Cape Town | One Stadium: Two South Africas

A decision to build a world cup football stadium in a wealthy white enclave has raised issues of development for Cape Town’s most marginalised citizens

Residents of Delft, a township on Cape Town’s margins, say that as the World Cup approaches, they’ve been forgotten. © THAHEER MULLINS
01 June, 2010

WORLD CUP FANATICS leaving Cape Town International Airport face a fork in the road leading to two very different South Africas.

If visitors turn left on the N2 highway, or Settlers Way, and drive past the awe inspiring Table Mountain and the chic cafés and bars of Long Street, they will reach the affluent oceanfront community of Green Point. Here lies the new 60,000-plus capacity Cape Town Stadium, completed just in time for the 2010 World Cup, which South Africa will begin hosting on 11 June.

Look around, and it’s easy to see why it was built here: on one side, the blue waters of the Atlantic sparkle; on the other, Lion’s Head, a sleek brown hill, stretches upwards towards the ubiquitous mountain. The stadium is a white-ribbed oval with a bowed roof, skirted by parking lots and golf greens. It cost 4.51 billion rand (27 billion rupees). This is the Cape Town that World Cup organisers are anxious to show off.

But turn right on the N2 and there is an entirely different view. Here, Settlers Way is crowded by the zinc townships of Guguletu and Langa. Further on is the N2 Gateway, a pilot housing project of cream and pink pastel homes, built for the people of Langa—a project that embodies a promise to over two million South Africans who remain homeless a-decade-and-a-half after apartheid’s end.

It’s a promise that many residents here say was broken. In order to make way for this housing, many people living in informal settlements were forced to move further out onto the impoverished Cape Flats, a two-hour ride from the shining new stadium.

To get to the heart of this settlement, visitors will have to turn left off Settlers Way and follow a brand new road through sand hills covered with wild grass. It’s a place few tourists are likely to visit. A mirage of shacks stretches northward—their zinc roofs shimmer on hot days like a metallic pool in the desert. This is Delft, one of Cape Town’s newest townships, built on a wasteland shunned by earlier migrants to the city. And it might have been the harshest neighbourhood in the Cape until it grew a new addition: Blikkiesdorp (literally ‘tin can town’).

The name is apt. Blikkiesdorp consists of perfectly symmetrical rows of zinc shelters linked by electricity cables and ringed by a barbed wire fence patrolled day and night by police. Many residents even complain that cops enforce a de-facto curfew.

Martin Legassick, a historian and long-time activist, calls the settlement a “concentration camp.” In preparation for the international tournament, he says, South Africa’s “political elite together with [World Cup organiser] FIFA want to ‘clean up the streets’ and hide the poor from visitors.”

The tin can town was born in 2006, when a fire in a section of Langa known as the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement, named after a hero of the apartheid struggle, left many homeless. Other Blikkiesdorp residents were evicted to clear land for the N2 Gateway housing.

Many activists say that with homelessness and displacement being such a huge issue, spending 4.51 billion rand on a stadium is just bad policy. “The money-grabbing methods of FIFA and the greed of South African entrepreneurs,” Legassick argues, “has led to the wasting of billions of rand on a white elephant stadium, at the expense of housing for the poor.”

Green Point wasn’t the only option. In 2005, several sites were considered by city and provincial governments. The cheapest option was to convert Newlands, a rugby stadium in the comfortable, mostly white suburbs. The next choice was to expand Athlone Stadium, in a working-class ‘coloured’ neighbourhood with some of the most dedicated football fans in the Cape. There was even an idea to build a new stadium on the impoverished plains, further from the city’s core. All these ideas fell by the wayside after FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited Cape Town in late 2005. He decided that Green Point would be the ‘face’ of the World Cup. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, agreed.

But a recent report by the Institute for Security Studies found that a new stadium at Green Point, rather than Newlands or Athlone, cost the equivalent of 60,000 low-cost houses. This could have sheltered a quarter of a million people.

Jane Roberts was one of those forced to move into Blikkiesdorp. She now leads the Delft Anti-Eviction Campaign in a fight against the poor being pushed to the city’s periphery.

It’s been a long battle. In 2007, residents filled downtown’s Long Street to protest their eviction and fired off petitions to officials. When no one responded and police prepared to remove them by force, they hired lawyers to take the government and a private developer to court. Even though a judge ruled that their eviction had not roused the “apartheid ghost of forced removals,” the decision seemed an ugly reminder of the apartheid-era Group Areas Act, which forced many black and coloured families onto the Cape Flats from the heart of Cape Town.

The case eventually reached the Constitutional Court, which let the evictions go ahead so long as most of the new N2 houses would go to the former Joe Slovo residents. Itumeleng Kotsoane, Director-General of Human Settlements, hailed the decision as a big step towards “a South Africa free of slums and informal settlements.”

But such rhetoric is no comfort to people like Jane Roberts, since nothing has changed in the lead-up to the World Cup. The Local Organizing Committee—the combined office of FIFA and the South African government—deflected questions about the evictions to the City of Cape Town; and city officials, as well as their designated World Cup spokesman, aren’t talking.

And so a year later, Roberts and others like her are still waiting for new homes from behind the fences of Blikkiesdorp. “We poor people aren’t interested in the World Cup,” she says. She also wonders how a government of former freedom fighters could have “just dumped the people here.”