Hlengiwe Mnguni

Cape Town, the World Cup & racism

2010-06-03 11:45

The imminent FIFA World Cup has brought out the best and worst in us. And while it is important for us to focus on all the amazing things that are happening in our country, to sweep all the embarrassing things under the carpet, even for four weeks, could do us more harm than good.

When the mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato announced that the toilets that remained exposed after an ANC Youth League-led rampage had been removed I was puzzled. The toilets had stood there uncovered, for years. Why the sudden attack of conscience on the city's part?

It has been suggested that it did not look good for a city expecting hordes of World Cup tourists and media to have open toilets dotting township landscapes. It made sense to me.

So, in making sure that the world gets the best reception and is not confronted by awkward sights, the city could have muddied further its relationship with the poor.

While Cape Town has been installed as the jewel of South Africa it should not be forgotten that it is home to many poor people. The same poor people who keep the city's vital service industry working.

Hiding the poor (it has been reported that the homeless are being taken off the streets to shelters and squatters have been fenced off from view at a training ground) and their living conditions from tourists will not impress anyone. Chances are, even the tourists themselves won't take kindly to this.

Cape Town's constant need to hide its poverty and pretend that it is all beaches, mountains and good food will not help the city fight off the perception that it is racist towards black people. Because most of the city's poor are black, it does not take much for a determined person to make desperate people see racism.

But this perception is not only engrained in the informal settlement or townships around Cape Town.

When I moved to Cape Town, mixed in with all the advice about the fun things to do in Cape Town was a warning: Beware of racist Cape Town. It's been three months and the warnings have proved unnecessary. Personally, I've had no bad experiences and believe it will stay that way.

But when things like this happen it becomes difficult, even for an optimist like me, to convincingly say that racism in Cape Town is no more potent than in Johannesburg – which I believe to be true.

The events of the past few days at the Makhaza informal settlement were no doubt influenced by the ANCYL, but it is on the city council as the elected body to ensure that relations with its residents are not severed to serve the aesthetical needs of tourists who don't want toilets littering their views of township life.

But then again, I hope there were other more substantial reasons why the toilets were removed completely, because when FIFA packs up the tent and the caravan rides out of town we should make sure that the divides are not more pronounced than before.

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Read more on:    ancyl  |  dan plato  |  hlengiwe mnguni  |  cape town
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