As World Cup heats up, South Africa vendors' sales fall

The early exit of host-nation South Africa and France, Italy, England, and the United States has taken its toll on the vendors that had been doing well on the periphery of the World Cup.

By , Correspondent , Staff writer

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    A vendor selling flags of soccer teams participating in the 2010 Soccer World Cup waits for customers in Durban, South Africa, May 26.
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Local organizers and FIFA executives may be making great profits from the 2010 World Cup, but the steady elimination of teams is a sign to local entrepreneurs that the easy moneymaking may be over.

The early exit of host-nation South Africa’s team, Bafana Bafana, as well as France, Italy, England, and the United States, are taking their toll on the street sellers and small shops that have been thriving on the periphery of the World Cup.

Thabo Maphanya, a South African citizen living in the Johannesburg suburb of Diepsloot, says he used to sell between 100 to 300 flags per day to fans from South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, as well as the US, Italy, and England. But now, business has dropped dramatically.

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“Imagine, in the first two weeks of the tournament, I could make an average of between 1,500 to 2,000 rand (about $203 to $270), and now I am struggling to raise a mere 150 rand (about $20) per day,” says Mr. Maphanya, standing at the roadside, wearing one of the bright purple wigs he also sells to fans.

Hosting a big sports event is supposed to be a boon for local economies. Adding 300,000 foreign tourists to a country does have a way of pumping money into restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and tourist attractions. And by all accounts South Africa has seen benefits – from refurbished roads and airports to the thousands of construction jobs created to build them. There are predictions that South Africa could see $1.1 billion in tourist revenues this year from the World Cup. But how much of that money trickles down to the lower economic levels of South African society is something that remains to be seen.

It’s a question with massive implications, in a country where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 25 percent are jobless, and where resentment is growing toward foreign immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Congo, who are often willing to work hard for less pay. Two years ago, xenophobic riots killed dozens, and sent tens of thousands from their homes into makeshift camps.

The World Cup good times were the first two weeks, when fans for 32 different countries were in town, all of them with high hopes of making it to the second “knockout” round. Fans with rental cars attached plastic flags to their car windows and donned “socks” on their sideview mirrors, printed with their country’s flag. Flags are patriotic, of course, but they have one other benefit. Since they don’t carry the FIFA logo, unregistered vendors can sell them on the street without fear of being arrested and charged by one of the 54 courts set up by the South African government to handle World Cup-related offenses. (Editor's note: the original version misstated the number of courts.)

But the end of those two weeks brought a reckoning. Teams that either didn’t win, or didn’t win by big enough margins, were sent home. Among those teams was South Africa, which managed to beat the powerhouse French team 2-1, but not by a big enough margin to advance further. Overnight, sales of South African flags dropped. There were even reports of South African fans taking their flags off and dumping them in the streets.

“I’m very angry with Bafana’s early departure from the tournament. This has cost us some big business,” says Adriano Dlakama, a vendor from Mozambique. “Worse still, this week we lost other cash cows such as the Americans, British, and defending champions Italy last week.”

“Of course, Bafana Bafana are not a football [soccer] powerhouse,” he adds, “but in terms of business, it could make sense to sell South African flags by roadsides and streets. South Africa matters most by virtue of being the host nation.”

As if that was not enough, the nightclubs in Johannesburg’s economic hubs have also witnessed a slight decline of activities at night.

"Our business has drastically gone down. We no longer have enough money for entertainment after the match," says Hlokoloza Chebela, a vendor from Soweto. "The only flags doing well at the moment are those for Ghana, Brazil, and Germany, otherwise the absence of Bafana has cost us big time business."

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