The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world

Worst fears abated for World Cup relocations

Eviction of poor residents has been less than expected in the run-up to the World Cup in South Africa, but the urban poor have nonetheless seen little economic benefit from the event. Benjamin Bradlow writes that the problems facing them will endure long after the World Cup legacy without greater effort by both government and civil society actors.

Benjamin Bradlow / Shack/Slum Dwellers International

Benjamin Bradlow / Shack/Slum Dwellers International

Cities: Seoul, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg

Topics: Special events, Property, rights and evictions, Internal migration

As the wins and losses pile up for the world's major soccer teams at this year's World Cup in South Africa, it is much less clear how to assess the impact of the month-long extravaganza on the country's urban poor. It appears as though the worst possible fears have not been realised.

We have not seen forced evictions on the order of those experienced during previous global sporting events. In the run-up to the 1988 Olympics on Seoul, South Korea, some 720,000 people were displaced, around 7 per cent of the city's population.

We can describe the pace of evictions in South Africa as more of a slow, continuous burn than such a massive firecracker. 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. But they didn't stop either.

In Johannesburg and the rest of Gauteng province, the story is similar. Max Rambau of the Community Organization Resource Center (CORC), Shack / Slum Dwellers International's local NGO affiliate in South Africa, writes about residents of Kliptown in Johannesburg, a historic area near where South Africa's Freedom Charter was signed.

He has been working with the community there after houses were destroyed by the council of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality on 28 June. In the last two months, similar acts of city government-sponsored destruction and dispossession were visited on the neighbouring informal settlement communities of Gabon and Chris Hani near the formal town of Daveyton in the Ekurhuleni municipality.

Informal traders also faced harassment from municipal authorities as the World Cup approached. Those selling food to construction workers at some of the major stadiums were continuously moved and forced into temporary stalls as construction progressed. Many worried that they would not benefit from the World Cup at all when FIFA insisted that all concessions be from FIFA's official sponsors. While many traders lost their prime trading spots — and anticipated revenue from the soccer bonanza — some in Cape Town and Johannesburg did manage to negotiate significant concessions.

So while there are plenty of both winners and losers on the field during this World Cup tournament, the poor are only ending up on one side of the divide. They have not benefited economically from the World Cup, and few are able to afford to attend the games. Exclusion, illegality and State-sponsored violence and dispossession are still the hallmarks of urban poverty in South Africa; much as they are throughout the growing cities of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The challenge will be what happens after the tournament. Will evictions continue apace as the local and national authorities continue their pursuit of 'world-class' cities and 'cities without slums'? Will the poor continue to be marginalised through the very development programmes intended to benefit them?

And let us not restrict our gaze to the State. We can and should ask tough questions of ourselves as civil society actors. What methods of community organisation can empower the poor to engage the state around true bottom-up developmental agendas of and by poor communities? How can government actors be moved away from the programmatic initiatives that have failed in the past? What kinds of agglomerations and networks of community organisations are necessary to this end? How can professionals, academics and others act to support the organic struggles of the poor in ways that achieve tangible gains on the ground?

The World Cup has many people in South Africa in a state of collective euphoria. But, when all is said and done, the urban poor in this country will still face evictions, landlessness, homelessness and lack of access to basic services; just as they did well before the World Cup. In a little over a week, the soccer world champion will be clear. But the answers to such questions of urban development are those that will be central to the future of this country.

Benjamin Bradlow is a research and documentation officer for Shack / Slum Dwellers International, a confederation of country-level organisations of the urban poor from 28 countries in the Global South. This article was first posted on the Shack / Slum Dwellers International Blog.