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SWC bonanza passes many by

Jun 20 2010 19:25 David Crary


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Johannesburg - Job-seekers by the thousands signed on for short-term stints as World Cup security guards - only to go on strike early in the tournament and lose those jobs in a bitter dispute over low wages.

Their protest received worldwide attention but it was just one of the economic let-downs that have hit many, most out of the spotlight.

Windfall from the tournament has been an empty dream for fishermen, street traders, souvenir and clothing manufacturers, even aspiring innkeepers such as John Mafokoane.

Mafokoane's two guest rooms are cheerful, spotless - and unoccupied, a daunting blow to the long-time Soweto resident who hoped to cash in on the World Cup by converting his home into a bed-and-breakfast.

Mafokoane said he invested R120 000 on the project, but ran into miscommunication and confusion while trying in vain to get the place included on official accommodation lists.

The result, he said, "is highly disappointing" - no bookings for the tournament even though the Soccer City is a short drive away.

"We thought this would be well-organised," he said. "Some promises were not kept."

On nearby Vilakazi Street, a hub of Soweto tourism, Mzwandile Khoba had a similar tale - investing R35 000 to renovate two guest rooms, signing with an agency that promised to find guests, but ending out with no bookings.

Match

"We don't hear from them," he said of the agency. "Things are not turning out as we hoped."

World Cup organisers designated a company called Match to oversee accommodations, and it helped market hotels and guest houses that passed a review by tourism council.

Khoba was among numerous B-and-B owners in Soweto who found the requirements too onerous and did not get his guest house listed.

His story can be seen as an economic microcosm of the World Cup. Football's top event has been very much a mixed bag economically, with big-time winners and many others who miss out.

FIFA has reported $3.2bn in income during the four-year run-up to the 2010 event, from sponsorships, licensing and TV rights. Rental car companies are solidly booked.

Strategically located pubs are booming. The various producers of vuvuzelas - the noisy plastic horns favoured by fans - are making a bundle.

But the government spent several billion dollars on new and renovated infrastructure, and won't recoup that investment in the short term.

Some companies and unions were angered at the contracts for World Cup merchandise that went to manufacturers abroad; even the toy versions of the tournament mascot, Zakumi, were produced for a while in China to the wrath of labour activists.

American sponsors

Additional controversies have involved the ubiquitous street traders, whose makeshift pavement stands offer everything from mealie snacks to intricate carvings.

Many traders had hoped for a bonanza catering to World Cup spectators but are being barred from FIFA-enforced "exclusion zones" around the stadiums - which are, for the most part, reserved for official sponsors like McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Budweiser.

An organisation called StreetNet campaigned ahead of the World Cup, with mixed success, to ease the restrictions so more traders could benefit. In some cases, said StreetNet's Pat Horne, officials announced that exclusion zones would be open to some traders - then imposed operating fees that were too high for many of them.

"These kind of announcements are disingenuous," she said.

"Poor vendors can't take those opportunities."

In Horne's home city, Durban, many vendors and subsistence fishermen have been evicted from a pier and beach front area that has been redeveloped for the World Cup.

With groups such as Amnesty International taking up the street traders' cause, FIFA has strived to sound empathetic.

"FIFA is not targeting this sector and is letting the host cities run their own informal trading programme," the FIFA press office said in an email. 

Boost GDP

"FIFA just wants that no counterfeits are sold and that the area directly surrounding the stadium is not used, but otherwise it is up to the host cities to regulate this form of trading."

Unquestionably, the World Cup will have some positive impact on the economy. It helped boost the gross domestic product over the past four years, spawned huge transportation improvements, and is providing a global TV showcase that might help expand future tourism.

Also, according to estimates by UBS Investment Research, it has created more than 330 000 jobs. But many of those were temporary and low-paid, such as the short-lived jobs for the striking security stewards at World Cup stadiums.

The strikers said they were offered half the pay they were initially promised - R190 or less for shifts of 12 hours or more.

Some strikers in Johannesburg said they were unable to get home after late-night shifts and spent frigid nights at bus stations.

"We want to put it in our memory that we enjoyed the World Cup, but we need to eat," said Denis Manganye one of the strikers.

In Durban, where the strikers clashed with police, community organiser Desmond D'Sa said the protest was remarkable, given the World Cup fervour and South Africa's official jobless rate of 25%.

"There people must be so desperate, knowing they're going up against the national mood and a very tough police force," he said. 

Spoilsports

"They risk being depicted as the spoilsports of the World Cup because they've had it up to here."

D'Sa said the strikers shared a common plight with many other South Africans hired for World Cup jobs - in effect, they were hired as freelance, temporary workers rather than having a formal contract.

"The spread of a system of casualisation has made workers very vulnerable," he said.

Patrick Craven, the spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said the World Cup had shed light on long-running inequities between rich and poor in this developing nation.

"South Africa has all sorts of problems," he said.

"They started long before the World Cup and will continue long afterwards."

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