The World Cup in South Africa is on the brink of chaos. Transport and electricity workers, realising the fabulous blackmail possibilities of tournament disruption, are either already on strike or threatening strikes during the event and other groups of workers are poised to emulate them. The state electricity company is so worried about the power supply that it is handing out warnings that it may cut power to many users in order to guarantee that the floodlights don’t go out on games. Householders have been told that they may need to switch off all appliances except their TVs (so that they can receive announcements of coming power outages). Sex workers have been making loud and angry declarations that security regulations are being invoked to cramp their trade. South Africa’s police chief has announced that he is hoping against hope that the US team will not get through the opening round since that will signal President Obama’s arrival and an enormous increase in the security load.
Meanwhile, major diplomatic problems are looming. At the opening game (South Africa v. Mexico) the VVIP area has space for only 120 people and the VIP area for 600, and the latter is shared 50-50 by Fifa and the Local Organising Committee. Joe Biden has booked 300 seats for his entourage in anticipation of Obama’s later arrival. On top of this South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, some time ago threw out an invitation to the 21 heads of state and their partners who attended his inauguration. Zuma himself has announced that he is bringing his three wives and his fiancée, while ex-presidents Mandela, Mbeki and their partners are expected to attend and to be placed next to the presidents of Mexico and Fifa.
What’s more, at the last African Union summit Zuma declared that this was not South Africa’s World Cup but Africa’s and that all African heads of state were welcome. It now emerges that 50 out of 52 are said to be coming plus their considerable retinues. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, may be among them, although there is a warrant out for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, and legally South Africa would be compelled to detain him. Another difficult case will be Robert Mugabe, since Biden and many others will wish to avoid having to meet the Zimbabwean president or shake his hand.
Huge numbers of cabinet members from across Africa also want to attend the junket. There will clearly not be room in the VVIP area or even the VIP area for all these VIPs and their extensive entourages. Worse, there is nowhere for them to stay since Fifa has already booked all the accommodation usually used for visiting heads of state. Currently, with enormous embarrassment, the South African government is trying to suggest to indignant African ambassadors that they should vacate their official residences so as to make room for their visiting presidents. But since all the top hotels are already booked up there’s nowhere for the ambassadors to go. On top of this Winnie Mandela is loudly demanding 25 VVIP tickets for herself and her entourage. Rich Mkhondo, a spokesman for the LOC admitted: ‘There is a huge demand for VVIP and VIP tickets for the opening and closing (ceremonies) but I cannot confirm the seating arrangements.’
All of which sits oddly with the fact that the expected number of foreign visitors for the Cup has been revised down from an initial 750,000 to 200,000, and huge numbers of game tickets are either being given away or sold at cut price. As one might always have expected, this is going to be an event for Africa’s elite and the rich in general. The soccer masses will watch TV, which is why Fifa will clean up £2.3 billion from TV rights. South Africans are beginning to wonder anxiously whether the huge expenditure necessary to host the Cup will have been worth it, but Fifa are already certain to be laughing all the way to the bank.