New Internationalist

Sweeping the streets

November 2009

Poor South Africans fall foul of soccer tournament preparations

Photo by Anna Majavu.
In transit: Ayesha, Nazley and their new neighbours outside Ayesha's home in the temporary relocation area. Photo by Anna Majavu.

Ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Cape Town has begun an operation to clear the streets of the homeless, the visibly poor and informal street vendors.

In early September, the city’s law enforcement officers and a private security company swooped on roadside street vendors, confiscating flags, rugby sweaters and mobile phone chargers.

A group of 600 people who had been camping alongside an inner-city railway line have also felt the flipside of World Cup fever. In June, the police gave them just seven days’ notice to leave their makeshift homes and move to a ‘transit zone’ on the outer limits of the city.

‘The police came and gave us numbers of our new houses. They said the houses would be nice and cosy, with electricity, and better than staying next to the railway line,’ explains Ayesha Arendse.

The next thing she knew, she and her belongings had been dropped off in the Symphony Way ‘Temporary Relocation Area’ in the impoverished and crime-ridden community of Delft, over 30 kilometres from the city centre.

‘They forced us to come and we don’t like it here because there are no jobs or electricity. We have to walk deep inside the bush nearby to collect wood for cooking. We don’t like that at all because we have found dead bodies there,’ she continues.

Nazley Petersen was forced to leave the inner city bridge under which she had made a home to live in a city-built one-roomed corrugated iron shack.

‘They promised us electricity but there is none. They told us we will get houses after a few years, but I don’t believe them. I lived so nicely under the bridge. By the afternoon I would already have collected enough money from begging to feed my family that night. But here, when you are hungry, you remain hungry.’

With the World Cup looming, and with South Africa in the tight grip of a recession, the opportunities for Cape Town’s poorer citizens to make money are closing down rapidly.

The city administration recently announced that it will employ extra police to do away with vendors who sell their wares at traffic lights. Rudolf Wiltshire, Cape Town’s Specialized Services Chief, said he was ‘optimistic that the City will be able to eradicate intersection trading before the World Cup commences’ and that his officers would take a ‘zero tolerance approach’.

There are very few legally designated trading areas in the city, and two major markets – Greenmarket Square and Green Point Market – are both being redeveloped for the World Cup, leaving virtually no space available for street vendors eager to avoid constant arrests.

Lillian Mlilo is a vendor from Zimbabwe, who sells handwoven grass baskets and small carved wooden animals on the road. Every three months, she buys bulk supplies of staple foods like rice, cooking oil, sugar and maize meal and takes them back to her family in Zimbabwe, where food shortages are rife.

But after the city police confiscated about $300 worth of her goods, she cannot afford the trip. ‘If I can manage to sell the little I have left, I won’t be able to buy enough food to keep my family going for three months. Even now, I don’t know if my family is starving. I don’t know what I will find when I next return home.’

Anna Majavu

This column was published in the November 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 427

New Internationalist Magazine issue 427
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