The Silenced Vuvuzelas – A Reflection

14 Jun

On Friday 11 June, the People’s Justice Fan Centre in Soweto hosted a panel entitled: “Voices from the Left Field (or Sidelined?)” which brought together voices from representatives of various NGOs and social movements in SA. Here’s Zdena Mtetwas reflections from that panel:

2010 will be remembered as the year the soccer world cup came to South Africa. It will be remembered by the people who were here before and will be left here after the world cup. In remembering 2010, we therefore need to explore what 2010 means for those people.

What does 2010 mean for the residents of Ellis Park? What does it mean, to stand in the neighbourhood of Ellis park on the night before the opening match looking over the beautiful stadium of Ellis park, shining with hundreds of lights and water in abundance, empty at that moment but waiting for the world to come and watch the match, once, twice, three times maybe, during this world cup. This building that one stands in, looking over the stadium, this building that has residents who have lived there for years; this neighbourhood that is home to thousands of South Africans… is dark. There is no electricity and no water.

The day of the opening match dawns and the excitement in the streets is unimaginable. It is only comparable to the excitement of 1994, when the nation was newly born as a democracy. When people had dreams and hopes of how the new South Africa would be. When the poor finally thought they would find their place in the sun. By 11 June 2010, some of those poor have been living in shacks, or what we call informal settlements since then. For years, they have been waiting for the government to build houses for them. While counting those years, one day, they were displaced from the homes they had built from plastic and tin, not to be relocated to newly built houses, but displaced for the sake of building stadiums, stadiums that have cost billions of rands, while South Africa’s poor continue to be in a queue they have been in for ten years or more, to get decent housing.

What does the world cup mean for the woman in Sharpeville, who wakes up and puts on her South African flagged outfit, and has an idea to sell some food so that she too can be part of the beneficiaries of this beautiful event, only to learn that the only people allowed to trade close to the stadium are those approved by FIFA, and she therefore can and may not do such thing. She realises at that moment, in her sudden ambivalence, that this world cup will actually not benefit the regular South African economically.

The loudest voice that talks about South Africa 2010 is the voice that celebrates that we have come a long way since 1994. It is the voice that looks at the unity with which the nation supports the team. It celebrates the aspirations of our people, and remembers those who fought for democracy, and that if it had not been for them, we would not have achieved democracy and would not have had the opportunity to host the world.

Yet there is another voice that is not heard. This is the voice that acknowledges everything that louder voice celebrates.  This voice however says: what about the other side of South Africa? What about the 46% of the population that lives below the poverty datum line? What about the significant percentage of this population that has been displaced for the purposes of this world cup. One asks, can a poor country not host a world cup and another answers, it can. But the question is: How should that world cup be hosted?  Does such a country not owe it to its people to host it in a way that considers its people and aims to benefit them?

There is another sound to this world cup, the silent vuvuzela that is drowned by the loud cheers.

While we are not rejecting the world cup, it is important to enjoy and still be critical. While we pose as a “World Class African Host Nation”, it is important to understand how many people of our own people we have displaced to create this image, how many we have sidelined, and how many we have betrayed.

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One Response to “The Silenced Vuvuzelas – A Reflection”

  1. suntosh June 14, 2010 at 15:08 #

    A deeply evocative, provocative, and necessary message. Well said.

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