|| Oliver Meth The Mercury (Eye on Civil Society column) 5 January2010
The soccer World Cup was sold as representing major economic
opportunities for South Africa, if our society coughs up a R23 billion
bill for staging the games. However, Professor Stefan Szymanski, of
London's Cass Business School, said last month that the event could
degenerate financially, resulting in a "shocking waste of South Africa's
If earlier Cup experiences and the Olympics are any guide, said
Szymanski, "these events have had a very limited positive effect on
local economies. They could even have a negative impact".
This was also the prediction of the late poet and sports-justice
campaigner Dennis Brutus, who died on December 26: "When you build
enormous stadia, you are shifting those resources from building schools
and hospitals and then you have these huge structures standing empty.
They become white elephants."
Durban continues to saddle taxpayers with huge ongoing subsidies of such
white elephants, including the convention centre and Point, added to
which will be the new, ultra-expensive airport and Dube trade port.
The latter are being built just as climate change requires a major shift
in economic development strategies away from tourism and shipping, which
will soon be hit by growing carbon taxes.
But local suffering is also crucial. Protests have plagued the stadiums:
by workers unhappy with pay, by Nelspruit pupils furious that their
school buildings were destroyed while they sat destitute, by traders
being displaced by 2010 at Warwick Junction and in Cape Town, and by
Johannesburg's deprived Riverlea community next door to Soccer City.
An additional factor is that the World Cup will generate an increase in
sexual exploitation and human trafficking - one of the most pervasive
crimes expected to accompany the boom in the tourism industry.
There is no doubt that a positive correlation exists between the demand
for sex work in one place (i e profit-generating opportunities) and the
presence of large numbers of male tourists. There are, however, those
who disagree that such an increase will take place, most notably on the
premise that the increase in police presence during the World Cup will
render the environment too risky for traffickers to function as they wish.
Focused police presence may, however, not be the curb it is hoped it
The police force's involvement in the sex work industry is questionable
and the proposed decriminalisation of sex work before the World Cup
contributes significantly to the complicated character of human trafficking.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of tourists will be matched by
local young people's curiosity and desire to witness a major sporting event.
It is expected that many young children, who will also not be attending
school during the mega event, will seek transport to stadium cities to
be part of the festivities.
The absence of alternative recreational activities and the large volume
of local and foreign visitors could contribute to increased risk for
Children may be travelling unaccompanied and may use cheap or free
travel in the form of hitching a lift from truck drivers or travelling
in long-distance taxis.
Upon arrival in stadium cities, children will likely be unsupervised and
easily susceptible to exploitation by adults. This can take the form of
sexual exploitation or use of children to commit crime. These are
aspects of the World Cup which do not receive the same amount of
attention and resources as the stadiums, opening events and accommodation.
In civil society, child protection organisations are lobbying at
provincial and national levels for the decision regarding the closure of
schools to be reviewed, and for additional resources to be earmarked for
the protection of children during this period.
Some such activities include the use of community volunteers in the
areas surrounding the stadiums, community awareness of the nature of
trafficking, and the particular risks faced by children who are
unsupervised and located in proximity to stadiums, hotels and public
Experts have warned South African authorities to take trafficking of
women, girls and even boys more seriously, and to make sure they are
sufficiently prepared for the increase in trafficking that will
presumably accompany the World Cup event.
Organised crime and trafficking are closely linked to the sex work industry.
On the one hand, decriminalisation of sex work is necessary to protect
sex workers' rights, but on the other, we also need to consider how a
legal sex-work industry will affect women.
Decriminalisation of sex work will not necessarily protect women. In
fact, it may serve to tighten the connection between sex work and
Last April, the Sex Worker Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) called on the
government to speed up the decriminalisation of sex work. This should be
done for the long run, for the women's sake, not only for the World Cup
period and for male tourists' pleasure, as former national police
commissioner Jackie Selebi suggested.
Sweat hopes that a decriminalised sex industry will help protect sex
workers, but the opposite may be the case if the police force dedicates
fewer resources to the industry, given that it would then be legal.
The police force may well be inclined to commit its limited resources to
actual criminal activities instead of protecting the regularly abused
rights of sex workers.
The police force's relationship with the sex-work industry is turbulent
and abusive. Policemen often abuse sex workers because their rights are
not protected by law.
"Our experience indicates that the highest levels of violence against
sex workers come from the police and law enforcement sectors," according
to Nicole Fick, a researcher at Sweat.
Nearly a third of sex workers who have made statements to Sweat have
been forced to have sex with police officers. Unless the situation
changes, it's likely that trafficking of women and children will
increase as the 2010 World Cup approaches.
It's up to all of us to raise the alarm, so that a change in power
relations and opportunities for all South Africans - not just those with
Fifa connections - ensures 2010 does not set back the cause of social
Oliver Meth is a community scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Centre for Civil Society.