Lessons for Brazil from South Africa

Published on Pambazuka News, by Patrick Bond, July 24, 2013.

Brazilians have much to learn from South Africans who hosted the 2010 World Cup in which thousands of South Africans rioted in the streets prior to the games and FIFA took billions in revenues. Will Brazil’s main trade union remain stymied by their alliance to the ruling party like South Africa’s?  

Over the last fortnight, Brazil’s two million street protesters in 80 cities supporting the Free Fare Movement have declared how fed up they are with making multiple sacrifices to Brazilian neoliberalism as revitalized by one Sepp Blatter, the Swiss emperor of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa). While right-wing opportunists have been involved in some of the recent protests, the core grievances are apparently those of the left and of the disaffected youth.

Writing from South Africa, my compatriots and I should not merely offer Brazilians our admiration, since a ‘Grand Pact’ is apparently now being crafted by President Dilma Rousseff. Having failed to repress the rebellion with brute police force, she now appears ready to make large-scale concessions. As she put it on Friday, ‘We need to oxygenate our political system, to find ways to return to our institutions to be more transparent, more resistant to bad practices and more open to the influence of society.’


We should also take the opportunity to prod our own three-year-old memories here. After the giddy month of June-July 2010, our own World Cup hangover still requires maxi-strength aspirins for the crushing pain so many South Africans suffer, underfoot Blatter’s white elephant stadiums and elites-only infrastructure.

The memory may have faded, but there were also thousands of South Africans rioting in the streets in the period just before the World Cup began, in a manner so threatening that the Pretoria regime of Jacob Zuma appeared ready to implement the corporate-Swiss version of fascist rule.

Today, our main cities’ municipal budgets are still bleeding red accountant blood, with millions of dollars annually diverted to subsidise stadium operating costs, for which Fifa Local Operating Committee Danny Jordaan humbly apologised last year. In the Fifa tradition of endless crony-corruption, the big construction cartels illegally colluded to massively overprice those near-empty sports monuments, it was revealed a few months ago.


And although Johannesburg’s $2.5 billion elite fast-train built for the World Cup – conspicuously disconnected from working-class transport – was meant to break even with 110,000 riders a day, it still needs an $80 million annual subsidy because its Fifa-dazed planners overestimated ridership by two-thirds. Durban’s unnecessary new $1 billion King Shaka Airport is a mostly desolate ‘aerotropolis’ fantasyland, as none of the anticipated international hub traffic materialized.

After egging us on to build hedonistic palaces, bullet-trains and airports while the vast majority here suffer so much, Blatter’s crimes against SA society and economy continue unpunished. His mafia took more than $3 billion in revenues back to Zurich without paying taxes or heeding exchange controls, and meanwhile the SA foreign debt soared from $70 billion just before the World Cup to $135 billion today.




Eish, we know that ruffian far too well: his reign here provided so many justifications for similar revolt. In the run-up to June 2010, there were several dozen protests each day, most over service-delivery shortcomings as government diverted funding from basic needs to pleasing the Swiss. Many protests were aimed explicitly at the way the World Cup was being implemented, including 1500 community and labour activists in Durban on June 16 demanding a ‘World Cup for All’ (not just for profiteers and the country’s wealthier spectators).

In the east of the country, more than a thousand pupils demonstrated against Nelspruit’s Mbombela stadium, when schools displaced by construction were not rebuilt. That little city was littered with Fifa-fingerprinted corpses thanks to corruption-related hit jobs on whistle-blowing politicians and factional rivals.

Other Fifa-related protests were held by informal traders in Durban and Cape Town who were iced out of World Cup commercial opportunities; against Johannesburg officials by Soccer City’s neighbours in impoverished Riverlea township; against construction companies by workers; against the stadium’s wheelchair access design by disabled people; and against national bureaucrats by four towns’ activists attempting to relocate provincial borders so as to shift their municipalities to a wealthier province.



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