It’s not hard to see how the World Cup created a backlash among the very same people whose spirits it lifted while it was happening. South Africa, it is often noted, has one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world—the standard measure of inequality in a society. That high figure captures racial inequality left over from apartheid, but it also captures this: a gulf is opening between those black South Africans who have tangibly benefited from black liberation—a well-connected elite sometimes called the “black diamonds”—and the rest of black South Africa. The spheres of politics, government contracts, business, the stock market—they’re open to blacks now, but they’re open to only a few of them. The World Cup, on the other hand, was remarkable for the unusually broad spectrum of South Africans it invited to share in the party. All kinds of people bought tickets at special storefront ticket offices. All kinds of people served as FIFA volunteers. Everybody had a favorite team they were following, from the fat-cat CEO to his shack-dwelling gardener.
By many indicators of economic development, South Africa is doing well. But limited mobility among blue-collar workers—the kind of people COSATU represents—means they rarely get to feel a part of this success story. “We supported the World Cup,” COSATU noted as part of its explanation of why it encouraged its members to strike. The World Cup made poorer South Africans personally part of a South African success story. They won’t fast give up the sense of entitlement and expectations that engendered.