South Africa: FIFA bans free speech

Patrick Bond (second from left) and other activists were confronted by officials at the World Cup for distributing anti-xenophob

Acting against our alleged “ambush marketing” and “incitement”, the South African Police Service, newly augmented with 40,000 additional cadre for the World Cup, detained several of us in Durban on July 3.

We were exercising freedom of expression at our favorite local venue — the South Beach Fan Fest.

Wearing hidden microphones to tape discussions with police leadership, what we learned was chilling.

They had received orders from Durban City Manager Mike Sutcliffe that the property rights of the world soccer body, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), overrule our constitutional rights.

A top officer shouted at me during my second interrogation on July 3: “We can charge you and detain you until July 11, [when] FIFA is over!”

Sutcliffe is preparing a draft bid for Durban to host the 2020 Olympics, to present to the International Olympics Committee soon after the July 11 World Cup final in Johannesburg.

Durban is the lead candidate from South Africa due to its warm August winter, sea-level location and recent construction of athletic facilities.

The Durban Social Forum has come out against an Olympic bid, saying it “will create yet more debt and inequality”. The DSF points to the damage FIFA has done to the city’s poor and working people, the economy and the environment.

One barrier to a successful Olympic bid is the growing concern about the city’s commitment to democracy and sovereignty.

For example, my University of KwaZulu-Natal colleague Baruti Amisi, a Congolese refugee, received this email reply from Sutcliffe to a polite request for use of City Hall steps for the July 3 anti-xenophobia rally: “It appears you are not a South African and are clearly uninformed about the role of Fifa.

“In brief, we are an independent country and except for the stadium precinct, Fifa have no role in running the city.”

That’s not true. Even before the World Cup began in June, South African police were investigating an extraordinary 50,000 incidents of “ambush marketing” well beyond stadium areas. FIFA’s copyrighted protection of even place names (e.g., “Durban 2010” on merchandise) was used to charge non-sponsors penalties in the range of US$30,000 if for-profit product sales mentioned FIFA’s monopolised terms.

In Johannesburg, 10 hawkers were arrested near Soccer City on July 2. A police superintendent said: “Some were trading in goods that they did not have permits to sell while others had no permit at all to sell at the stadium.”

These survivalist-entrepreneurs now will pay $200 (half their typical monthly earnings) to have confiscated goods released.

In Durban, the next day’s anti-xenophobia rally was considered an important way to avoid the xenophobic violence of May 2008.

Getting Sutcliffe’s permission for the rally was, as ever, like pulling teeth. The police were informed in writing on June 19 but it was only on the afternoon of July 2 that approval was granted to a coalition that included the KwaZulu-Natal Refugee Council (which Amisi heads), the Diakonia progressive church alliance, the Durban Social Forum and the Centre for Civil Society.

A group quickly brought fliers to the beach to let people know, handing out the information at half time during the Netherlands-Brazil game. Minutes later, visiting doctoral candidate and filmmaker Giuliano Martiniello, research student Samantha Sencer-Mura and I were accused of ambush marketing and incitement.

We were dragged off to the nearest police station.

I was detained for hours during both the July 2 and 3 early games — missing (thank goodness) the pain of seeing my favourite Latin American teams clobbered by Europeans.

The top-heavy security force included police generals, Crime Intelligence, the Commercial Branch and even the National Intelligence Agency.

All of us are, of course, lovers of World Cup soccer and haters of FIFA — like most people who give this distinction a moment’s consideration.

The FIFA Zurich crew will take home $3.2 billion in profits, pay no taxes, ignore exchange controls, trickle nothing down, commercialise all aspects of the game, copyright words like “World Cup”, overcharge for everything, declare “exclusion zones” that stretch for miles, muffle journalists with no-criticism accreditation requirements, and trample on our freedom of expression.

Illustrating how constrained our rights are, I asked one police superintendent:“What if I say ‘Viva Argentina!’ in the fan park? No problem? What if I say ‘Phansi FIFA phansi (down with FIFA)!’?”

“Then you’re wrong”, he said. “You can’t say, ‘Phansi FIFA phansi’.”

Sutcliffe’s control fetish appears to be the central barrier. A police superintendent put it: “He’s the one who has instructed us that we must enforce. He comes in our meetings.”

“And what does he say?”, I asked. “He says he doesn’t want any anti-xenophobia?”

Replied the police superintendent: “No distribution of pamphlets, especially which mention xenophobia.”

So the reason the pamphlet was banned was not just procedural, it was political.

The police superintendent continued: “You are reminding [people] of xenophobia. Even myself I had forgot about that thing, but now you write it down.”

“Do you think it is not a problem?”, I asked.

Surely Durban police know that a city councilor — Vusi Khoza of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) — is among those still being tried for the January 2009 murders of a Tanzanian and Zimbabwean, and that the streets and worksites are thick with tension and insults against immigrants and refugees.

The senior police officer’s rebuttal: “It happened. Then government stopped it there.”

I said: “I’m sure you know that President Jacob Zuma said xenophobia’s a problem. Zuma said the ANC branches must work against xenophobia.”

“There is no xenophobia”, he insisted — but nervously.

Such denial parrots leading ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu’s extraordinary written statement earlier that day: “The reported xenophobic attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals, particularly from the African continent, after the conclusion of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, is baseless.”

Yet the army is now occupying the town of Denoon not far from Cape Town, precisely because threats could explode into 2008-type violence.

A steady stream of new refugees has been pouring out of many Cape Town and Pretoria townships in search of safety — fearful of what may happen on July 11 at 10.15pm, when the last game comes to an end.

As well as xenophobia, an overarching problem of civil and political rights was also evident from our discussions with police.

The right to inform South Africans and visitors about a municipally-approved xenophobia rally during a halftime break surely should override FIFA’s exclusions, given how much is at stake.

If they don’t come to their senses, will we again face police detention as we leaflet the Fan Fest and stadium crowds demanding, first, our constitutional rights restored; and second, that FIFA finance some new township soccer pitches before they leave town with all that cash.

And third, that they adopt goal-line technology, already!

[Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, www.links.org.au. Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society, which has a World Cup Watch and anti-xenophobia project at www.Ukzn.ac.za/ccs.]

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