The world focused on the monthlong FIFA World Cup soccer tournament now just concluded in South Africa. Guest columnist Ron Krabill, leading a group of 21 University of Washington students exploring the local impacts of the event, describes the contrast between the huge investment and the nation's poverty.
CAPE TOWN — Now that the monthlong feast of soccer known as the FIFA World Cup has come to a close, hundreds of millions of fans around the world wonder what to do with themselves without the next match to anticipate and debate. Nowhere is this more true than in South Africa, which has been branded as a location for the tournament like no previous host. This was to be “Africa’s World Cup,” but was it?
Over the past three weeks, a group of 21 students from the University of Washington have been working with nine young colleagues from Cape Town Community Television to explore the impact of the event through a community media project titled “My World Cup.” The stories they have uncovered and put to film — with the financial support of the Seattle Sounders FC, 911 Seattle Media Arts Center and the UW’s Simpson Center for the Humanities — bring into high relief both the excitement and the shortcomings of hosting the tournament in South Africa.
There is the story of the Red Tigers Football Club, an organized team in Langa (a township just outside Cape Town) that shows immense skill while members practice three-on-three on a cement slab less than 10 by 20 yards, risking their only soccer ball to the cars speeding by on the adjacent road. Thulani, the Red Tigers’ goalkeeper and manager, explains that they practice here rather than in the grassland nearby because it is easier to escape to their homes if they are confronted by gangsters.
There is the controversy around FIFA’s World Cup anthem, “Waka Waka,” which “features” the local Cape Town band Freshly Ground in a decidedly supporting role to Shakira and her dance moves.
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There are the schoolchildren and their families, who have been given a monthlong school holiday, generating difficult child-care decisions for parents facing an official unemployment rate of around 25 percent (and an unofficial rate as much as double that figure) who hoped to gain at least temporary work during the tournament.
And there are the countless passionate South African soccer fans living in Langa, Athlone, Imizamo Yethu and other townships who rooted for Bafana Bafana (the national team of South Africa) until their elimination, then switched their allegiances to Ghana only to watch the dream of the first African nation to reach the semifinals during “Africa’s World Cup” bounce off the crossbar in the dying moments of extra time.
When asked whether they would choose a ticket to a match or the monetary value of that ticket, everyone said the ticket, even though the price of that ticket remained far out of reach.
One team asked Kenneth Prins how the World Cup had changed his life; his response was, “Well, we got four toilets.” Kenneth is a community leader in the Kraal, whose name translates literally to “the cattle pen,” a small informal settlement of shacks located just a couple of miles from Cape Town’s glimmering new stadium that cost the South African government well over half a billion dollars to build.
Herein lies the contrast. In the Kraal, four new toilets are not an insignificant change, as residents struggle to survive in what author Ashwin Desai has called the “bare life” of South African poverty. But when compared with the massive spending of the government on five new stadiums, five upgraded stadiums, transportation infrastructure, security and other projects designed primarily to benefit FIFA and the tourists visiting for the Cup, “four new toilets” seems paltry indeed.
If the World Cup truly were “this time for Africa” as Shakira’s anthem suggests, then the stories told by young South Africans and UW students in “My World Cup” need to be told, and heard, and acted upon long after.
Ron Krabill is associate professor of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell and the author of “Starring Mandela & Cosby: Media and the End(s) of Apartheid,” due out from the University of Chicago Press in August.