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World Cup pushes out South Africa's poor

Kicking a soccer ball

by Gretchen Wilson

In Protea South, an informal settlement near Johannesburg, Maureen Mnisi walks through the mud of her neighborhood to show how locals get electricity. She points to a slack wire dangling over a tree and leading into a shack. "It's a illegal connection. And its not safe," she says.

Mnisis lived here since 1988, when apartheid was in full swing. The long-awaited shift to democracy has brought her few concrete benefits. "We've been left out. We don't have water, we don't have toilets, you know, and all these things."

Mnisi lives just a few miles from Soccer City, a brand-new stadium built for the World Cup. Last year, the city of Johannesburg wanted the 6,000 households here to move to another slum with better services, but a lot further from the city. "We were facing forced relocation, up until we take our matter to court," Mnisi says.

Locals won the case, but Mnisi and human rights activists say cities here are pushing out the poor, including settlement dwellers and street vendors, before the tourists arrive. They say city clean-up campaigns put public image before the rights of citizens.

City officials say they're just following tight regulations always required by Fifa, the powerful international group that runs the World Cup. Those regulations affect informal traders like people who run food stalls or sell goods on the street. They won't be allowed to trade during June and July, because Fifa requires that cities limit such businesses to protect their sponsors, who spend millions to get those rights.

At a meeting in Johannesburg, street vendors are meeting to challenge city bylaws that limit public space during the World Cup. Nkosinathi Jikeka with StreetNet International, a global network of informal traders, says "everybody's told that this is our World Cup and that all of us are going to benefit. But an ordinary person on the street, the layman, the poor South African, he's not going to benefit."

Jikeka says that unless they get access to the huge market of World Cup tourists, only big business will come away the winners.

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