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World Cup bred expectations in Alexandra township, but it leaves residents feeling jilted

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010; D01

JOHANNESBURG -- There are no grassy expanses in the cramped township of Alexandra, where corrugated tin shacks huddle side by side. Even the cemetery has run out of room, with bodies buried on top of bodies. What precious open space remains consists of red dirt, dust, rocks and random piles of bricks and used tires.

And that's why the bright green Astroturf of the pint-size soccer field that FIFA installed for its week-long "Football for Hope" program was so arresting.

In the run-up to Sunday's World Cup final, the colorful pitch (roughly one-third regulation size), flanked by blue grandstands and a giant video screen, hosted five-on-five matches among disadvantaged youngsters from around the world and drew a rapt audience in this township that has become a magnet for the poor and dispossessed.

Priced out of World Cup matches, Alexandra's residents packed the stands to blare vuvuzelas and cheer the athletes and breakdancers who entertained between the 12-minute contests.

But once the World Cup ends, the grandstands will be dismantled and the video screen returned, rented for the occasion of soccer's grand spectacle. FIFA will leave behind the scaled-down field to serve as the anchor of a community center it promises to erect in the future.

From the moment South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup, FIFA officials have vowed that the month-long tournament would leave a legacy. But it's only now, on the eve of Sunday's final between Spain and the Netherlands at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium, that Alexandra's residents are wondering just what was meant by "legacy."

No one is sure.

If that legacy is a matter of the heart, the World Cup has surely achieved that.

The World Cup has united South Africans -- black and white, rich and poor -- in a way nothing has. Pride in being South African after delivering a smoothly run, successful World Cup is deeply felt.

"It will remain our precious thing," said Alexandra resident Agnes Ndou, 42, of the World Cup. "It will be a never-ending history."

But if FIFA's World Cup legacy is something concrete -- such as a full-size soccer pitch, housing or schools in townships overwhelmed by residents' needs -- it has not delivered.

"They told us they're not here to build things," said Thabo Mopasi, a well-known Alexandra community advocate, recalling a meeting with FIFA representatives during the World Cup planning stages. "They are here to bring entertainment."

Bypassed along the way

Unlike Johannesburg's other black townships, Alexandra sits at the city's heart rather than its outskirts. It is also unique because its residents successfully fought their forced removal in the apartheid era but suffered unspeakable neglect from the government as a result.

Today it teems with 350,000 to 750,000 people (the proliferation of shacks renders a meaningful count fruitless) on a patch of land suitable for 70,000. Water pressure is minimal. Sewers are often overloaded. HIV rates are high even by South African standards. And the jumble of one-room shacks on the banks of the Jukskei River, the township's most blighted area, is flooded seasonally.

Yet Alexandra stands in the shadow of the majestic skyline, gated mansions and glitzy shops of Sandton, five miles away, advertised as "a place where tourists love to linger and locals go for a decadent and indulgent experience."

Alexandra is the township bisected by the highway that leads to Sandton from O.R. Tambo International Airport. It's the vista hotel-bound tourists instinctively turn away from, only to find the same view on the other side of the thoroughfare.

Alexandra has been bypassed by the World Cup, as well.

"They don't stop here," Moses Selolo, chairman of Alexandra's Football Association, said of the soccer fans who descended on Johannesburg throughout the tournament. "They never say, 'What's going on here?' "

That's not what residents expected.

Alexandra had great hopes of becoming a World Cup tourist destination. Township leaders believed they could market Alexandra's seminal role in the anti-apartheid struggle, including the orchestration of bus boycotts in 1944 and 1957 that changed the dynamic of South African politics, as well as the fact that Alexandra was Nelson Mandela's first home when he left the Eastern Cape for Johannesburg in 1940.

But in the contest to woo World Cup tourists, Alexandra was soundly outmaneuvered by Soweto, where Mandela bought his first house. It's on the same street, Vilikazi Street, where Desmond Tutu once lived and not far from the Hector Pieterson Museum, named for the 13-year-old boy who was killed by police (along with dozens of others that day) during a non-violent student protest that triggered the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The strategy of linking Mandela to historical sites -- whether in Soweto or at Cape Town's Robben Island Prison, where Mandela was jailed for 18 years -- has become known in South Africa as "the Mandela-ization of tourism."

"In a sense, Alexandra tried to emulate that success, but one can say with conviction that that hasn't worked," said Noor Nieftagodien, a professor at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand and co-author of "Alexandra: a History." "Because of Soweto's iconic status in the international imagination, with 1976 a key turning point in the struggle for liberation, those who wanted to experience the heritage struggle have invariably come to Soweto."

World Cup brings 'nothing'

Still, the four rooms at Alexandra's Maloke House Bed and Breakfast were full this weekend, with Dutch travelers booking a year ahead.

That was no thanks to FIFA, said Kgakgi Maloke, 59, its owner. According to Maloke, FIFA's travel agency, Match, approached him about adding his property to the list of official World Cup hotels for a fee of 30,000 rand ($4,000). In return, Match would steer fans his way. It was a preposterous sum for a four-room B&B that charges 350 rand ($47) per night.

"These guys are crooks," said Maloke, whose catering and entertainment business experienced no bump from the World Cup. "There was nothing."

Moreover, Alexandra's street vendors were barred from selling their wares, fruit and baked goods near FIFA venues, which came as a shock to the many residents who had bought ingredients to prepare food in bulk.

As a result, there were no snacks at FIFA's Football for Hope event that local children could afford -- only food supplied by official vendors that cost significantly more than the pennies Alexandra's children carry on special occasions.

Along the venue's perimeter, a row of shacks had been demolished, presumably to create a secure buffer, and residents relocated to government-provided housing in a different section of town. Nothing was erected in its place -- not a tree, a sidewalk or even cursory re-grading. All that remained were ruts, rubble and trash.

"We thought it would help, the World Cup," said Mpho Moshoadiba, 23, washing clothes outside the two-room shack she shares with her family. "It's still the same."

Hope for a 'rich' future

Mogomotsi "Doctor" Mabena saw it differently.

Born and reared in Alexandra, Mabena, 35, is proud to say that soccer has been the only calling and profession he has known as a schoolyard player, a university student of sports management, a coach and now aspiring club administrator.

He volunteered with South Africa's World Cup local organizing committee in 2007 and worked his way up the ranks to a team liaison, responsible for coordinating hotels, training sites and transportation for several competing nations.

In the process, he added a bit of Portuguese to his repertoire of 11 South African languages in hopes of landing a similar job during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Until then, Mabena said, he plans to devote himself to Alexandra's teenagers, encouraging them to unplug their video games and come play soccer on whatever pitch is available -- dirt or Astroturf.

"Alexandra is rich." Mabena said. "It is rich in terms of history, and it is rich in terms of sports talent. The most concrete thing about this World Cup is that kids are now getting exposed to soccer. And we need to develop these youngsters."

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