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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
South Africa street clean-up begins

Firdose Moonda

South Africa is reportedly embarking on a major street clean-up operation ahead of the World Cup, with thousands of homeless, urban poor allegedly being taken off the streets and relocated for the tournament.

The country's leading weekly newspaper, the Sunday Times has dubbed it "hiding the homeless", while the English version of the paper with the same name calls it "slum clearance, South Africa-style."

The country's three major cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban - have already started relocation programs, while six remaining host cities are set to follow suit.

Reports allege that more than 800 people have been taken from the derelict area surrounding Ellis Park in Johannesburg, the venue of seven matches including a quarter-final, and moved to shelters away from the inner city. There are also reported plans in place to see another 1,500 people, mostly street children, moved to alternate housing.

A Johannesburg government official was quoted as saying: "Homelessness and begging are big problems in the city. You have to clean your house before you have guests. There is nothing wrong with that."

In Cape Town, 300 people have moved from the city to Blikkiesdorp on the Cape Flats, a historically poor area, used by the Apartheid government as a place to allocate homes to non-whites. Durban has identified the grungy Warwick Triangle precinct as the place where they will house street children during the tournament.

The evictions have led to a Facebook group called Stop Concentration Camps for Homeless People in South Africa. The group has just 328 "fans" but there have been a host of comments suggesting that people are disgusted that the clean-up act is merely cosmetic for the duration of the tournament and will have no benefit post World Cup.

Non-governmental organisations have also made statements along those lines, saying that authorities are trying to hide the country's faults from the rest of the world. Warren Whitfield, of homeless charity Addiction Action, said: "It's a cosmetic fix to create an impression of South Africa for football fans which is not real."

What has made the clean up even more outrageous to locals is that it comes despite statements from government and soccer bosses that no one would be forced off the streets during the tournament.

In July last year, Tokyo Sekwale, minister of human settlements, said: "There is no policy that says government must evict people who are living in poverty or in shacks nearby venues. We cannot do that. We cannot hide people from the view of tourists."

Organising committee CEO Danny Jordaan affirmed this view, pointing out that the country had hosted other international events without needing to undergo any so-called sprucing up,

Jordaan said: "Government did not evict these people during the Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup and other major international events, why now?"

It seems the reason for the timing is because this summer's World Cup is set to attract hundreds of thousands more tourists that any other sporting event. Initially, over half a million visitors were expected, but the recession and slow ticket sales have seen that number drop to around 400,000.

Importantly, the vast majority of people that have been affected by the evictions are immigrants, sparking fears that another wave of xenophobic attacks could crash onto South Africa's shores. In May 2008, a series of violent attacks on immigrants, particularly from other African countries, saw at least 62 people killed, a third of them said to be South African citizens.

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