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World Cup in South Africa, Past Stadium Walls

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By Asha
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World Cup in South Africa, Past Stadium Walls

As we cheer this summer for the impressive athletes competing in the World Cup in South Africa, let’s all try to keep in mind the country’s history and also the (unseen) realities of its present.

Apartheid was a legalized, oppressive system of segregation in South Africa that lasted until just before Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the nation in 1994. Since the end of Apartheid, the racial segregation that existed before (though it was certainly not gone) was replaced by a predominant economic segregation. Since the fall of Apartheid, the income of whites has gone up 24%, while the non-white income has dropped 1%. In addition to the white-favoring distribution of wealth, a black middle class that is isolated from poor blacks in the townships has developed in South Africa as well.

In the midst of South Africa’s messy history is the country’s relationship with soccer. Before Apartheid and then throughout it, professional South African soccer leagues were racially divided just like everything else. There was an all white league, and three leagues for each of the non-white racial groups: one Indian, one colored, and one black league. And for three decades (60’s, 70’s, 80’s) South Africa was banned from Fifa because of Apartheid and the ongoing discrimination. Now South Africa is a World Cup host with an interracial team. Yes, South African soccer has come a ways. But despite the integrated team, the World Cup has settled itself high on the economic ladder and just out of reach of the lowest, largest class.

The South African government has spent upwards of nine billion dollars to make the World Cup happen. That amounts to about $200 per citizen of a country where more than 40% of people are living on less than $2 each day. Not only is time and money being put into the stadiums and accommodations but in attempt to be seen in the nation’s most positive light the homeless South Africans have been relocated away from World Cup activities. They’ve been essentially dumped in increasingly overpopulated shanty towns. A Johannesburg official compared this to “cleaning your house before you have guests.” This blunt statement is demeaning to the poor and homeless, who in South Africa really are a majority, and truly understates the extents to which South Africa is being masked. In addition to the relocation, walls and fences have been installed around townships to hide them from tourists, making the tin dwellings of corrugated metal and plastic much easier to ignore. The preparation for the Cup has seemed to be not just a “cleanup” of South African neighborhoods. A more suitable analogy would be that there have been countless evictions and then major remodeling. That’s not something I want to cheer for.