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Opinion: FIFA World Cup 2010 - Why the South Africans should get the Cup

The positive image projected through the World Cup will benefit South Africa and the whole continent, but it remains to be seen whether it will improve the lives of poor South Africans, argues Christian von Drachenfels.

South African fans are celebrating

South African fans are celebrating

Admittedly, the South African national team's chances of winning the World Cup were limited from the start. However, the South Africans will also be jubilant after the final. They have managed to make the mega event a success: images of the modern stadiums as well as the dynamic cities Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg are seen around the world. In addition, the football-crazy population is infectious with its euphoria and vitality. All of this lets the country shine in a positive light – an effect that was intended.

Projecting a dynamic image of Africa despite prevailing poverty

Never before were so many expectations – beyond those of purely sporting interest – set for a World Cup. The prospect of a kind of "Development Double Pack" has been held out: on the one hand, South Africa was hoped to continue to develop by profiting from the investments and tourists who have been lured by the World Cup.

On the other hand, the perception of the rest of the world should change. The idea was that a new image of Africa should emerge, beyond poverty, hunger, epidemics and violence. Indeed, a much-vaunted change of image appears to have taken place in the last few days. Reports in the economic press about the coming into existence of major African companies and the market potential of many countries, also present Africa as a continent of possibilities.

And yet, despite the images that are currently going around the world, images of modern and dynamic South Africa in many areas of life, we cannot afford to forget that in many African countries there is still abject poverty, hunger, a miserable health care system and an emphasis on violence to resolve conflicts.

South Africa acting as ambassador for the whole continent

Christian von Drachenfels

DIE's Christian von Drachenfels

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa itself has always been committed to the continent, has been heavily involved in the African Union and in its declarations always placed itself on the side of the African countries. In fact, however, South Africa is playing in a different league.

The socio-economic development is much more advanced than in the rest of the continent. This is clearly evident from the fact that it would not be possible to host such an event in any other African country. That's why we also owe South Africa our respect: it has assumed the role of ambassador for the entire continent during the World Cup and played this role impressively; for example when Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared all guests to the World Cup to be Africans, since Africa is ultimately the cradle of humanity.

Many will not benefit from the World Cup

Beyond South Africa's role as ambassador, the question about the impact of the World Cup on the host country itself remains. Economically, World Cups are often risky for the host countries. Like in previous host countries, the expenses have increased continuously since the World Cup was awarded to South Africa in 2004. According to the most recent estimates, the South African government has now invested around 4 billion euro for new constructions and the modernization of stadiums and transport infrastructure.

Against the background that the unemployment rate in South Africa is 25 percent, an estimated 5.7 million people are HIV positive, around 20 percent of the population does not have access to electricity and 30 percent does not have access to improved sanitary facilities, a critical discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the World Cup is appropriate. There are serious points of criticism: the corruption scandals in some stadium constructions and the banning of small businesses from the areas around the stadiums and fan fests due to pressure from FIFA.

In addition, rural areas hardly profit from the investments connected with the World Cup, while in South Africa's cities, complex measures for modernization beyond the centers are required. Measures that were taken under substantial time pressure and to some extent without sufficiently consulting the population were not always found to be ideal.

Increasing tourism could be among the positive impacts of the World Cup

Good developments are just as obvious however. Despite all concerns and criticism of politics and the administration, South Africa has demonstrated its ability to perform and at the same time sent a positive signal to foreign investors. Moreover, the additional visitors strengthen the tourist industry even in the weak overall winter season. Through their reports, the attractiveness of the travel destination South Africa can increase significantly.

Something positive can be gained even from the cases of corruption and other negative reports: the South African civil society and the media discover the scandals, criticize precisely and accurately, thus holding politicians, the administration and the private sector accountable.

The next few years will be particularly exiting, since they will show whether the hopes that poor South Africans have put in the World Cup will be fulfilled. The country will still need a lot of time in order to reduce the extreme income inequality and raise the overall standard of living in the entire country.

To live up to these challenges requires social cohesion, patience and constructive action by all actors of society. It is to be hoped that in the coming years all this will happen in South Africa. For the moment however South Africans deserve a cup for the fact alone that contrary to initial fears the World Cup is up and running and the ball is rolling.

Christian von Drachenfels is a researcher with the department "World Economy and Development Financing", German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) is one of the leading think tanks for development policy world-wide. DIE draws together the knowledge of development research available worldwide, dedicating its work to key issues facing the future of development policy. The unique research profile of the DIE is the result of the cooperation between research, consulting and professional training. DIE is building bridges between theory and practice and works within international research networks.

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