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Pauline Bilankulu typically hawks her food outside soccer games at Soweto stadiums, but couldn't afford the $6,500 permit fee for the World Cup. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

You have no doubt seen the electronic advertising screens that surround the World Cup pitches. 

Every couple of seconds the colours and the messages on the signs change, making sure companies get maximum exposure. Multi-nationals have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to be there — at grass level — so their messages are soaked up by billions of soccer lovers the world over.  

The official hamburger blinks on the screen. Then the official drink. The official soccer ball. The official beer. The official car.

But those colourful advertisements are not connected to the other, less flashy end of the South African economy, where a majority of men and women struggle to earn a living.

During regular soccer games, thousands of informal traders — known as hawkers — depend on selling their wares in and around the stadiums.

Africans are extremely entrepreneurial. With unemployment rates at 40 per cent, getting a few Rand from selling souvenir trinkets, homemade hot food or even polishing shoes is even more a necessity. But the World Cup organizers have made sure that hawkers are excluded from setting up anywhere near the areas they now control.

Inside the stadiums and the surrounding fenced-off grounds, spectators have almost no choices. There is one brand of cola, one brand of beer, one bland hot dog and biltong, a traditional dried meat snack. Only official FIFA souvenirs, which are outlandishly high priced, are for sale.

The exciting tastes and textures, the noisy hustle and bustle of South African entrepreneurial street culture has gone missing.

Pauline’s Fast Foods

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Maria Bilankulu, left, and her sister, Pauline, serve customers lined up outside their popular Johannesburg restaurant, Pauline's Fast Foods. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

Two kilometres from Soccer City Stadium, on Taxi Rank street in Soweto, Maria Bilankulu and her sister, Pauline, own a restaurant.

Pauline's Fast Foods is an institution. People who take taxivans into Johannesburg line up from six in the morning to get their hot food in styrofoam containers. There is crunchy fried chicken and spicy beef stew, and a corn porridge called pap that is soaked with the sister's special tomato sauce.

For years, Maria and Pauline have been selling their food at Soweto soccer stadiums.

They get up at 4 a.m., cook, load up their car with warming trays and a folding table and set up just outside the stadium doors. Just like on Taxi Rank street, people lap up their food.

However, a deal between FIFA and government authorities requires that all hawkers buy a permit to be near the stadiums.

Maria and Pauline wanted one. They looked at the cost and decided that there was simply no way they could come up with the 50,000 Rand that a permit cost. That is $6,500 Canadian, about eight months of salary for the two sisters.  

The average income in the Johannesburg slums — calling them townships masks the truth — is around $4,000. 

Timbang the Jeweller

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Timbang Selai usually sells his wares in stadium corridors and aisles, but is barred from the facilities during World Cup. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

Just down from Pauline's Fast Foods, a thin man in his 30s named Timbang Selai sells his necklaces, earrings and T-shirts.

Timbang's a Rastafarian. He wears his dreadlocks neatly tied up in a dark green bandana and is constantly quoting the late, great Bob Marley.

Timbang carries his wares with him in a canvas packsack. He sells them from a table in front of a clinic. A sympathetic doctor allows him to sit on his patio all day. Timbang spends his days under a shady tree so he and his customers can stay out of the sun.

A pair of his handmade earrings is 30 Rand — about $4. The T-shirts he paints are between 50 and 70 Rand — about a quarter of the price of the official factory-produced World Cup souvenirs.

Timbang has been making his living for years hauling his backpack from venue to venue.  At soccer games, he wanders the stadium corridors and aisles, gently haggling with spectators until he makes a sale.

However, this month he is on the outside. He cannot afford a stadium permit and without that, there is no way he can even get close. Security guards patrol every gate.

So these days Timbang is sitting at his table on Taxi Rank street calling out to anyone who looks even remotely like a tourist.

Soweto can be a welcoming place and Timbang has made some sales to foreigners. However, the slum can also be dangerous place. Soccer tourists have seen the pictures of the crooked tin homes built on the dusty red ground — and most of them are not going to be walking in front of Timbang's little display table. 

A voice for hawkers

The Johannesburg newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, managed to get a look at the contract between FIFA and the South African government. One clause says that police officers must prohibit people from selling non-official products anywhere inside designated World Cup zones. That means stopping Timbang from selling his wooden earrings and Pauline from selling her scrumptious fried chicken.

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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 CBCNews.ca.

The One Voice of All Hawkers Association, a union for hawkers, has spent the last couple of years trying to help out the thousands of people who are now outside the fences.

South Africa is a highly politicized place. Soweto is brimming with community organizations that go way back. There are trade unions, women's groups and youth groups that over the decades fought apartheid, lobbied for better wages and for human rights.

Even the African National Congress, the party in power, has its roots in Soweto: it is an umbrella organization and represents all kinds of interests.

Sipho Thwala and Christina Kedikibe are hawkers. Sipho sells fruit and vegetables, and Christina sells cosmetics. They are also executive members of the hawker's union and very politically sophisticated.

They are furious with a government that they believe lied to them. For three years, they say the government kept hinting that the rules for hawkers would allow for some kind of agreement.

The government kept saying that the World Cup celebrations would be uniquely African.

Cost worth it?

In the end, there was no agreement. The hawkers are excluded from the stadiums. The hawker's union leadership is now trying to figure out what to do next.

Christina says that government officials have fallen hook, line and sinker for the smooth-talking FIFA officials who protect official sponsors. Sipho talks of money changing hands under the table.

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Three organizers of the hawkers union, Sipho Thwala, Christina Kedikebe, and Zacharia Ramula. ((David Gutnick/CBC))

The World Cup was supposed to be a celebration and an economic opportunity for everyone, they say. It was to be a chance for the world to see what the new South Africa has become.

Instead, they both say that this reminds them of the apartheid years when those in power did what they wanted.

There is a lively debate in South Africa these days about whether or not the billions spent on the World Cup have been worth it.

You will not find out about the debate by watching the games on television. Broadcasters are concentrating on celebrating goals, not on analyzing how professional sport generates profits.

There are very credible studies that show countries that host the World Cup do not get an immediate economic payoff and that even years down the road the money spent on stadiums and advertising could have been better spent on health and education.

It is what the hawkers' union members believe.

They say that after the World Cup final is played on June 11 in Soccer City Stadium, the artificial FIFA economy will simply melt away and life in Soweto will return to the way it was.

The sweet smell of fried chicken and hot corn porridge will be back. Women will haggle over earrings. Sports souvenirs that regular people can afford will be back on the tables. The $3 billion in profits that FIFA officials say they will make during this World Cup will leave the country.

And it'll be tax free, thanks to another clause in the contract.