I was a volunteer at the Green Point stadium and had to quit because I have enough self worth. Volunteers there (at least in Media, my area) were being talked down upon, insulted (Mark Meyer, a staff member used the word “fuck” on a number of us), not properly managed and just put in a situation where they ran around like headless chicken. Mark Meyer and Virginia Gabriels were so condescending, so rude and treated volunteers like crap that about 30% of volunteers quit quietly by staying away. Some though, like yours truly left with a bang. As a leader, I felt that it was morally incumbent on me to voice my concerns and those of others the best way I know, through writing. Needless to say, Virginia and her team were not leaping with joy with the idea of a volunteer questioning staff members’ modus operandi.
It got worse. At times, there was no food the whole day. One day for an example, is 9th June 2009, two days before the start of the World Cup. Apparently, the reason was that someone forgot to sign something or signed in the wrong place or something queer and stupid like that. In the meantime, we had to work. Moreover, I recall vividly the smell of food being cooked for the LOC staff at the stadium. See, the LOC staff messed up and the volunteers could not eat for the day, but they themselves had food. On a couple of nights, namely after the France v Uruguay and the Paraguay v Italy games, over 200 volunteers were stranded outside the stadium until around 4am with no transport to take them home (pictures provided below). It was worse for the Italy v Paraguay game because it was not only bitterly cold and people got sick afterwards (me too) as with the France v Uruguay game, it was also raining, as we know best in Cape Town. On the first night, I remember that we were told to vacate a certain office we used as shelter from the elements in the middle of the night as it had laptops that needed to be kept safe. To hell with people who were donating their time and effort out of the love out their country to host the best world cup. Computers were more important and the people were bulldozed out into the freezing cold night by a certain Mr Ferreira (another LOC staff member) to wait there for over 3 hours for the horribly unfit vehicles to stutter around town delivering fellow volunteers and come back to fetch them.
Those who did go home did so in un-roadworthy vehicles that were provided by an African businessman (non-South African even though we have much better minibus taxis and needed to create job opportunities for ourselves first and after the taxi strikes that crippled the economy regarding the World Cup) who claimed that the LOC owed him R15 000 and thus he could no longer transport people with the hope that he will be paid later. The transport that man provided was poor. The vehicles stopped dead at the robots. Volunteers had to come out and to push the car for it to start. Some of the cars only started on third gear. In the Final Draw of December 2009, the shuttle service was one of our highlights as volunteers. It was not perfect as we had to wait a couple of hours at times, but the vehicles were fit for kings and we all got home with relative ease. What happened during the World Cup however, was nothing more that a money saving strategy. My description of the poor state of the fleet will not do it justice. You just had to be there. Some of the people were transported to UCT to spend the night and go home in the morning. What a waste of time and money when those people live here in the city and it would be much cheaper to take them home. That is also an irony because they hired poor quality vehicles and non-South African taxi owners (which is why the xenophobia thing fails to go away) to save money. Now they were spending it on housing people at UCT, people who lived less than 15km away, some less than 5km away.
I decided that I had to do the right thing, no matter what the consequence. I wanted to speak out and be part of the solution, as opposed to mumbling my words and watch things deteriorate. I had always complained about the world and how it lacks good, ethical, honest people. This was my opportunity to be one and start doing something, rather than complain. I thought about the worst-case scenario of being expelled as a volunteer and not get the certificate and keep the uniform as a souvenir as I had hoped and decided that I was okay with it.
I became a voice for all volunteers after these happened. I informed the media and was called for interviews by many radio stations, contrary to what my contract advised. I felt that if the LOC personnel could break their verbal contracts to us volunteers and be so mean, so disorganised and so rude, I could also break mine. I was not fazed by their threats however. All of this gross maltreatment occurred while they repeatedly threatened us that we should provide the best service to media, tourists and fans. “What irony!” volunteers cried.
I was also a volunteer and freelance writer at the Final Draw held on 4th December 2009 at the CTICC, which was followed by a massive celebration at Long Street in the City Centre. There were also problems there. However, no one complained because those were teething problems. The LOC staff was getting to know each other so there was an air of understanding from volunteers. If I had to give them a mark out of ten for the Final Draw, I would give them a six. I felt that they tried very hard and succeeded on many important things. Some of their triumphs (as far as volunteer management is concerned) is that there was ALWAYS something to eat and drink for volunteers. Transport was world class and acceptably efficient, our managers Quinton Dicken, Erick de la Faunte and Jen-Peter Hecht were wonderful people. It really was a joy to work there. It was not perfect, nothing is. However, one felt that an effort was put in to make sure that volunteers had a good environment while carrying out their duties.
In the world cup however, where all volunteers who were at Final Draw expected a higher standard, things were just poor. Quinton, Erick and Jens-Peter had been moved to different areas and we were left with Mark and Chantelle, his assistant. Boy, were they out of depth! So incompetent, so rude, so pompous and with a chip on the shoulder to match. I went around with a shocked face as I could believe what was going on there. I shook my head and sighed every five minutes.
When I asked questions about the horrible treatment that was dished to volunteers, even fellow volunteers distanced themselves from me in order to get into the good books of Mark and Chantel, not to mention Virginia and even Onke Mjo who failed to act upon realising this. These same volunteers would gossip about how bad the situation is there. I have many emails from them, which I could forward to you after I have removed their names from them. I later became immune to their complaints as I felt that they were using me as a mule to take their complaints to the authorities they feared so. The word “chaos” does not even begin to paint the picture of the organisation (or lack there of) at the Stadium Media Centre (SMC). So much so that blogs of the rampant chaos in Virginia’s office are in over a dozen blogs and Twitts started by international volunteers in Germany, United Kingdom, USA and Brazil to name a few.
Things were so bad that volunteers got three or four conflicting messages about their roster in a matter of hours. You would leave home knowing that you are going to the stadium to volunteer in a certain shift. You would get there to realise that it is actually your off day in the “new roster”. By lunchtime, you would have been told that your name is not on the roster and that you should fill in a new one. By the end of the day your original schedule would say you are off the next day, the new one says you are on duty and the person doing schedules telling you that you do appear on list and that you should fill in yet another one! I know it is hard to believe, but it could not be truer.
While all this was going on, I decided to take initiative and start a Facebook group and a bulk email facility where volunteers would communicate amongst themselves, as Mark and Chantelle were failing dismally with everything. With these two facilities, I had planned that volunteers would share all the information (shifts, roster, general news, transport arrangements, etc) that they were not getting from management. I even told Chantelle that I could help disperse information using them. Unfortunately, because the people at the top (Mark and Virginia) did not like it as it made them look stupid, the facilities quickly turned to places where volunteers could vent their anger and dissatisfaction of how they were being treated by the people on top. Droves left quietly and never volunteered again (went AWOL and some only came back once a while to check if things had gotten better) while a few decided that they will make themselves heard before they left for good.
On the day of the Paraguay v Italy game, I arrived to volunteer and found that my name was not on the list (as per usual now because there was so much disorganisation there) of volunteers for that day. Mark failed to take responsibility as per normal again and referred me to the volunteer centre. I got there and found that Mark had removed me from Media, an area I knew so well and where I was one of the most experienced volunteers because we did the same job at the Final Draw, to Transport, something I had no idea of deliberately and without anyone’s knowledge, even Sakhiwo, the person who deals with shifts. Sakhiwo was one of the good guys and was very upset with Mark.
I refused to go to Transport and told them that I knew what was happening and that it was wrong. Virginia, the big boss of all volunteers in Cape Town protected Mark’s decision and gave me an ultimatum that I either went to Transport or quit as I was “destructive” at Media. Given that choice, I quit as a volunteer. I handed in some of my uniform as she requested and left quietly. Prior my resignation, threatening to recall uniform was one of the ways she threaten volunteers who felt like quitting. She knew that volunteers wanted the uniform as a souvenir and so she was using that as a currency to get ahead. So I wanted to show her that I neither care about the uniform, the access bib nor the certificate. So when she told me to take off the bib and the jacket (to try to get me to reverse my decision) as she knew I wanted to keep my bib and uniform as a souvenir, I even took off the LOC T-shirt just to show her that I did not care about the clothes as much as I did about being respected and treated fairly. The next day, the gossiping volunteers again called me to inform me that Mark had was talking a lot of nonsense about me including telling them that I had been moved to Transport for “safety” reasons and upon my arrival there, I was fired the same day because “the transport people were fed up with my attitude”. Needless to say that I put Mark to task and promised (I do not make threats) to sue him for defamation of character if he did not refrain from talking such nonsense about me. Even though I continue to right emails to volunteers about my experiences there, Mark could not reciprocate because I was telling the truth. He was an incompetent big mouth who always saw himself as an innocent victim and I will have no problems proving that in court.
Subsequent my resignation, at least 10 other volunteers sent me emails saying that they had also quit in solidarity with me, infinitely worse treatment from Mark and Virginia, or that they could no longer stomach the chaos and the sense of not being appreciated as a volunteer. They reiterated that they did not hope to be treated like royalty. But as people. And that the Volunteer Office failed to do that.
A good number of them also quoted the saying I had coined “I came here to volunteer for my country and not to be treated like royalty. While serving however, I do expect due respect and to be afforded treatment that human beings are worthy of and nothing less.” also “Volunteers may be working for FREE, but they are not DOM”. Those became anthems in the fight for just treatment and respect from the LOC staff, namely Mark Meyer and Virginia Gabriels.
Considering what I have wrote above, it should tell you that it comes as no surprise that volunteers have not been paid their stipends yet. The amount of disorganisation, disrespect of volunteers, arrogance and plain stupidity by the LOC staff was evident for anyone to see. In addition, because of the disorganisation that included volunteers not being able to sign and/or out, there will be complaints with the amounts that will be paid out as stipends. I recall that for the France v Uruguay game, which followed the Bafana v Mexico, I spent an hour pacing up and down the stadium corridors looking for the register to sign my name on. The registration room had closed early even thought there was a shift meant to start at 8pm. The Indian woman with a North America accent who paced up and down with me finally gave up and could not sign in. I was lucky to finally sign in with the help of Sakhiwo Rhulashe. But still, I could sign out. Those kinds of days will not be paid as the contract stipulates that volunteers need to sign in and out for them to be reimbursed for a particular day. It does not make provisions for LOC staff hiding or misplacing the register or going home early and leaving the later shift not signed in and out. For the Final Draw in December 2009, I got about half the money I expected for the days I worked. Moreover, I got it 23 days after the tournament (29 December 2009).
On the day of the Argentina v Germany game, I recall bumping into a one of my friends I had met while we were volunteers at the Final Draw. He chose to not be part of the world cup he had enough with the poor treatment then. Some people have all the insight because as I told him that I had quit as I could no longer handle the treatment there, he was not surprised at all. he said he saw it coming and that was why he chose not to be part of the World Cup. For a second there I felt like an idiot because I had also seen it coming. But I had too much faith in thinking that things would get better. All they did is get worse.
In the SMC, Mark employed a tyrannical, capricious attitude and was so demeaning, belittling and verbally abusive towards volunteers. The harsh language and profanity was rarely followed by any meaningful instruction. And I will also go on record by saying Onke did not miss this toxic behaviour from someone who is supposed to be a leader. She was aware of it and I guess she just wanted it to go away as opposed to fix it.
In addition, I would like to go on record to say that I blame neither FIFA nor the LOC as a whole for these issues. I put the blame solely on Onke Mjo and her subordinates, which here in Cape Town are people like Virginia Gabriels and Mark Meyer.
Last week I got an sms saying that the LOC acknowledges that I have not been paid yet and that I am scheduled for e-payment on the week starting on the 23rd of August. Today is Friday the 27th and I am not holding my breath with regard to payment. Again, I will say that if the unlikely happens and I get paid, the money will not be what I expect from the days I worked.