The World Cup – can it unite a divided nation?

Racial divisions within South Africa blight the country’s history.  Today however, racial apartheid is no longer the major divide within the country, its economic division.  A recent OECD report has stated that SA is on path to become one of the most unequal societies in the world. There is a section of the black population that is becoming increasingly wealthy, exaggerating the inequality statistics. 

While inequality between different ethnicities may be falling (slowly), the “intra-race” inequality within the black community is actually growing.  This, the report states, “is preventing the aggregate [inequality] measures from declining”. 

With the fall of racial apartheid in 1994, the ANC introduced a Black Economic Empowerment programme aimed at reversing the economic hierarchy.  This policy has had many critics.  White (especially working class white people) has found it very hard to get a job in a country that currently has an unemployment rate of about 25 %! Equally, it is widely acknowledged not to have benefited the majority of black South Africans. It is clear that a small minority of blacks have disproportionately benefited from the BEE policy.  It has not succeeded in its aim of re-balancing inequality. 

Although, inequality, in racial terms still underpins many of the official statistics; it is economic inequality that now blights the rainbow nation. 

The World Cup 2010 to be held across SA, is being widely held up as a unifying force for a divided nation.  The CEO of the South Africa World Cup, Danny Jordaan, has said that this tournament will represent the “most unifying moment in the country’s history” (a big claim).  Football is a universal language that does indeed bring together people from all backgrounds.  But do these claims about the “unifying” potential of the World Cup hold up to examination?

Firstly, in relation to race; it has to be noted that Football is still predominantly a black past time in SA.  Will the 5 million whites in South Africa (or the millions of other ethnicities) embrace the world cup, or will they see it as predominantly black affair? If they do embrace it, will they relate it to race relations or as a completely separate event?

Secondly, will the world cup help to reduce economic inequality? It has created a number of programmes aimed at bringing football, health and education to the wider population.  The majority of money however has been spent on new football stadiums, glitzy VIP boxes and improved infrastructure.  What percentage has been spent on the health, social development and education that were promised in the country’s bid?

SA’s only famous White Football player, Mathew Booth, warns not to put too much emphasis on sport’s ability to heal divisions.  This, he said can be only done through tackling economic inequality.

I think the World Cup will bring SA together.  Rich and poor, black and white will find great pride in their Nations successful staging of the World Cup.  Will the unity however, last longer than 90 minuets? Will the World Cup help to tackle the underlying causes of inequality within SA? I doubt it.

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Filed under Economics, Football, Politics

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