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Evicted by the World Cup

Evictees from informal settlements near World Cup venues in South Africa have been promised decent homes. But many feel angry, saying they have been dumped in transit areas far from transport, work and schools.

More than two million South Africans live in shacks patched together from scraps of wood and metal. They are waiting for the government to build the homes it promises every election. But there is anger among those relocated to temporary sites from their former shacks near World Cup stadiums in Cape Town and EThekwini. The evictees say they were moved to unsuitable sites so the government could remove their ramshackle homes from tourist spots.

When questioned publicly, the government says the evictions are nothing to do with the World Cup preparations, but are part of a nationwide slum eradication programme announced in 2005. On the contrary, they say, tourists will be encouraged to visit poorer settlements and spend money there.

About 15 miles away from the city centre and deep inside the sub-economic suburb of Delft is the mushrooming area of Blikkiesdorp. Leonora Jones moved here from a shack under a bridge close to Cape Town city centre. “They threw us out because they want to make things right for 2010,” she told me. “There is no electricity here, no street lighting. We share the outside toilets and can’t go at night because we could be attacked in the dark. We have no freedom here in Blikkiesdorp.”

Nicknamed ‘tin can town’ because the corrugated iron one-room dwellings look like rows of cans,┬áit is unlikely tourists will make it as far as Blikkiesdorp. In all it is home to 7,500 people, many of whom say they have been ‘dumped’ there. In the past five years there have been numerous reports of women being raped while walking to the shared toilets in the dark. Most say they have given up hope of being moved to permanent houses.

Their anxiety was given judicial support in August, when the Supreme Court halted a plan to demolish the 15,000-strong Joe Slovo settlement alongside the N2 highway, and temporarily relocate residents in an area next to Blikkiesdorp. The court was concerned about security on the proposed site and the ruling also cited concerns about how long residents would have to wait for permanent homes.

In the east coast city of EThekwini, which will host seven matches in the competition, about 250 shack-dwellers near the city’s King Zwelithini Stadium were moved to a temporary site to make way for a parking area in January. Another 200 families from near the same stadium will also be moved, in addition to around 100 families from close to the city’s Sugar Ray Xulu stadium.

Resident Bongani Mthembu, said the transit area accommodates families of between seven and 10 people in one-room shacks, a far cry from the four-room self-built shacks in which they previously lived. “There is no privacy in those shacks because of lack of space,” he said. “We only have seven portable toilets for 250 people. When it’s windy, they fall down. They are emptied only once a month by the municipality, by which time the community has already emptied them several times into the nearest river.”

Also due for demolition is a 99-year-old fruit and vegetable market next to the city’s busiest taxi, bus and train hub. It will be replaced by a shopping mall. Pat Horn of StreetNet International, which campaigns for the rights of street vendors, is lobbying against its closure. She says the mall will displace about 8,000 street vendors and could “devastate the food security of most of the city’s low-income communities” who buy fresh produce in the market. She pointed out that many of those evicted from their shacks are street vendors, now at risk of losing their livelihoods. “The proposed new mall has no direct link or relevance to the 2010 World Cup,” she said, “the mere anticipation that World Cup fever will attract investors seems to be the driving force behind this misguided development decision.”

EThekwini’s city manager, Michael Sutcliffe defended the evictions, pointing out there have been no forced removals reminiscent of the apartheid era. He also said the transit areas offer residents better access to basic services such as water and sanitation. This is technically correct as many informal settlements have no services other than a few toilets, perhaps as few as one to every 3000 people. Residents often resort to rigging up illegal electricity connections and devise ways of sharing the water from communal taps.

For many of the evictees though, location is the most important factor. “They promised to build us houses, but they gave us shacks. They put us close to where they dump garbage and it stinks. There are no schools here, and we now have to pay for our children to take the train back to their old schools,” said relocated resident Linda Gwamanda.

There is tremendous enthusiasm for the World Cup in South Africa. But for South Africa’s shack-dwellers, the development they most crave seems no closer. And they fear that by the time the last football fan returns home, they will still be waiting.


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