Whilst the constant buzz of vuvuzelas and the chirpy pre-match commentary from Adrian Chiles and a rotating line-up of ex-footballers sound throughout the South African stadiums, a more important noise is resonating in the country.
“We are struggling for our country!”came the chants of striking stewards demanding that contractors increase their tiny wages, and as we go to press the pay dispute is spreading to most of the stadiums hosting the World Cup.
The stewards, working for Stallion Security, had started their struggle in Durban with a protest outside the company’s office. Strikers later claimed that one of their colleagues died in hospital after she was shot with rubber bullets during the protest.
One thousand police officers were drafted to Ellis Park after the protests ahead of the match between Brazil and North Korea last week.
The police have now assumed control of security in stadiums in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Different companies and groups of workers have been involved.
Last year in the build up to the tournament, some 70,000 construction workers went on strike, halting work on stadiums.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), whose members include construction workers, had rejected the 10% wage increase offer from employers. The dispute ended when the unions and bosses coming to an agreement of a 12% wage increase!
South Africa, with its rich history of political struggle and working-class militancy, also has one of the world’s highest per capita protest rates. Over the past several years, the country’s largest social movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu for “people based in shacks”), the anti-capitalist shackdwellers movement, has been at the heart of this struggle.
Whilst the South African government has been spending millions constructing and refurbishing stadiums for the matches, millions of South Africans remain without access to adequate housing, potable water, and other services.
A branch of AbM in the Western Cape province (AbM WC) recently announced the launch of their “Right to the City” campaign to develop a programme of action for the World Cup. They are demanding that the government provide quality houses for the poor inside the city, rather than tin shacks on the city’s outskirts, as has become the norm in the province’s capital of Cape Town.
"The police protect the interests of the elite"
Sebabi Thotogelo Dan, the Limpopo Provincial Secretary of South Africa’s trade union federation COSATU, spoke to Solidarity about the security guard dispute at the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane
What are the major grievances?
Conditions — it is winter and the security guards are not dressed warmly. Some of the young women have had to collect blankets from their houses.
Secondly, it is frustrating for people who are employed on a temporary basis to receive their wages monthly. In order to pay for food and transport and so on they have to become indebted while they wait for their wages, taking out loans in their villages to get to work.
They were promised their wages on 18 June. This did not happen. Therefore they had no option but to show their dissatisfaction. The company called this a strike, but it was not a strike. They went to the management's reception area, singing freedom songs.
They had been promised R180 a day. But we do not have access to the contract that the local organising committee (LOC) has signed with the company, and we do not know how much money these security guards are supposed to get. Because of their situation, they are almost in conditions of slavery. We see that these workers are only receiving around R100 a day.
But 23 who went on strike were paid all that was due to them - a round figure of around R1,700. We are worried that these workers are being charged for misconduct. But with this payment we feel the dispute is moving forwards.
Tell us about the companies that provide this security.
Now we are dealing directly with Fidelity, traditionally a white company. It has experience of cash freight. But the guards are limited to the minimum salary. Normally these guards work on fixed term contracts, but they are without assistance in healthcare, in transport to and from work, or other benefits.
Is police violence due to a culture in the force, a policy, or what?
In Limpopo province, in our case, we have not experienced violence or intimidation from the police, because we were able to intervene. We met with officials from the police and the LOC, and we were able to advise the security guards to leave the area before there was any violence.
The police always protect the interests of the elite. If the protesting security guards had hung around the grounds for any length of time, they might have been attacked.