Soccer dreams in a Cape Town squatter's camp

A behind-the-scenes blog by CBC's news crew in South Africa

A behind-the-scenes blog by CBC's news crew in South Africa

Hundreds of children live in the Cape Town squatter's camp located off the highway leading to Greenpoint Stadium on the city's downtown waterfront. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

June 16

There is no question that the eyes of the world are on South Africa these days. Turn on your TV and you will see what a couple of billion dollars can buy.

The 10 soccer stadiums are beautiful, stunning even. Each game they are packed with vuvuzela-blowing soccer fans.

There are new roads, a high-speed train and the country's airports have undergone major renovations.

Just a stone's throw from the Cape Town airport, there is a soccer field. You cannot miss it. It is right on the side of the highway that leads to the Greenpoint Stadium on Cape Town's downtown waterfront.

All day dozens of kids kick a ball around on that field, imitating the heroics of the members of South Africa's national team, Bafana Bafana, their World Cup heroes. But these kids and their parents live in a whole other world from the ball-kicking millionaires.

It is a world with no electricity and no indoor plumbing. It is a neighbourhood that you will not see when you tune in to watch the games.

Shouting over the traffic

The kids often play in bare feet, ripped sandals and running shoes falling apart at the seams, dodging garbage littered throughout their makeshift pitch. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

Raymond Sholtz walks back and forth on the side of the highway keeping his eyes on the 30 kids chasing a ripped soccer ball up and down the field.

"This is my work, I like to bring the guys together as one so they do not fight and push each other. It is really hard to love here in the ghettos."

The players are in bare feet, ripped sandals and running shoes falling apart at the seams.

They dodge rocks, cans, milk jugs and dirty diapers on their way to the goals they have built from wooden pallets rescued from the dump.

"During the weekend," says Sholtz, "people come down from all over the place and dump their garbage here. That is why the kids are playing in the garbage. It is not the way it should be. Our government is humiliating us."

Sholtz estimates that there are more than 1,000 children living in the Malawi squatter's camp.

He says that when they do not have enough to do they just sit around and he notices how they get depressed and before long they have cheap pistols and begin to steal.

"This is the future," he says, as he kicks away a can.

Nathan Pedko is in his early 20s. He has been listening in. "Perhaps there is a president or something like that among those guys who are playing here," he says.

Billions over budget

When FIFA awarded South Africa the World Cup, government officials promised they would tightly control the cost. Wrong.

David Gutnick

David Gutnick is a Montreal-based documentary producer with CBC Radio's Sunday Edition. Over the past 20 years, he has worked for many CBC and Radio-Canada programs. In summer 2008, he reported from the Beijing Olympics. In 2007, he was in Mauritania, Togo and Ghana reporting on slavery and, in early 2010, he spent almost a month in Haiti, where he reported extensively for

According to Dr. Dale T. McKinley, an independent researcher who recently spoke at the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust Open Dialogue in Cape Town last week, the costs for putting on the World Cup have ballooned by 750 per cent.

"The overwhelming majority of the economic benefits that have accrued from this sporting mega-event have gone to an elite grouping of private entities, while most spending has come from the public purse," he said.

Construction companies involved in building the stadiums and the roads are reporting huge profits.

"WBHO increased its profit by 142 per cent, Murray & Roberts by 99 per cent and Group Five  by 79 per cent."

Thousands of construction workers who never made more than $400 a month (3,000 rand) are now unemployed, says McKinley.

Just a week into the World Cup, there is already an internal government investigation into a growing scandal about how millions of rand were spent on tickets by government departments that are incapable of paying for health and social services.

Back on the pitch

Nathan Pedko is in the middle of the action, constantly blowing on his chipped plastic whistle.

"I am the referee here and I have been out here since this morning. I see these kids begging for bread. Was it wrong to bring the World Cup here? No. But the benefits we are going to get — nothing — but the government gets the benefit. The rich get richer and poor get poorer. We are not going to benefit at the end of the day."

Sister Rose is with Pedko on the sidelines.

"There is nothing I feel excited about," says Sister Rose, "unless it is that I am South African and that the World Cup is here."

"None of us can go to the fan parks or the stadiums," says Pedko. "We do not have transport to go to the fan parks. We cannot take the train because we cannot afford tickets."

"Only the big guys get to go," says Sister Rose. "They say feel it it is here. But where is it? There is not even a big screen in the surrounding area where we can watch."

Sholtz says that the World Cup is supposed make millions of dollars in profits, "but none of that money is going to come to us."

He points out that airport has been renovated and the Greenpoint Stadium is brand new but that the residents of Malawi squatter's camp will never go there.

A walking tour

Veronica Bizwapi points out the overflowing, decrepit outhouse in the camp. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

The hundreds of one room shacks in Malawi squatter's camp are built from sheets of rusty tin and wood and scavenged sheets of plastic. It has been raining this week in Cape Town and most of the roofs leak.

All around the camp people are huddling around bonfires to ward off June's winter chill.

I walk around the puddles of rainwater and through the uncut grass to visit Veronica Bizwapi and Mavis Ncapaye in their homes.

They walk gingerly as Mavis recently spotted a snake.

Veronica points to the overflowing outhouse and laughs.

"We are living like that. Dirty toilets." She says that to heat her house she takes scraps of wood and burns them in an old can.

"Smoking, smoking," she says, "so I take a blanket and put it over my head and go to sleep."

Mavis says that many of her neighbours have AIDS or are sick from tuberculosis.

She opens the door and leads me into her one room home. It is dark and damp. The walls are papered with pages from glossy magazines. Every couple of minutes the house shakes as another jet takes off just down the road.

"I use paraffin as fuel for my stove," she says. "I use candles for light. My chest is always sore from coughing. The World Cup is here and people are happy. I have nothing else to say. I feel so worried, I just want to cry."

World Cup game time

The group watches the World Cup match between Ghana and Serbia at Raymond Sholtz's home. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

It is four o'clock and today coach Sholtz has a treat for his players and anyone else who wants to watch the game between Ghana and Serbia.

Sholtz has managed to get his hands on a litre of gasoline.

A couple of the boys go behind his shack and bring the generator near the door. 

With a quick pull Sholtz gets it running. Brown smoke fills the air. Sholtz plugs in an extension cord and drags it over to his television propped up on a crooked shelf.

Sholtz turns up the sound and the room is filled with the drone of a stadium full of vuvuzelas. His soccer players are sitting cheek by jowl, their eyes glued to the dusty screen.

You can hear the announcers excitedly describing the tactics of the brilliant Ghanaian national soccer team all the way to the highway.