Mercury: Querying the benefits of ‘corporate theme parks’ to locals

Querying the benefits of ‘corporate theme parks’ to locals
Will the legacy of the 2010 World Cup make South Africa a safer place once the tourists and the cameras have gone, asks Christopher McMichael?

June 10, 2010 Edition 1

Christopher McMichael

SOUTH Africa is using the safety and security preparations for the World Cup to attempt a massive rebranding of the country.

The four weeks of football, fun and heavy drinking will be augmented by the largest mobilisation in the history of South African policing.

The re-militarised police force aims to ensure an incident-free event while still maintaining the event’s carnival atmosphere.

To show its commitment the government has invested over R1 billion in preparing against all exigencies. This has included a drive to increase police numbers and the purchase of exotic crowd control and surveillance equipment.

As with all other aspects of World Cup spending (R40bn and counting) this has been justified in terms of the legacy it will leave: in this case the SAPF’s beefed-up ability to fight crime. But, as with other aspects of World Cup spending, the value of this legacy is a matter of perspective – and the dominant perspective seems to be that of Fifa and its multinational backers like Coca-Cola and adidas.

They will broker no infringement on their marketing rights, a fact which is evidenced by the backlog of cases against local businesses which have tried to add some World Cup magic to their own modest advertising initiatives.

If we look at the legislation around the event, a legal framework that is necessitated by Fifa, the structure of benefit becomes clear.

As a host country, South Africa has granted legal indemnity to the organisation for any potential lawsuits against it. This is backed up by the promise of policing to prevent against any infringement on Fifa’s brand rights.

In its concrete form this has seen the creation of special SAPF units which will patrol and punish any infringement.

The SAPF instructions which aim to inform people living and working around stadiums of the restrictions around the World Cup, such as traffic regulations, emphasise that their co-operation is central to the safety and security procedures. Although these perimeters are physically controlled by the SAPF, their authority in doing this is implicitly shown to come from Fifa by way of the local organising committee.

Rather than being mobilised around national patriotism, the power from which compliance is legitimated is private capital.

The state seems to stand in as the local subsidiary of a more powerful international conglomerate. This is also an implicit idea within aspects of the security plans which may not at first seem to deal directly with ambush marketing. For example, while host cities will be protected airspaces during the events, and will be patrolled by the air force, this has as much to do with preventing against unofficial advertising through skywriting and blimps as it does with preventing suicide attacks being launched by air.

World Cup security is, at its heart, aimed at protecting the advertising interests of transnational capital: within this dynamic the SAPF has in effect been partly privatised.

But here lies a contradiction: it is the South Africa government, not to mention public spending, which has footed the bill for the world class stadiums, new airports and expanded police presence. Without the state, Fifa would have no event to monopolise.

In its purest form, Fifa is a parasitic body, which extracts huge revenues from the efforts of host countries while leaving them with the bill.

Without the support of a national state, Fifa’s power is essentially symbolic. What perhaps accounts for this is an ideological framework which views the private sector as somehow having society’s best interests at heart – investment will lead to social development and so on.

A corollary of this is that the state is seen as bureaucratic and inefficient, such as in its perceived inability to protect against crime during the World Cup, while the corporate world is seen as streamlined and efficient.

This obscures the reality of massive state intervention in favour of transnational capital. As can be seen in the case of the World Cup, the state steps in to privatise the profits and, by extension, socialise the risks.

However, this is not just a case of the crude marxist formulary of the state serving as the political wing of capital. As can be seen in the South African case, the government has stepped in to protect the interests of some of the most powerful conglomerations in the world against local enterprises which have quite rationally tried to get a few slivers out of 2010.

This cynical manoeuvring has, in many cases, been aided by the boosterism of the media that has tended to focus on the minutiae of government preparation while ignoring the critical question of who benefits.

Much verbiage has been expended on the government’s alleged inability to protect against the threats supposedly issued by al-Qaeda and car hijacking syndicates.

This ignores the crucial question: will turning our cities into heavily patrolled corporate theme parks make life safer and more secure for ordinary South Africans after the tourists and cameras have gone home?