A view from Singapore.
Graft, crime & strikes plague South Africa's preparations for event
In less than 500 days, football's most prestigious tournament makes its way to South Africa at a cost of £800 million ($1.7 billion).
It's the first World Cup that will be staged in Africa. And Fifa president Sepp Blatter is adamant it will be a roaring success, despite the country's record crime rate, slow ticket sales and limited hotel capacity.
South Africa struggles with crippling levels of unemployment and crime, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) suffers allegations of sleaze and cronyism. But the 2010 World Cup has yet to capture the imagination of the man in the street, reported The Guardian.
In places such as Nelspruit, near where the Mbombela Stadium is being built, the upbeat mood has vanished amid claims of corruption, land-grabs, low wages and even a murder allegation.
'The stadium has brought us such misery,' said Mr Stephen Maseko, a fire officer.
'The contractors closed the school to turn it into a dormitory for the workers. For two years, our children have been forced to study in the stifling heat of flat-roof, prefab buildings. There is little sanitation and no sports facilities or play area. That is why I call the stadium 'the playground'.'
Worst of times
The presence of the construction workers means that he cannot safely let his daughters walk to school.
He added: 'I have lived in the area for 19 years, but this is the worst of times. When the building work ends, there will be power and computers at the stadium, and modern toilets with separate cubicles for men and women. But we who live here will still have nothing, only thousands of unemployed men.'
Designed to reflect its proximity to Kruger National Park, the main feature of the £68 million stadium is 16 pylons that supposedly resemble giraffes.
The 46,000-seater is among the smallest of 10 stadiums nearing completion. The World Cup has been sold to South Africans as a boost to the economy and a draw for up to 450,000 football tourists.
But its legacy will be limited to a few football academies and a plan - opposed by South Africa's powerful minibus taxi drivers - to introduce modernised city bus services.
Mbombela's role in the extravaganza will be minimal. From 16 Jun 2010, for two weeks, the stadium will host only four matches in the group stages.
When the final whistle blows, the province is likely to breathe a sigh of relief.
In the past two years, the 118-ha site has seen a series of strikes as unions fought for workers to be paid the same wage of 21 rands ($3.30) an hour as employees on other stadium projects.
A man hired on a concrete mixer said: 'I get 13 rands an hour to work from 7am to 5pm, and from May, as we near completion, thousands of us will be laid off.'
Last June, 500 workers were sacked for staging a strike to demand an 800-rand nightshift allowance.
In Mbombela, and elsewhere, lavish World Cup spending has thrown up no discernible benefits for the millions still waiting for homes, electricity, water and a reliable education and health service.
But the building of Nelspruit's World Cup showpiece does have a tragedy to show for it.
On 4 Jan, Mr Jimmy Mohlala, 44, a speaker of the Mbombela council, was gunned down by masked men at his home, 40km from the stadium. His 19-year-old son caught a bullet in his right leg.
A family member said it was 'not a normal crime', and the family is convinced that Mr Mohlala would still be alive if not for the World Cup coming to their town.
He had made increasingly powerful enemies since December 2006 when he blew the whistle on a 1.4 million rand turf-cutting party at the Mbombela Stadium site.
His determination to reveal alleged tender irregularities led to the suspension of many top ANC officials in Mbombela.
The ANC then demanded he resign, but he refused. At the time of his death, he was the target of party disciplinary action.
The glamour of the World Cup put a national spotlight on his murder.
Observers have also suggested that the tournament is merely a cash cow for an increasingly corrupt elite.
Monday, February 09, 2009
A view from Singapore.