Soccer and Human Rights

Photography by MuhaPhoto by Muha, see www.flickr.com/photos/muha

There is a lot of excitement in South Africa about hosting the 2010 World Cup. But there’s also cause for concern. In poor countries, events like this are often accompanied by mass evictions and demolition of low-income housing in the name of city beautification.

A case in point is the neighborhood surrounding Ellis Park Stadium, where one of the quarterfinal matches will be played. Visit South Africa’s 2010 planning website, and you will see that the current headlining article is about plans for Ellis Park upgrades.

The article promises an “extreme makeover” to the area surrounding the stadium. What it neglects to mention is that this “area” is actually a neighborhood, and the planned makeover includes demolishing these people’s homes.

Yesterday I visited with Ellis Park residents whom CALS represents. The homes here are by far the nicest low-income housing I have seen in the inner city so far. The apartheid government originally built them for the families of white employees working on the nearby railroad. Much later they were given to black families.

In contrast to the high-rise apartments which are the norm downtown, these are real homes with enough space to lead a normal family life. And with some investments, they could be fixed up quite nicely and bring a good price. So for the residents who are also owners, these homes are their most substantial asset.

More important still is the social capital the residents have generated in this community. They know their neighbors, feel safe with each other, and have organized small businesses which take advantage of their location. Several of the neighborhood’s young people are completing college, an upward mobility made possible in no small part by housing stability.

For CALS, the goal is to negotiate with the city so that the residents can keep their homes in the revamped Ellis Park. My role in this will be to visit each home and collect information about the residents and their histories in the properties to help the lawyers in the bargaining process. It should be a good opportunity to practice my Zulu!

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