Costly sports events ruin the poor, again

In the years preceding the Fifa 2010 World Cup, Durban residents living in informal settlements adjacent to road projects and sporting facilities were removed with the promise of better accommodation.

Fast forward to 2015, and the same thing is going to happen again. With the Commonwealth Games scheduled for 2022, members of shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali base-Mjondolo, originating in Durban, are saying that the decision to make parts of the Cornubia development a Commonwealth Games village happened without consulting the people expecting that housing.

“They are taking a project that would have benefited the ordinary people and essentially giving it to well-off people participating in the games,” said the organisation’s president, S’bu Zikode. “Of course it will be temporary, but that means people have to wait until after the 2022 games to be further accommodated into that project.”

Cornubia, which was to provide 50 000 homes, 20 000 of which were to be subsidised, is 7km south of the King Shaka International Airport.

Cornubia was first announced in December 2005 as a mixed-use and mixed-income development by then eThekwini mayor Obed Mlaba.

“It was after a series of protests by Kennedy Road residents,” says Zikode. “[Parts of it were] earmarked for Kennedy Road residents but up to today, in phase one and phase two, not a single Kennedy Road person is occupying. Instead there are MK [Umkhonto weSizwe] veterans staying there.”

Bid committee spokesperson Faizal Dawjee said phase two of Cornubia was a middle-income phase, meaning that its use for the purpose of the Commonwealth Games does not contradict the mandate for providing accommodation. “Phase one is already being occupied by low-income earners,” he said.

For members of Abahlali, the echoes between 2010 and 2022 are loud and clear. The evictions that took place then included moving people from eZwelethu in Umlazi, which was adjacent to the King Zwelithini Stadium (which was going to be used as a warm-up venue). People were also moved from areas such as Siyanda, near KwaMashu, and Richmond Farm to build roads such as the Dumisani Makhaye Highway.

“People moved from eZwelethu are still in Isipingo transit camp as we speak,” says Zikode. “People removed from Richmond Farm are still in Richmond Farm transit camp, despite a high court ruling ordering that they be given accommodation.”

In a Commonwealth Games critique, Brij Maharaj, a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s school of environmental studies, writes that in developing countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa, all of which have recently hosted mega sporting events, these “result in a diversion of public spending from more urgent social priorities such as the provision of basic services for the poor, including water, sanitation, housing, health care and education”.

In research on the 2010 World Cup, Maharaj notes, in the 2012-2013 financial year, Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium suffered an operating loss of R34.6-million.

In 2010, the Mail & Guardian launched a Promotion of Access to Information Act application to get the full World Cup bid documents. Maharaj says only a 54-page summary of the 2022 bid document was made public, adding that the secrecy surrounding these sporting events has to do with “guarantees that can be a bit embarrassing. It’s 2015 and the Commonwealth Games are in 2022; a lot of things change over time. I think often government [is] embarrassed by what [it has] committed [itself] to, and the reality.”

The costs of the event are currently estimated at R6.4-billion, but the initial figure quoted was R3.4-billion. Addressing the figures, Dawjee said the initial figure referred only to the Commonwealth village, specifically upgrades and overlays to the 17 sporting codes. He said additional figures for aspects such as “athlete development” have come into play, with R1.5-million being budgeted for that.

According to an article in insidethegames.biz, the comptroller and auditor general of India’s report found that the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games cost 16 times more than the original estimate. They ballooned from an original estimate of $270-million to $4.1-billion.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
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