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The World Cup’s two faces

By Gcina Ntsaluba

Cape Town was a bit of a buzz this week with celebrations to mark the 30-day countdown to the kick-off of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Even the mayor, Dan Plato, showed up at the celebrations to share the spotlight with local artists, including JR of “make da circle bigger” fame to the amazement of hundreds of soccer fans who packed into the City Hall on Tuesday.

However, about 40km away from the premature celebrations lies the darker and shameful side of the World Cup that city officials don’t want you to see.

It is a government-built shanty settlement consisting of hundreds of corrugated iron shacks called Blikkiesdorp, or “Tin-can Town” as critics refer to it.

This is where the city’s poor and homeless people have been relocated to ahead of the World Cup in an effort to present a better and rosier image of the city to travellers and football fans from around the world.

As much as it is a good thing for the city to provide shelter for homeless people, it is still a shameful place to put any human being.

There are not enough basic services like water, toilets, electricity and it is damn far from job opportunities in the city.

Some of the residents of Blikkiesdorp that I spoke to when I visited the area claim that they were “dumped” there by the city’s law-enforcement unit after promising them houses.

They say it’s a “concentration camp”.

Others who have spent most of their adult lives on the streets, said they were forced to move to Blikkiesdorp after the city took them to court for occupying public spaces.

You can call them ungrateful but they honestly believe that they were moved to Blikkiesdorp because of the World Cup to hide them away from the eye of visiting tourists — because they are an embarrassment to the nation.

But when you hear a grown woman who has no self pride left say this, it makes you question who exactly this World Cup is meant for.

Is it for South Africans or overseas tourists?

Last week, the city launched its annual Street People Winter Readiness Plan earlier than usual to coincide with the World Cup.

Basically, the plan is to try and keep homeless people “clean and well-groomed” for the duration of the World Cup by providing temporary shelter and related services such as rationed meals, blankets, disposable razors, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Personally, I don’t think this country should be spending billions on World Cup infrastructure when there are much more pressing issues to solve like eradicating mud schools, fixing the public healthcare system and getting rid of toilet bucket systems that are still being used in some of the poorest communities after 16 years of so-called-freedom.

Secondly, hiding homeless people from tourists or keeping them “well-groomed” just because of the World Cup is creating an unrealistic image of South Africa to the rest of the world.

It is purely a PR exercise by our government?


  • amaBhungane

    amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story.