following:
On the most commonly used measure, the jobless figure has hovered in the 38% – 40% range for some time; though even that counts people as employed if they have but a single hour’s paid work (say, washing and polishing a car) in a week. On any reasonable measure of formal employment, over half the working population is jobless. [New Left Review, July/August 2009]
Though there is a huge debate about statistics, even on the website of the official site, Statistics South Africa, the differences in unemployment between the black/African population and the European populace for 2009 are staggering: 27.9% compared to 4.6% [check http://www.statssa.gov.za]. In soccer this would be considered a disquieting goal ratio.
But what does this look like in actual everyday life around the Cape? Who is on the ball and who is dribbling along the sidelines of society?
Offside in Cape Town
As a foreigner with South African roots walking down the streets in Cape Town on another windy day, one of the first thing that meets my eye is the large number of homeless people: citizens so neglected as to make a living in the social offside. They try to keep their heads above water through temporary jobs and informal employment: e.g by giving unsolicited parking instructions to affluent drivers or by selling self-made souvenirs.
In economic distinction to the homeless and street children, there are the „Black Diamonds“, a small, African middle class. According to a study by the University of Cape Town, they account for around 12% of the black population. The fact that once-suppressed black/African South Africans are now at times able to overcome circumstances and rise up into the middle class, has to be considered an achievement. Such success are naturally more important for national confidence than victories by Bafana Bafana even if people do not collectively rush out into the streets to blow their vuvuzelas.
Yet nevertheless, such disparate success stories cannot distract from the fact that today, one year before the prestigous FIFA event, the polychromatic nation has to face the twin problem of poverty and unemployment as a team of comrades. Otherwise, it will not be able to celebrate more than the short term success of the Soccer world Championship.
The most imporant question in such times of global and national, economic hardship is: How can we improve the situation? How can we move up a league? Given these difficult circumstances the people from the townships, the sprawling slums along the urban periphery, return to organized economic self help. The Cape Town Talent Exchange (also called Community Exchange) must be one of the most original solutions, according to the motto: if we never get to play along, we will create our own league!
Playing for oneself instead of watching – Bench players of the world unite!
This community network, which is active in different parts of Cape Town, was founded by Tim Jenkins, the programmer of the website. He was a long-standing ANC activist during the years of Apartheid and unlike former comrades has not yet jettisoned his ideals of social equality for all. The original purpose of the network was simply for a group of hikers to be able to exchange everday objects. But soon Jenkins realized that such a system could be immensely useful for marginalized communities that do not have their own economic network. He was inspired by examples of exchange systems as in New Zealand and Ithaca (USA).
While earlier Talent Exchanges (talent is the currency) were foiled by the amount of paperwork, this can be managed nowadays thanks to the advancement in information technology, particularly the Internet. Nevertheless it still demands a lot of work, especially the work of explaining to people how this alternative economy works and can be more empowering than regular nine-to-five wage employment. On the website of the Community Exchange it is written that the platform serves two fundamental purposes:
- It is an online money and banking system
- It is a market place where people can exchange goods and services
The basic idea is simple enough: one offers one’s goods and services on one’s internet account and in return can search through what is being offered by the community. The exchange then takes place in the electronic currency of the network. This means it is not a barter system! The principle behind this is that money per se is not the problem but it depends on whether it is valued as a means or an end.
Since very few people in townships have computers with internet connectivity, there are banks where one can go inform onself about supply and demand, as well as offer one’s own goods/services.