South Africa - behind the vuvuzelas

Jul/Sep 2010

For all its exuberance, this year's buzzing Soccer World Cup, the first ever held in Africa, could not hide the starkly contrasting poverty which besets the vast majority of the population in the host nation, South Africa.

Not that the international soccer federation, FIFA and its Local Organising Committee - comprising South African officials and senior members of the government - did not try to ensure that football tourists were kept away from the ghettos and shantytowns and that the poorest South Africans stayed out of sight.

Indeed this is at least one of the reasons why the vastly over-budget and over-sized Greenpoint Stadium was built in an affluent central venue near Cape Town centre, instead of sticking to a refurbishment of the more appropriate Athlone Stadium. Indeed, Athlone is a poor working class, traditionally "coloured" suburb situated in the arid and sandy Cape Flats district, west of Cape Town, which was apartheid's dumping ground for "non-whites" and is now a sprawling collection of ghettoised former townships.

The choice of building over-the-top stadia like Greenpoint and the "cleansing" of the poor from commercial areas and stadium sites like Mbombela (Nelspruit), puts in a nutshell the most striking feature of this year's World Cup. On the one hand, the pleasure of watching good football, for sports tourists and for the western public sitting comfortably in front of their TVs. And on the other hand, the shocking deprivation of a whole population that the country's government has made a point of keeping away from its favourite game.

A cup for the rich

Nobody can deny that the 5 brand new and the 5 upgraded World Cup stadia are impressive. Although it is a little hard to see why, for instance, the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban needed to have a funicular railway going up its roof arch and a platform for bungie jumping at a cost which ballooned at £279m. Or why it was "necessary" to build a brand new, 45,000-seater stadium in what is now called Mbombela, formerly Nelspruit, a sleepy small town in the middle of a lush semi-tropical agricultural area adjoining the southern part of the Kruger National Park. All the more so, when the government did so by resorting to what was later judged by the courts to be an illegal compulsory purchase of the 43-hectare site - for a nominal R1 (about 7p) - thereby displacing 883 members of the Matsafeni farming community, who had not been consulted and were de facto forcibly "resettled" 25km away.

The stadia certainly display architectural virtuosity. Mbombela has orange giraffe-like steel roof supports set around its perimeter. The £305m refurbished Soccer City, the largest stadium, south-west of Johannesburg, next to Soweto, looks like a giant calabash decked in earthy colours and can seat 94,000 - plus it has 228 luxury corporate suites on 2 levels. Greenpoint, seating 70,000, is the most expensive at £404m, and has stunning views of Table Mountain on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other. The "floating" Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, next to a lake, is obviously also meant to attract corporate hospitality, with 45 private boxes, 2 conference centres and two bars.

The sports tourists are spoilt for choice, as South Africa, being a well-established tourist destination, has a huge variety of places to stay, from 5-star hotels to luxury "serviced" tents and huts in game lodges, self-catering holiday homes and camp sites.

Of course, as the media. especially in Britain, was delighted to tell us, the ill-fated French football team caused a media storm when it was revealed that they stayed in South Africa's exclusive, luxurious Peluza resort, on the incomparable Knysna coast, at the cost of £500 per room per night, apparently outdoing all of the other 31 teams, in this respect only. Moreover, Peluza is nowhere near any of the match stadia, being over 300 miles from Cape Town and 127 miles from Port Elizabeth - which meant that the team had its own chartered plane to fly from one venue to another. One can only hope for their sake that they had, at least, a nice holiday! The British team in the meantime were far more "modest" in their requirements, in the mere 5-star luxury of Royal Bafokeng (high altitude) Sports Campus near Sun City. Not that slumming it improved their performance, however.

So, the players and their (fortunate, in every sense of the word) visiting fans had everything they could want - including new buses, new trains, new stations, new airport terminals, new roads made ready for them. And presumably, since the international fans could afford the air fares to South Africa (which reached exorbitant levels for the occasion), they could afford the tickets for the matches too.

But what about the South African population, which is nevertheless going to be paying for this extravaganza for years to come? Most did not have a chance in hell of setting foot inside one of the 10 grand stadiums. Match tickets were hard to come by and wildly overpriced: for the group matches, a precious few sold for £17, to South Africans only, and only for seats behind the goals. Otherwise, the cheapest seats cost between £53 for initial group matches and £268 for the final, while the best seats cost between £134 and £606. Given that a £60 weekly wage earned by construction workers is considered a relatively good one, these tickets were obviously way beyond the means of most South African waged workers, let alone the unemployed!

As if this was not in enough, a 2km exclusion zone was created around each stadium for the duration, so that FIFA could maintain its exclusive commercial monopoly, selling football tat, food and drink. Thousands of informal street hawkers were effectively banned from these zones, as well as being forcibly removed from their usual pitches at certain stations and taxi ranks, where they might have looked "too untidy" and spoilt South Africa's image in front of World Cup visitors! This, when street trading and craft sales are among the very few ways of making a few cents in a country where not even half of workers are employed in a "formal", regular job. In Durban, fisherman were even banned from part of the harbour!

Ordinary South Africans were left under no illusion who this World Cup was for. And it was not for them.

The cup's real winners

So who benefits? If the ANC government has been trying for so long to host the World Cup (they already failed in a bid for the 2006 Cup, which was won by Germany), it is obviously because it expected some gains out of it.

Firstly, the ANC hoped for political gains - by whipping up national pride. As Deputy President (and former leader of the miners' union), Kgalema Motlanthe explained in an interview on 11 June: hosting the World Cup "has (..) got the nation behind our national team, our national squad. The nation to better appreciate the national anthem and the national flag... Of course, the fact that South Africa was finally chosen was confirmation for the ANC government that it was now fully recognised by the world's powers-that-be. And the fact that it is hosting the first World Cup ever to take place on the African continent, is a de facto endorsement of the ANC's attempt at playing the role of a regional power, as in Zimbabwe, the Congo and Madagascar.

However, whether the South-African poor fell for this extravagant celebration of the "god" Soccer, to the point of forgetting the scandalous failings of the regime and the poverty inflicted on them by the small, but voracious, South African bourgeoisie and its men in government, is another issue. In fact, this is rather doubtful judging from the fact that the World Cup "truce" has failed to completely stop the on-going strikes and protests.

Beyond these political gains, the ANC was aiming at more earthly gains. Motlanthe argued in the same interview: "The privilege of hosting this World Cup has helped us. When the rest of the world was hit by the global economic meltdown, we as a country had already pumped money into the preparations for this tournament and that served as a counter-cyclical measure because during the economic recession, the only sector of our economy that continued to show positive results was construction and that was primarily because of the construction work of the stadiums, the expansion of the road network, the construction of new hotels in the hospitality industry and so on."In fact, these games were worth billions to the same South African and international businesses, whose greed the ANC regime has always been keen to placate, and smaller amounts of cash to many others.

The security, management, advertising and tourism contracts associated with the Cup have been a lucrative field for those with the right connections. A word was even invented in the run-up to the event - "tenderpreneur" - to describe the businessmen who were successful in their bids for government contracts or "tenders". In fact there is a Pandora's Box of graft and patronage waiting to be opened as a result of this event. Because getting a government contract by bribes, insider wheeling and dealing and connections inside the ruling party, has become the rule rather than the exception. A bid tends to win, as long as a friend or relative is going to be able to make a bomb out of it.

Such practices have developed to such an extent that Zwelinzima Vavi - the leader of the union federation, Cosatu, which is part of the ANC-led alliance in office - felt it was necessary to distance himself from any association with this wheeling and dealing. In so doing, he made some waves (albeit pure demagogy) with a campaign against these "tenderpreneurs". In a much-reported speech in April, he said "Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe says that corruption is 'far worse than anyone imagines... at all levels of government.' (...) A further 6,000 senior government officials had failed to declare their business interests, as required by the law, and were awaiting disciplinary hearings.(...) The evidence of corruption is overwhelming. A report to Parliament in August 2009 from the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission details many ways in which state officials and politicians enrich themselves at the expense of the public. They found that the extent of business done by employee- or spouse-related companies at provincial level, between 1 April 2005 and 31 January 2007, amounted to approximately R540,2 million." And so on. The World Cup will prove to have been a bonanza in this respect, without any doubt. And there will also probably be a bonanza in political scapegoating.

But all this corruption cash pales into insignificance in comparison to the sums pocketed by the big players of the business world.

Firstly, there is FIFA of course, to an estimated tune of £2.1bn (from TV rights, marketing rights, hospitality rights, etc.). But the biggest beneficiaries of the World Cup bounty are, collectively, the small number of big companies which got the contracts, before, during and after, including, first and foremost, those who built the stadia and infrastructure.

For instance the Aveng Group, Africa's largest construction company by market value (actually it mainly comprises revamped South African companies from the apartheid days), increased its revenue by 14% in 2009, thanks to projects including the Soccer City stadium, the Moses Mabhida stadium's steel arch and Cape Town's new air terminal. Murray & Roberts (also owned by South African capitalists) did even better. Having built the Greenpoint stadium and done construction work for the new "Gautrain" railway line, its revenue grew by 300% between 2004 and 2009 and its operating profit by 600%! In the last year it says the world recession has affected its profits. But it is expecting to get more contracts for South Africa's future infrastructure renewal.

Next come the big foreign companies. Among other things, they got the bulk of one of the top-rated infrastructure projects inaugurated for the opening of the World Cup - the "Gautrain". Eventually this new fast train, named after the Gauteng province and proudly described as Africa's biggest "Public-Private partnership", will link the country's economic capital, Johannesburg, to its political capital, Pretoria. A first section, worth £3.1bn, linking Oliver Tambo airport (Johannesburg's international airport) to Sandton (Johannesburg's wealthy business district) was meant to open before the Cup. It just made it, on 4 June, to much fanfare, even if the signboard on Sandton station was still missing!

The Bombela Concession Company, which was contracted to design, build and operate Gautrain, just happens to be 50% owned by a consortium comprising the Canadian train manufacturer Bombardier, France's construction giant Bouygues, and France's RATP Developpement, a subsidiary of the state-owned Paris metro. The remaining 50% of Bombela is owned by South Africa's Murray & Roberts, J&J Group, Absa Bank and Strategic Partners Group, the latter being the mandatory "Black Economic Empowerment" component. The plans are that after completion, the Gautrain will carry on being operated by RATP, In fact the Greenpoint stadium will also go on being operated by a consortium which includes the company which operates Stade de France, the largest stadium in Paris.

The cup's real losers... for now

South Africa's bid for the 2010 Cup estimated total xpenses at £270m at the time - including £107m for stadia and related infrastructure upgrades. Although this envisaged mostly using existing stadia, it was alreadyfar too big for the government's financial boots. But the excuse was that "legacy projects" would benefit the country and its population, even though the legacy of unfulfilled promises on basics like clean piped water and houses might seem a greater priority!

Yet in the end Cape Town's Greenpoint stadium (the most expensive), alone cost £404m! Together, the new and upgraded stadia cost around £1.6bn. All costs considered, although the government only admits to having spent around £3bn, estimates of the real figure are close to £3.5bn - 13 times the original costing!

To give some idea of the real cost to the population: the total annual government health expenditure in 2009 was R18.4bn (£1.6bn) so this represents over twice as much. Worse, there is at present a scandal over a £600m overspend by the under-resourced and deteriorating public health service, which is accused of "maladministration". But this is nothing compared to the deliberate "maladministration" surrounding the World Cup, fuelled by graft and greed.

So no wonder the original "World Cup bid book" was hidden away, until it was unearthed by one of the daily papers. The government would rather that the public blame Fifa, even if Fifa originally accepted a rather more modest bid, which did not necessitate the hugely over-the-top (some call them "vanity") projects which have been built.

As Denver Hendricks, a Pretoria University Professor and former director general of Sport and Recreation for the government between 2002 and 2006, rightly spelt out: ".. Remember, the initial estimate for the stadiums was something like R1,8 billion; I think we are closer to R18 billion now ... Did we invest that money wisely? If these buildings in the long run are going to cost you more money to maintain, shouldn't we have built houses and factories and things like that, that could have had longer term benefits for our people and our country? " Indeed, with a low cost home priced at around R50,000 (just under £5,000), 90,000 of those could have been built for working class families, for just the price of the Greenpoint stadium extravaganza!

Given the level of poverty in the country and the still outstanding promises made 16 years ago by the ANC under their iconic leader Nelson Mandela, it is hard to find words strong enough to condemn the obscenity of this squandering of public funds at the expense of the most basic needs of South Africa's poor majority!

Especially as one can only wonder what will be left of the World Cup's glitter and gloss, once the teams and their fans have gone home? Most of the jobs it created have already disappeared - in construction, for instance. And it is hard to see what future use most of its grandiose infrastructure may have.

In the Cape, even if the existing Newlands rugby stadium and the refurbished Athlone stadium are allowed to close down, Greenpoint stadium is unlikely to cover its running costs and risks turning into a white elephant. As a result, although its management has been awarded to a private company, its maintenance and huge insurance costs will have to be paid for by Cape Town's rate payers. So what else will be cut in order to fund this?

There are similar problems for the Durban stadium - and less so, but also dodgy, is the future of Soccer City in Johannesburg . As for the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, its future was always in question. What can displaced and landless people do with a sports stadium except demolish it and re-use its materials?

Or, is it that the government, as is strongly rumoured, is planning to embark on another extravagant pageant by bidding for the "Summer Olympics" in 2020 - which would then allow some of the 2010 infrastructure to be re-used, although not without a huge renovation programme and yet another big price tag for the population?

Of course, the Gautrain will remain. Its only problem is that a single ticket on the existing section from Sandton to the Airport already costs £9, which places it out of reach for most people. And, anyway, it would be of no use for most workers, because they live in Soweto, which is not on the Gautrain's route. Instead, the only fast railway link available to Soweto residents remains the Soweto business express", launched in 2007 by Metrorail on the existing slow line, between Park Station in central Johannesburg and Naledi, in Soweto - except that it only operates at peak hours and costs around £1 50 single.

The only really useful infrastructure that will remain from the World Cup is the Bus Rapid Transport System, otherwise known as Rea Vaya, which was brought into operation in the run-up to the World Cup. This bus service, which was subcontracted by Johannesburg municipality, runs services between Soweto, Johannesburg and Sandton. It was modelled on the system used in Columbia's capital, Bogota, with "bendy-buses" in specially constructed, dedicated lanes. The project took 4 years to implement, at a cost of around £1.8bn. Its biggest problem was the opposition of the minibus taxi drivers, who used to make a living out of the state's failure to provide affordable public transport in the area. Most of them were eventually won over though, thanks to expenses-paid trips to Bogota, and as the Johannesburg mayor explained, "300 operators who own over 600 minibus taxis along the affected route (...) will hand in 585 minibus taxis for sale or scrapping and become shareholders in the new Bus Operating Company. Apparently many of them have also become bus drivers.

This bus service is a real benefit to Soweto residents. Finally, after nearly 3 decades during which they had to rely on taxis and then minibuses as the only really cheap and convenient transport, they now have a modern, fast system, which is even cheaper than taxis (fares for a long journey are mostly under £1). Other big municipalities seem to be following the example. One can only hope that this new system will be well-maintained - unlike so much of the collective infrastructure in the country - and indeed, expanded.

Bread and circuses? Except, there's no bread

When interviewed about the state of the country recently, the South African Nobel prize-winning authoress, Nadine Gordimer, who always stood up against apartheid, invoked the ancient Roman poet Juvenal, who famously advocated "bread and circuses" to prevent revolt among the disgruntled masses. Like many others, she has asked the obvious question: "what about the bread?"

Actually, this question has been hovering in the air for a good few years, long before the World Cup circus. The increasing inequalities and the failure to deliver basic services to the population throughout the country were responsible for the ANC's reduced majority in the 2009 general election, even if it still won, bringing Jacob Zuma into the presidency.

At the time, some of Zuma's supporters, especially Julius Malema, the leader of the ANC Youth League, had promised that Zuma would not follow his predecessor's pro-business policies. It is also this same "youth" fraction who are, at present, talking about "nationalisation" and resurrecting what they describe as the ANC's "radical" tradition, from the days when it was fighting apartheid from the underground and in exile. But Zuma himself never promised - and this did not bother his supporters - to change economic tack. Indeed, he went out of his way to reassure both domestic and foreign investors that he was a safe pair of hands, offering continuity with the previous government. And of course, he has been true to his word.

To cover up their failure to deliver, however, ANC politicians keep emphasising, how, compared to 1994 when South Africa's "freedom" first began, there have been improvements in the social conditions of the poor. The problem is that this is so minimal as to be shameful.

For instance, in 1994, 36% of the population did not live in a "formal dwelling" - that is, they lived in a hut or shanty. In 2009 this proportion was only down by 11%, to 25% - which underestimates the true situation, since it does not take into account many tens of thousands of new immigrants from the rest of Africa. Many among these 25% are living in very precarious conditions. For instance, many "squat" in abandoned business premises or unmaintained, deteriorating buildings whose electricity, sewage and water have been cut off, in town and city centres. And they are regularly evicted by squads of private security guards like the notorious "Red Ants", who operate in Gauteng and are used for strike-breaking. As to the "formal housing" provided in the last decade by the state, it is too small, badly built, and often people have to provide the roof, doors and windows themselves.

Access to clean piped water is said to have increased from 62% to 89% in 16 years. Electricity access has increased apparently from half the population having none, to roughly three quarters now being connected. But there are additional factors which deprive people of these vital utilities - in particular, the ability to pay. In the case of water, for instance, everyone is meant to be entitled to 50 litres of water free per day, but beyond this, water is no longer free. And who will be able to afford electricity anyway, if the latest 25% price rise is implemented?

Refuse removal stands out as something which has not improved one inch. In 1994 53% had access, today... 53% have access! Likewise for sewage removal. Only half of black families have a flush toilet - albeit an increase of 20% in 16 years, this does not necessarily mean they are connected to a sewage system. They might have a septic tank.

There are only two areas in which significant progress has been made. The treatment of those who are HIV positive has now begun and around 900,000 are receiving anti-retroviral drugs funded by the state - although this is still far short of the 2m in total who are presently in need of treatment, out of an infected population of 5.2m. Also, free schooling has been introduced, but its impact has been limited by an acute and ongoing shortage of resources and qualified teachers, who often teach without getting paid.

However, the latest household survey - this May - provides a stark illustration of South Africa's inability to tackle "structural" poverty, by showing that 20% of households have inadequate, or severely inadequate, access to food. That is the most fundamental indicator of all. This level of poverty is confirmed by the fact that almost half of the population falls under the World Health Organisation's "poverty line" by living on less than $2 (£1.35) a day. A third live on less than 70p a day!

As to the state welfare system, which covers 13 million people in some shape or form, it is a drop in the ocean. The state old age pension or disability grant pays just £70 a month; there is a grant per child under 15 years (to be increased to 18 years) of £10/month, and there are care dependency grants of £70 per month. However, £10 might pay for enough corn meal for one month, but little else. A loaf of cheap bread costs around 67p in a supermarket. Such grants certainly cannot supply the needed "bread" for a whole family, who, as is often the case, may be totally dependent on the pension of one grandmother or grandfather.

So the South African poor are nowhere near having the "bread" recommended by Juvenal. Anyway even if the people havebread there is no guarantee there will not be a revolt. After all, Spartacus led a slave rebellion at a time when Rome supplied much bread and regular circuses, and that rebellion signalled the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

Crippling legacy of the past

While the "improvements" boasted of by the government are, at best derisory, the present dire situation is not just an indictment of the failures of the ANC government to deliver. It is first and foremost an indictment of its nationalist policies, including those it developed during its so-called "radical" days when it was fighting apartheid.

The ANC's agenda never went beyond representing the interests of an aspiring "national" black bourgeoisie, whose aim was to get its own share of the capitalist cake. From this point of view the ANC has delivered. A very small black capitalist class and slightly larger black middle class have joined the ranks of the old white-only privileged classes. But in order to follow its agenda, the ANC did what was required, 16 years ago, to prevent the mobilised black majority from reshaping the social make up of the country themselves. Its compromise with the former apartheid regime and its endorsement of big business' interests - South African as well as imperialist - allowed the country's colonial and apartheid past to continue to weigh heavily on the population. And this is a legacy which bears much of the responsibility for today's deep poverty.

In the country's formative years, racial segregation was used as an instrument to expropriate the black peasant farmers and to impose capitalism in agriculture - and then it became an instrument to provide industry with a cheap and infinitely pliable workforce. This created a modern economy which was highly concentrated in the hands of the few (white South African and foreign capitalists) while the overwhelming majority were left with bare means of subsistence, which were comparable with populations in some of the world's poorest countries.

Because of the brutal expropriation of the peasants and their forced transformation into urban and industrial "slaves", living in their own "townships", there is little alternative for today's unemployed, as there still might be in other under-or semi-developed poor countries, like for instance to go back to subsistence farming in the family village or resorting to traditional handicraft. The "homelands" (or former reservations for the black population) may still be in the countryside, but they are arid and unable to support their populations. Today, South Africa's modern economy, rich as it may be by Third World standards, still offers very little space for the majority of its population to survive, let alone to make a decent living.

As a recent Economist special report wrote: "South Africa does not have a thriving informal economy where the jobless can take refuge. OECD estimates put employment in the shadow economy at only 15% of the total compared with around half in Brazil and India and nearly three-quarters in Indonesia."This is why, too, the issue of the land and its redistribution to the black poor is such an emotive issue. In 1994, 87% of agricultural land was owned by white farmers. The first ANC government made the promise to redistribute (only!) 30% of the land to the landless within 5 years. But this was never done. At most around 6% was redistributed under the "willing seller, willing buyer scheme" whereby white farmers sell their land at its market value to the government. Unsurprisingly, the funding ran out.

At the ANC conference in December 2007, a call for 30% of the land to be redistributed by 2014 was repeated. It appears that the present minister for rural development, Gugile Nkwinti has been under pressure to make something happen, or appear to be doing so. He announced that large farms would be broken up. However, given the opposition of the rich commercial farmers' lobby and the fact that 80% of South Africa's food comes from such farms, this is unlikely to happen. An alternative plan was proposed by the minister for agriculture - a share scheme under Black Economic Empowerment, which would allow white commercial farmers to sell 40% of their farms to black shareholders - thus helping the government reach its reform target, but (theoretically) not jeopardising production. In a bid to get a hearing for her alternative plan, the minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson justified this scheme by arguing that "If we did not break the deadlock and solve the land question together we were headed for a situation that would make Zimbabwe look like a teddy-bear's picnic."Except that none of these so-called "solutions" actually deals with the real problem. The share-ownership schemes might be agreed by the capitalist farmers, but only the black middle-class would benefit from them - not the rural poor. Of course, redistributing land to landless farmers who cannot afford to buy any equipment would, at least, give a boost to subsistence agriculture and allow their families and neighbours to have something to eat - but it would be a return to the past rather that a step forward. Anything more than that would require some form of land nationalisation, with the state taking responsibility for the setting up of large-scale collective farms, using modern farming equipment and techniques. But this would require the expropriation of a whole section of the capitalist class - and taking the funding required out of the pockets of the wealthy - the last thing that the ANC is prepared to do!

The working class and the crisis

This legacy from the past also means that joblessness is that much more devastating. And, of course, it has been made even worse by the world crisis. Last year, nearly 900,000 jobs disappeared from the economy, losses which were added to, by the redundancies in the construction industry after the final completion of several of the stadia for the World Cup, even if many transport and other infrastructure projects are still unfinished or waiting to be approved.

Unemployment stands officially at 25.2%, which is bad enough, but as in Britain, this figure does not come close to reflecting the true picture. The government itself admits that "when the number of people who have given up looking for work is included, the statistics are positively alarming: six in 10 South Africans are not working, and almost half of all young people have never held a job". This goes some way to explaining why, amongst black teenagers, who have double the adult unemployment rate, suicide is the second largest cause of death. One in 5 teenagers aged 15-17 tried to commit suicide in the last 6 months alone.

This level of joblessness, and the fact that the concentrated urban "proletariat" has no where to go to, undoubtedly also contributes to the high crime rate. South Africa ranks in the top 10 of countries with the highest rates of murder, at 37.3 per 100,000 people - compared to 5.4 in the USA and 1.2 in England and Wales.

On top of it all, most of those people lucky enough to be in work are still poor. Figures for 2008 show that 75.5% of the population "in work" earned less than £5,000 a year. Yet the price of a basket of groceries, including bread, milk, tea, mincemeat, is almost exactly the same as the price of the same goods in British supermarkets. For basic goods like "industrial" bread and laundry soap, supermarkets in Europe are even cheaper, in fact. So how does a family survive on what is equivalent to about a third of the British minimum wage? The answer is that they are used to it, and they have to share, to find collective answers, and beg, borrow and steal for the rest.

Neither these low wages nor the level of unemployment could be blamed on the recession. The crisis only really reached South Africa in 2008, by which time unemployment was already at 40%. Well before the banking crash, hundreds of thousands had been pushed onto the streets by the decline in gold mining due to exhaustion of a number of the richest seams. South Africa used to be the world's largest gold producer but is now 4th, behind China, Australia and America. Mining, which used to account for 14% of employment in the 1980s now only accounts for 2.3%.

That said, South Africa remains the world's largest producer of platinum, manganese, chrome and vanadium and the 5th largest coal producer. It is also still home to the world's biggest diamond company, De Beers. So the "capitalist base" still remains there and it could be made to provide the investment required to create the jobs and infrastructure which are so desperately needed - but, of course, Zuma's ANC would not dream of it!

The government, in its annual budget in February this year, claimed that the country had now weathered "the most severe domestic recession since 1992 and was looking forward to a 2.7% growth. Was this optimistic statement - although one which was heard in just about every country in the world - designed to implicitly justify the "benefits" of the World Cup? This is most likely, judging from another official statement, at the opening of the new Durban train terminal at the Moses Mabhida stadium on 7 June. This time, it was Transport minister, Sbu Ndebele, who declared: "What we have spent on the infrastructure of for the World Cup is nothing. We will be involved in construction like we have never before.... People who were involved in the building of the stadiums and other 2010 projects will be absorbed in the next three years." What a fitting way for an ANC grandee to display his contempt for workers - promising that they will be "absorbed", although this is probably a true description of their over-exploitation!

Of course, major infrastructure investment is needed - and some is planned - like new power plants, roads, bridges, hospitals, etc.. But the government is already facing a crisis with respect to past undertakings, and requires huge loans (just agreed with the World Bank) for its overdue investment to cope with the failing electricity supply. Where will it find funding for the new projects promised by Ndebele? So, the odds are that last year's 900,000 "retrenched" workers will have to wait a long time before being "absorbed".

The best strikers - kicking against profits

Throughout 2009, thousands of workers downed their tools and many took to the streets to fight for desperately needed higher wages and improvements in working conditions. Even police in the Johannesburg metropolitan region went on strike, demanding the firing of two of their chiefs for corruption.

In April last year, truck drivers organised in the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union staged a national strike for a 15% wage increase. The strike caused petrol pumps to run dry and food outlets ran short of supplies. The municipal workers embarked on a protracted struggle last year too, when 150,000 workers went on strike for a 15% wage rise. Binmen used the very effective tactic of spreading rubbish in the streets to show just what a mess they were preventing by their labour!

During the same year, there were strikes by bus and train drivers, as well as textile workers. There was also a wages dispute involving workers for the national radio and TV who were done out of a promised pay rise of 12.5% - eventually settling for 10%.

The most significant dispute of all in 2009, however, was the strike of construction workers on the 2010 projects, between 8 and 15 July. This was the first ever national construction workers' strike, following around 26 wildcats staged in 2007 and 2008 on a site-by-site basis. This July strike involved some 70,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as well as members of the Building Construction and Allied Workers' union, BECAWU, bringing workers who were artificially divided into the engineering sector and the building sector together, in an unprecedented show of unity. It affected construction at all Gautrain and stadium sites, as well as projects like the Medupi power station in Limpopo. The issue was wages, after a pay rise offer of 10.4% was rejected by the workers - at a time when the official price increase was around 5%. The union demanded a 13% wage increase, annual bonuses, paid maternity leave, and reduced working hours without loss of pay.

Initially the employers upped their offer to 11.5%, proposing that further discussions should take place site by site, company by company. But in return, the employers demanded that the right to strike should be given up until 31 August 2010! The union leaders then negotiated an improved rise of 12%, which increased annual pay of full-timers to R35,196 (£3,000) - effective from September. But both the NUM and BCAWU leaders also signed up to a no-strike clause between 15 July 2009 and 31 August 2010 - thereby succumbing to the "spirit of ensuring unconditionally a successful hosting of the World Cup" as the employers, the FIFA and LOC put it. One could call that a sell-out!

The first 6 months of this year saw a similar level of strike activity. The most prominent action was by workers in Transnet, the national rail network, who had been given a pay cut last year while company executives - 14 of them - shared between them £4m and a 9.4% salary increase! Workers went on strike for nearly 4 weeks, only going back to work on 27 May, disrupting railways and ports as well as holding up exports of fruit, wine, cars and coal. Eventually the strikers voted to accept an 11% rise and a one-off extra 1%.

As it turned out, despite their efforts to control everything surrounding the World Cup, the government and FIFA failed to keep the lid on workers' militancy.

Just before the World Cup opening, the drivers of the Johannesburg Rea Vaya buses went on strike to get union recognition. This caused a bit of a stir as these buses were supposed to ferry fans to and from Soccer City stadium, on the outskirts of Soweto. However their strike was ruled illegal by the courts, which maybe explains why the same drivers resorted to wildcat action during the soccer tournament - stranding fans at the stadium on 14 June!

The South African courts have been extremely busy, in fact, over the last few weeks. For instance, they declared illegal a planned strike by the NUM at the state electricity utility, Eskom, over an 18% pay increase. Meanwhile, public sector workers were awaiting the end of compulsory 30 days of arbitration to be balloted on the pathetic 5.3% offer they were made.

Regardless of these pressures, municipal workers have carried on their strike over wages which began several months ago and is a follow on from inconclusive results last year}. At the same time, public sector unions are organising action against the increases in electricity rates (25% last year and another 25% this year).

Then came the World Cup's kick-off and within days, the pretty picture of South Africa as "a safe investment opportunity" that the government wanted to project was cracked, if not shattered. On the night of 13 June, after the match between Germany and Australia in Durban, security guards who had been cheated and deliberately short-changed by the company that employed them at the Moses Mabhida Stadium occupied the arena and refused to budge until they were forced out by police using percussion grenades and rubber bullets.

Stewards and guards in other stadiums were to follow this example shortly afterwards, having been treated in exactly the same manner. The South African police had to take over the security operations at the Durban and Cape Town venues. In Johannesburg, as previously mentioned, Rea Vaya's rapid transit bus drivers went on strike for a second time, after delivering fans to Soccer City stadium, because their bosses tried to impose special overtime timetables on them without overtime pay (and won).

On 16 June, large demonstrations took place to mark "Youth Day", the annual commemoration of the 1976 Soweto uprising - themost significant being the one in Durban. It brought together sacked stadium security guards and stewards, trade unions, street hawkers and shack-dwellers, all protesting against their situation, but focusing mainly on FIFA as the villain. Indeed, "Fick Fufa" teeshirts have made an appearance throughout the country! No doubt Zuma & Co are heaving a sigh of relief, as the population's frustrations over the World Cup seem to be largely aimed at Fifa - for the time being, at least.

In any case, there has been ample evidence of workers' combativeness and certainly reason to blow the vuvuzelas, no matter how the home team, Bafana-Bafana, performed in the end! Zuma's admonition not to strike during the World Cup - declaring "I don't think we should disappoint the continent. If you have visitors in your house, you don't start fighting." - as been ignored. The so-called "national unity" which was meant to preside over the World Cup has gone for good, together with the more or less overt endorsement by trade-union leaders of the World Cup "truce" demanded by Zuma.

And it was not for nothing if Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu leader (now dubbed "Vavizela"), felt that it was necessary to contradict his boss: "Nobody must say: 'Oh hold on, there are visitors around, don't do anything about this matter because of the national interest'.... Our interest is to protect our jobs, to improve our standards of living. The World Cup will be a one-month event. It will come and go."By then, residents of the Cape Flats shanty towns who had been so blatantly excluded from any benefit from the Wold Cup by the Greenpoint Stadium affair, announced a plan to organise their own Cup - the "People's World Cup", as they called it. It involved 36 teams each representing one of the Cape Flats townships and each adopting the name of one of the teams involved in the World Cup. The organisers made a point of stressing that all the street peddlers who were prevented from coming anywhere near World Cup premises would be welcome to attend, as well as all the families who lost their homes in order to make space for the World Cup's extravagant infrastructure.

This "People's World Cup" may be only a symbolic gesture, but it is nevertheless a gesture of positive defiance against a regime which displays such arrogant contempt for the poor.

The ball approved for use in this year's World Cup, (accused of too much curve and bounce!) was given the name "Jabulani" - meaning "we rejoice" in Zulu. That was apt. Let us hope that after the "Jabulani" footballs are laid to rest, the South African working class will score some really significant goals against the bosses. And that it will rediscover the strengths that helped it to win a victory over apartheid - but, this time, in order to build the kind of unified team required to beat capitalism, across the fake national borders so precious to jamborees like the World Cup. That will be real cause for "jabulani".