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Fact or fiction: World Cup woes for homeless ?

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • Before World Cup, U.N. warned homeless could be in the firing line of beautification
  • Some charities say there has been forced evictions
  • City officials deny such policies; Durban official says no policy of dumping kids at city limit
  • One charity worker says some evictions due to general development, not World Cup projects

Editor's notes: In the final article of a three-part series on social issues at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, we look at whether the tournament has resulted in draconian policing and relocation of the homeless population in host cities.

Durban, South Africa (CNN) -- Though the hosting of a major international sport event can provide great opportunity for much of the population of a host nation, critics argue that people living on the streets often have reason to be fearful.

Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations on adequate housing, voiced her concern in a report released in March that "mega-events" such as the World Cup often led to the enforced removal of people living on the street.

The report noted that 15 percent of Seoul's population were evicted and 48,000 buildings demolished in the build up to the 1988 Olympic Games in the South Korean capital, while in Atlanta, Georgia, over 1,000 social housing units for the poor were destroyed before the U.S. city hosted the Games in 1996.

Newsweek also reported that more than a million residents in Beijing were displaced for the 2008 Games.

The Human Sciences Research Council estimated in 2004 that 57 percent of the Rainbow Nation's population lived below the poverty line, while U.N. data states that 28.7 percent of people found in urban regions in South Africa live in slum areas. If there were a drive for beautification, arguably, the 2010 World Cup would result in many people being moved on.

In 2005 the Geneva-based NGO the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions suggested that 7.5 million lack access to "adequate housing and secure tenure" in South Africa, while Johannesburg alone had 190 urban shack settlements.

Has the World Cup led to homeless people being forcibly removed from host cities?


London-based organization "War on Want" said in a statement on their official website: "We are particularly concerned at the increased rate of evictions around World Cup sites, which has seen many thousands of people evicted from their homes.

"For those who have been evicted, War on Want calls for the provision of decent, accessible housing and compensation for all those affected," the statement added.

According to the group, the South African government had attempted to evict 10,000 people from the Joe Slovo area of Cape Town prior to the start of the tournament and claimed many of the 15,000 living in the Blikkiesdorp transit camp blamed their relocation on the campaign to clean up the city for the World Cup.

More than 100 people were evicted from the Greenpoint Stadium vicinity to make way for tournament facilities; while in Athlone around 30 were evictions from the Spes Bona hostel.

As organizers aim to provide destinations that are safe and desirable to tourists, "beautification" is often placed above human rights according to Rolnik -- who also works in a voluntary role for the Human Rights Council of Geneva.

"I am particularly concerned about the practice of forced evictions, criminalization of homeless persons ... and the dismantling of informal settlements in the context of mega-events," Rolnik's report stated.

"The importance given to the creation of a new image for the cities ... implies the removal of signs of poverty and ... [prioritizing] city beautification over the needs of local residents," Rolnik added.


Sibongile Mazibuko, executive director of host city organizers Joburg 2010 said: "We have shelters for people who live on the streets and who are homeless, and we are working hard to find places for them.

"This policy was applied throughout the tournament and was the same prior to the tournament. The city of Johannesburg has no program to remove people from the streets; there was no policy change.

The city of Johannesburg has no program to remove people from the streets; there was no policy change
--Sibongile Mazibuko

"We work through NGOs who we fund to manage shelters and help deal with the homeless. If you drive around the city today you will still see the homeless on the streets.

"Generally we're very pleased with experience of the World Cup in Johannesburg -- we've not had any incidents of serious crime," Mazibuko added.

Dr. Michael Sutcliffe, city manager of the Durban municipality denied accusations that city policy was to dump children outside the city limits. He told CNN: "The city does not round up the [homeless] and street children specifically and has never been involved in any scheme to dump children ... outside our city boundaries.

"We do believe that children specifically do not belong on the street and will do everything we can to get these children properly placed either back at their homes or in places of safety.

"I do not believe it is the city that should be under the spotlight, but rather would urge you to investigate the practices of the Umthombo organization operating in our city," Sutcliffe said. "We have often disagreed with this organization as their philosophy is to keep children on the street, presumably to keep their fundraising going, fighting us with untruths through the internet and abroad.

"Indeed I even requested video footage [of incidents of forced removal that have been recorded], but none have been provided, as it will show that if children are picked up it's usually because of a specific offence," Sutcliffe added.

CNN approached both football's world governing body FIFA and the South Africa 2010 local organizing committee for comment but neither responded.

What we found

Neil Erasmus, the asset and new development manager of the Mabulammoho Housing Association, aims to provide affordable shelter for the many homeless of Johannesburg.

"We normally serve around 350 people with our soup outreach program -- the age range covers all of society, from 16 all the way up to grannies," Erasmus told CNN from his organization's headquarters and homeless shelter in the Hillbrow area of Johannesburg.

"The police scattered some of them by burning their blankets and belongings. I think they want to portray an image that is not 100 percent the truth.

"I would say the numbers on the street [who we deal with] has reduced by about 60 percent since the World Cup started, as well as demand for our shelter places going up significantly.

"I think there was a push to drive these people out to reduce crime, as some of the areas where the homeless were sheltering were close to a fan park.

"We spoke with the chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police to see if they could work with us on this issue, to allow us to assist. He spoke with us for a whole hour, but he denied that a policy of relocation existed."

Erasmus also said that the police had behaved the same way towards the homeless in his area in the two years preceding the tournament and that, by law, they are allowed to burn the property of the homeless if it poses a public health risk.

Tom Hewitt, 38, is the CEO of Umthombo, the Durban-based organization which accused the city of throwing children out of the city.

He stands by the accusation. "There are about 300 kids living on the streets of Durban [and] the run up to the World Cup was problematic because kids were being detained, dumped outside of the city and were told: "Don't come back."

"There was never a policy but it's no secret this had happened before for big events, but this was stepped up as the tournament neared.

Kids were being detained, dumped outside of the city and were told: "Don't come back
--Tom Hewitt

"However, thanks to a media campaign where we filmed the police taking the kids this stopped and I feel street children since then have been engaged. From the first day of the tournament there has not been a single round up. I'm hoping that we've entered a new era and that Durban won't return to round-ups in the future.

"The World Cup has been a catalyst moment, something we could harness to help arguably some of the most vulnerable children in the country," Hewitt added.

Ben Bradlow, research and documentation officer of Shack Dwellers International -- an alliance of 33 community-based slum associations from around the world -- said the picture was unclear to whether relocation had happened.

"In many ways it's unclear whether it's the World Cup that has sparked evictions or just the general pace of development in South Africa. Even in Cape Town, many of the projects that have seen homeless people moved on were not World Cup developments.

"It appears as though the worst possible fears have not been realized. We have not seen forced evictions on the order of those experienced during previous global sporting events in South Korea for example -- it just hasn't happened to that scale.

"Also the World Cup is a soccer tournament not a vehicle to alleviate poverty so it's important to manage expectations.

"Many slum dwellers in Cape Town and Durban are living out their lives in "temporary" transit camps after they were relocated years ago, promised better housing that has not yet come.

Not much evidence has surfaced thus far that the pace of these relocations picked up much more in the months immediately before the World Cup," Bradlow added.

Bianca Bothma also contributed to this report.

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