||Civil society’s participation in the World Cup preparations
could have gone a long way towards reinforcing our democracy
As the preparations for the 2010 World Cup finals get under way, we have to ask ourselves why there has been such an explicit lack of public consultation on the processes around getting the country to host this high profile and prestigious event.
R15-billions have been earmarked and are being disbursed to build new stadiums and to upgrade existing stadiums, infrastructure rollout, safety and security for tourists. Upgrading the OR Tambo (Johannesburg) International Airport and the construction of the Gautrain are being funded separately.
All these are colossal expenses in a country with grinding poverty. It has been suggested that R9-billion allocated to stadiums alone could have built 250,000 houses, for example.
What do South Africans think about spending these resources on 2010 instead of social-upliftment and the betterment of their lives? Shouldn’t the government have consulted the public on how such resources are spent?
One view is that consultation and public participation on spending massive resources on hosting the finals of World Cup was not important. South Africa is a democratic country, with democratically elected leaders and a well functioning democracy, admired around the world.
It is considered a giant on the continent and has been a regular invitee to the G8 meetings. The legitimacy of the government after 1994 is not questionable. Its courage to host 2010 is admired.
Economically, it has a stable and fast growing economy with probably the strongest currency on the African continent.
The infrastructure of South Africa is well developed comparable to any other developed country. South Africa companies are competing with world leaders and spreading tentacles all over the world.
The country is militarily strong and has lately been called into action around the continent. South Africa also has a non permanent seat on the Security Council.
Its national carrier, South African Airways, takes Africa to the world and brings the world to Africa, as it is said.
In view of these qualities and characteristics, who in this world, should care about dispensing with “irrelevant and marginal” procedural niceties of transparency, openness, participation and consultation, when most of the economic and political fundamentals and indicators that matter, are in place and not threatened? In any case, even mature democracies around the world do not care to consult their own people, from time to time.
In this sense, the argument seems to be, South Africa is a solid democracy and failure to consult the people on hosting the World Cup finals does not detract from that.
The event will go on without public consultation and it will be a spectacular event, Africa and the whole world will remember.
It will be one of those few good things coming from Africa in general and particularly from proud South Africa.
This view may be accurate only in the short term and narrow sense.
In the long term and broader perspective, however, consultation, especially lack of it, matters. Consultation could have gone a long way to reinforce South Africa’s democracy and differentiate the politics of South Africa from that of Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda, Swaziland or Zimbabwe.
South African politicians, business executives, academics, political analysts and almost every one in position of influence, travel around the world giving lectures and advice of how different South Africa is from the rest of the continent.
One assumes that these “goodwill ambassadors” are spreading the gospel of South Africa’s best practices to deprived lands.
The issue here is partly related to the question of democracy and legitimacy of governments. South Africa has an elected government that derives its legitimacy from the people, the electorate. It is expected that an elected government, unlike the Kingdom of Swaziland where His Majesty the King is unelected and derived his legitimacy and powers from the Supreme Being, ala Plato, takes seriously the hardship and concerns of its people much more than its unelected counterpart.
One of the assumptions underlying democracy is that elected leaders best understand the plight of the electorate and, in the main, represent their interests.
Whereas direct benefits of World Cup 2010 may be obvious for FIFA and its sponsors, the private sector, including big corporates, as well as big and medium-sized businesses, it requires stretching of imagination to find how national pride and prestige are in the best interests of the poor people of South Africa in the long term.
Economically and socially too, public consultation for hosting World Cup 2010 could have been meaningful. Given the extreme imbalance between the two economies (first and second) and the ever growing gap between the rich and poor, direction could have been given regarding competing priorities.
The other view is, therefore, that given a chance the South African public could have decided what these massive and precious public resources should be used for the alleviation of poverty and squalor, provision of housing to informal settlers, health facilities, safe water and other social services to those who have been deprived and will continue to be deprived even after 2010.
The absence of consultation leads to a conclusion that there is very little difference in the way in which decisions are made in the democratically elected and legitimate government of South Africa, and the absolute monarchy of Swaziland.
Both, irrespective of their size and legitimacy, have huge egos and big desires that may be beneficial to the few, but which majority of the poor people in the respective countries may not identify with. The referendum, held in Panama recently, on the expansion of the Panama Canal has shown that governments can seek and be granted mandate by the people before embarking on big and expensive projects.
With the 2010 World Cup, South Africa has missed a significant opportunity to involve its citizens meaningfully in a matter of great national importance.
Sufian Hemed Bukurura is the research director at the Centre for Civil Society