'Govt spends on SWC, not us'

2010-04-28 14:50

Johannesburg - A flare-up of violent protests could escalate ahead of the Soccer World Cup as the country's angry poor press their demands for better housing and jobs.

For the past two months, protests in townships have become an almost daily occurrence with police using water canons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters armed with rocks and stones.

And these protests could spread and intensify before the world's premier sporting event held in Africa for the first time from June 11-July 11, political analysts believe.

A threat by Cosatu to strike nationwide over power price increases during the sports event could add pressure on President Jacob Zuma's government.

Still living in a shack

Poor and unemployed black South Africans, many still living in shacks almost 16 years after the ANC came to power, are angry at what they say is the government's failure to provide decent housing, clean water, electricity and jobs.

"The government can afford to spend billions of rands on (World Cup) stadiums but has no money to improve our lives," said Morongoa Molokmone, who lives in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg.

Molkomone, who is unemployed and lives in a tin shack without water and electricity, said the poor have waited for years for a better life. In the rainy season, his shack leaks and sewage from overflowing toilet pits spills into the muddy streets.

"Why should we have third rate development when we have been waiting for decades?"

The government hopes that the World Cup will inject billions of rands into the economy after vast amounts have been spent on upgrading infrastructure and building new stadiums.

Banc of America/Merrill Lynch analysts estimate that the World Cup could lead to around $1.1bn flowing into the economy.

Groundswell of anger

Zuma, who promised to improve the lives of the poor while campaigning for election last April, is facing an uphill battle to deliver on those promises soon after South Africa emerged from its first recession in 17 years.

"People realise that now is the time to take advantage of this groundswell of anger. With the World Cup around the corner the government cannot afford not to listen," said Prince Mashele, executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research.

Protests have mainly erupted around Gauteng province but analysts say the disturbances could spill over into other provinces.

"It's only a matter of time before people realise they are complaining about the same issues and that they would be more powerful if they unite," said Frans Cronje, deputy Chief Executive Officer of the SA Institute for Race Relations.

Although any protests during the World Cup could embarrass the government, they are unlikely to disrupt the event.

"The riot police will be quick to turn their guns on demonstrators to restore order," Cronje said.

Zuma's biggest worry

But Zuma's biggest worry does not come from the poor. The threat from Cosatu's secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi that the scores of unions under the federation's umbrella could strike is potentially more damaging.

Cosatu opposes a 25% price increase granted to parastatal Eskom.

The union federation says the hike, and two other similar increase in the next two years, will have a crippling effect on the poor and lead to a further 250 000 job losses.

"Cosatu has the ability and the logistical capacity to bring the country to its knees," the Centre for Politics and Research's Mashele said.

Backroom deals

"Vavi is a calculating man and he knows that he can use the World Cup to get what he wants.

"Challenging the government on this issue will also further his political aspirations."

Zuma indicated in a recent interview that he was prepared to compromise and analysts believe he may reach a behind the scenes deal with Cosatu to ensure a strike-free World Cup.

"The South African government is on pins and needles hosting the World Cup with the rest of the world watching. They would do everything they could to prevent (a strike) from happening," said Mark Schroeder, southern Africa analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor.

"They would bring these guys into the backrooms and say your career and your future is over if you disrupt the World Cup."