Children squint as wind whips the grey sand into their faces. A teenager braves the flies and stench of a leaking outdoor toilet to draw water from a standpipe. He stares vacantly along regimented rows of corrugated iron shacks encircled by a tall, concrete fence. No grass or trees grow here.
This is Tin Can Town, or Blikkiesdorp, described by the mayor of Cape Town as a “temporary relocation area” (TRA), but by its residents as a concentration camp. Many say they were forcibly evicted from their former homes and moved here against their will. And for this they blame one thing: the Soccer World Cup.
“It’s a dumping place,” said Jane Roberts, who lives in the sparsely furnished structure known as M49. “They took people from the streets because they don’t want them in the city for the World Cup. Now we are living in a concentration camp.”
Roberts (54) added: “It’s like the devil runs this place. We have no freedom. The police come at night and beat adults and children. South Africa isn’t showing the world what it’s doing to its people. It only shows the World Cup.”
President Jacob Zuma’s government insists that sport’s biggest showpiece is already benefiting the whole nation, creating jobs, improving infrastructure and transforming its image abroad. It has lavished about R13-billion on world-class venues, with none more breathtaking than the Cape Town Stadium that will host England.
Yet a short drive from the city’s expensively upgraded airport, a drive few tourists are likely to make, boys kick up dust and stones in Blikkiesdorp because the spending spree failed to provide them with a park.
Campaigners argue that this bleak place in Delft township shows that Africa’s first World Cup has become a tool to impress wealthy foreigners at the expense of its own impoverished people.
Residents say it is worse than the townships created by the white minority government before the end of racial apartheid in 1994.
In view of cloud-capped mountains, Blikkiesdorp was built in 2008 for an estimated R32-million to provide “emergency housing” for about 650 people who had been illegally occupying buildings. To visitors, the column after column of one-room shacks, each spraypainted with a designated code number, are disturbingly reminiscent of District 9, last year’s hit science fiction film about space aliens forced to live in an informal Johannesburg settlement. Residents said this week there were about 15 000 people struggling to live in about 3 000 of the wood and iron structures, with more arriving all the time. City officials claimed these figures were inaccurate but said the site was designed to cater for 1 667 families in total.
In some cases families of six or seven people are crammed into living spaces of three by six metres. They complain that the corrugated walls swelter in summer temperatures of 40 degrees Celcius and offer little protection from the cold in winter. Tuberculosis and HIV are rife. Babies have been born at Blikkiesdorp and, still unknown to the state, officially do not exist.
The shacks are laid out in strict lines with little room for individual homemaking, though some residents have tried to build extensions, gardens and informal convenience stores, often protected by barbed wire. Above them loom poles with lighting and power cables that give the residents electricity. But between the shacks there is no paving, only roaming dogs, scraps of rubbish and grey sand that swirls in the wind.
There are no shower facilities and the standpipe taps lack bowls, so water tends to leak into the ground and under people’s homes. Toilets are found inside grim concrete cubicles so small the locked door presses against the user’s knees. Many have leaking roofs and are broken despite repeated promises to fix them.
Sandy Rossouw says she was among 366 people evicted from the Spes Bona Hostel in the district of Athlone three months ago because a stadium there is to be used for training by some of football’s biggest stars. She is now one of five family members who squeeze into one bed in her shack at Blikkiesdorp.
“We were forced out of our hostel because of the World Cup,” Rossouw said. “The hostel is on the main road to the stadium, only about 200 yards away. We didn’t want to move because we’re used to it and it’s close to everything. But they said if we didn’t get out, they would move us out with law enforcement.
“Here the whole place is under starvation. We can’t even afford to make a pot of soup for our children. We send them to school without bread. People sell everything to get food and walk three hours to Athlone just to get a loaf of bread. When you do eat, there is sand in your food — you can feel it on your teeth.
“We were promised in January the toilets would be repaired but they’re not. You’ve got eight families to a toilet and it’s unhygienic.”
Rossouw, 42, is among several residents who accuse the police of brutality. “It’s like a jail, like a concentration camp,” she continued. “If you’re not inside at night, the police beat you. A few weeks ago they pointed an R5 rifle as if they were going to shoot people. They swore at us: ‘This isn’t fucking Athlone. You should go back to your place.'”
She argues that the fanfare around a month-long football tournament is hypocritical when people are going hungry. “I think they must cancel the World Cup because people are starving. They are renovating buildings in Cape Town for half a billion rand; why can’t they spend that money here? It breaks my heart.
“When rich people come to the World Cup they must come to Blikkiesdorp first to see for themselves how people are living. It’s worse than apartheid.”
Among those suffering is Fatima Booysen, 40, who has lived in shack J22 with her husband, Abraham, and two daughters for more than a year. She said: “I can’t shop, the rain is coming in, the child is sick. A lot of people have got TB now.
“It’s very cold in winter. When you stand up in the morning you feel frozen, you can’t feel your hands or feet.
“The children don’t want to go to school. I’ve got a one-year-old grandchild who’s sick today and has gone to hospital.”
Residents say that unemployment is high and a lack of postal deliveries or official addresses makes it hard to find work. They also criticise their remote location, which requires them to pay for minibus taxis to the city, and say that children have been killed in accidents on Blikkiesdorp’s thoroughfares and when crossing a nearby motorway. Crime is said to be high, with drug gangs moving into unused shacks, but the police offer little relief.
Badronessa Morris, 47, complained: “The police treat us like animals. They swear at us, pepper spray us, search us in public, even children. At 10 o’clock you must be inside: the police come and tell you to go into your place and turn down the music. In my old home we used to sit outside all night with the fire.”
Morris was among families evicted from an informal settlement on the Symphony Way road. “We were one happy family on Symphony Way. Now we’ve moved to Blikkiesdorp it’s like we’re in chains, fighting each other, putting each other in jail.
“I know we were moved because of the World Cup. They don’t want people to see shacks on the road in South Africa. They want everything perfect for the World Cup.”
Other people have gone to court to resist a possible move to Blikkiesdorp. Last December five families living near the Athlone stadium were told their homes would be demolished to make way for a car park.
Llewellyn Wilters, 52, who has lived in his house for seven years, said: “I took a drive to Blikkiesdorp to check it out and don’t think it’s going to work. How are we going to take the kids to school and get to work?”
He added: “We were born in this area, we went to school here, we know the area and know all the people here. Why must we move out?”
Shack dwellers have mobilised against evictions in well-organised protests that make powerful use of new media. Pamela Beukes, 29, secretary of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, condemned the rise of Blikkiesdorp: “They’re creating a tin city. They’re doing worse things than the apartheid regime did to the people. Under apartheid they gave us a brick house.
“The World Cup was supposed to bring a higher standard of living. But it’s making it lower. People are saying, ‘I don’t want to watch soccer because it’s the reason I was evicted.’ It’s as if we’re lesser beings.”
The city of Cape Town denies the accusation that it is dumping people in Blikkiesdorp because of the World Cup. Kylie Hatton, a spokeswoman, said in an email: “It is not true that the City of Cape Town is moving or displacing residents in informal areas in the runup to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“It is important to note that the TRA has been constructed for emergency accommodation needs and is provided by the city, and exceeds national housing requirements.”
She added: “We have significant challenges regarding vandalism in the area, and in some cases our contractors have had to return to the site over four times to repair broken toilets, taps and electricity cables. This often then has an impact on services in the settlement.”
But Blikkiesdorp is only one manifestation of a deeper disquiet in South Africa about the benefits, or otherwise, of hosting football’s biggest festival. In Durban there are further demonstrations over evictions and reports that street children are forcibly being removed from the city centre to “safe areas” far away.
Tens of thousands of informal traders complain that they will lose income because of Fifa-imposed “exclusion zones” around stadiums which permit only approved businesses. Regina Twala, who has been selling cooked meals and snacks for 35 years, told South Africa’s Sunday Independent that she and fellow workers had been ordered to vacate their premises outside Ellis Park stadium.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign said: “The lives of small businesses and informal traders in South Africa have been destroyed by this World Cup. If we are not allowed to trade near stadiums, fan parks and other tourist areas, how can we benefit from tourism?”
The new stadiums heralded a construction boom, but many of the workers who built them have already been laid off and are without work.
Caroline Elliot, international programmes officer for the anti-poverty group War on Want, said: “Behind the spectacle, the World Cup is exacerbating the struggle of poor South Africans who are facing evictions, lack of public services and unemployment. The South African government needs to tackle these problems as an urgent priority.”
Andile Mngxitama, a political commentator and columnist, is about to publish a pamphlet entitled “Fuck the World Cup”.
He said: “We never needed the World Cup. It is a jamboree by the politicians to focus attention away from the 16 years of democracy that have not delivered for the majority of black people in this country. We’ll be trapped with white elephant stadiums.”
He added: “The World Cup is not about football or so-called tourism. It’s about politicians hoping it keeps us busy for a month and making enormous amounts of money for themselves and their friends.” – guardian.co.uk