After years of anticipation, hard planning and $5 billion worth of infrastructure-building, South Africa kicks off World Cup 2010 with high hopes for prosperity. This is the first time the tournament will be played on African soil, and South Africa is hosting the event 16 years after its transition to democracy and years of steady economic growth.
South Africa is the largest economy on the African continent, with a population of 49 million. But South Africa is a highly unequal society, and critics have blasted the extravagence of World Cup preparations, which include Johannesburg’s new $400 million stadium. The South African organization Institute for Security Studies says money used for World Cup infrastructure was enough to build 60,000 low-cost houses for the benefit of 250,000 people, reports The New York Times.
Beyond drawing zealous fans from around the world, the World Cup has also drawn business opportunists from across Africa — countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Somalia. In small neighborhoods dominated by a poor population, xenophobia is starting to flare up against small-business owners. Some immigrants have set up small convenience stores in informal settlements and urban areas, sparking jealousy and resentment from the community. While these entrepreneurs often do relatively OK for themselves, reports say they’ve been a target of verbal and written warnings; neighbors insist they must leave before the World Cup is over or face vigilante violence.
More than 40 percent of South African’s don’t have jobs, with higher volumes of the unemployed living in poor neighborhoods.
The South African government has revived a high-level committee to address threats against small-business immigrants. Police are informed and aware, and community groups are working to address the root causes of the tensions. Many hope these remain rumors and that World Cup excitement and positivity can help dissipate the issue.